If one grew up in a mill town like West Warwick, Rhode Island, in the 40’s, 50’s and 60’s, he or she interacted with many nationalities since the Irish, Italians, Portuguese, French, English, Scots all came for jobs in the town’s 14 working factories and mills.
As a resident of that town, I went to school with the kids of those families, learned their customs, enjoyed their foods, attended church with them (we were all pretty much
Despite that, here’s the crazy truth: I never heard swear words in other languages, perhaps because people during my era weren’t so brazen. Or maybe I just didn’t know they were swears when someone used them. In fact, I never heard the “worst Italian swear” until I began teaching in Hugh B. Bain Junior high in Cranston. I learned it, via a hysterical “accident,” involving a student and me (but more on this in another story.)
Language differences can make for hilarious situations.
Case in point? My daughters and I were on a train, traveling from Italy to Austria, passing urban neighborhoods, “Eurailing” as they call it. I was a 43 yer old widow. My 16 year old daughter and I carried huge tenement-style backpacks while my 6 year old daughter carried a small, faux back pack that simply held her favorite stuffed animal.
And because the train was packed and every seat taken, I stood in the aisle, while I directed my daughters to “Sit.”
Several nuns, clad in customary black habits, sat in a row behind them.
When I saw words on a building wall, I directed my younger daughter to repeat what I said, in a type of Italian linguistics lesson, dragging out the 2 syllable word, rolling the r: “Amanda, say Merrr-da…Merrrda….”
My older daughter was shocked, wondering why her mother was directing her younger sister to repeat a word spray-painted on the side of a building.
The nuns sitting in a row behind watched, mouths agape, doubtless thinking: “These are the Americans we’ve heard so much about. What mother teaches her daughter to say such a vulgarity?”
I stood totally unaware. I obviously hadn’t thought it through, but my older daughter came up to me and whispered “Mom, think about it. The words you want Amanda to pronounce are graffiti on a building wall…It can’t be good.”
It finally struck me. Of course this word was an obscenity. No one writes “Have a good day” on a building—in any language.
I sheepishly stopped.
Traveling in foreign lands can be challenging, if one doesn’t know the language.
Thankfully, I did know the meaning of the phrase “Non-potable” affixed to the water fountains on trains as we made our way across Europe.
Good thing, for it’d make for a much more serious mistake than mere embarrassment, if I hadn’t.
Colleen Kelly Mellor (firstname.lastname@example.org) shares Memories/lessons of her life and encourages others to step out of their comfort zones to explore this exciting world. All the better if you do this stepping out with your kids.