I have always loved studying languages, and occasionally I tell myself I’m pretty good at it. I learned Italian in Venice and subsequent trips to Italy through a combination of lessons and necessity. I was pretty pleased with myself one hot summer afternoon in Volterra, walking down the street shopping for a gift and carrying on every conversation comfortably and even sociably, extending far beyond the “Italian for Travelers” phrases I’d started with to discuss the weather, the Olympics, our research project, and even some politics (Volterra is a friendly town).
“Ben fatto!” I thought to myself in the peak of self-congratulatory confidence, “Well done! You’ve really learned another language.” I contemplated having a glass of Prosecco to celebrate.
I turned a corner and saw a cheerful sign outside a crowded shop. I recognized the word for peach, “pesca,” and I was delighted that they seemed to be advertising Peaches with Gelato. That sounded exactly like the heavenly sort of Tuscan treat I wanted to discover.
Too late, I realized I had confused the plural of pesca, which is PESCHE, with the word for fish, PESCE. And what I’d assumed to be overcrowded kerning on a hand-painted sign was actually one word, “CONGELATO,” frozen, not the two words I saw, “con gelato.”
I’m not terribly fond of fish anyway, but when you are expecting a Carvel or Baskin-Robbins type smell of ice cream and peaches and are instead greeted with cases full of fresh and frozen seafood, the recoil is quite dramatic. Everyone in the shop noticed my horror, and I feebly stumbled through explaining my mistake, which got a great big laugh and prevented offending the lovely shop owners, but I couldn’t pretend I wanted to stay there longer than absolutely necessary.
(Whereas these guys in Burano were clearly trying to mess me up.)
They gave me directions to a nearby ice cream parlor that actually did specialize in fruit and ice cream combinations (like that heavenly sundae above), and I made a mental note to take better care with my Italian plurals and hubris in the future.