While on a trip to Italy for an academic conference I happened got an opportunity to visit ancient Roman towns and villages with the conference group. I was exploring a beautiful lazy town one afternoon, enjoying the Italian food, and decided that I really wanted to try some authentic tiramisu.
I walked aimlessly in search of a place to try the yummy dessert, and came across a lovely cafe below a bridge. I walked in with excitement. After I started talking I realised that no-one there spoke any English and I did not speak Italian at all. Oddly, most of the people sitting inside were elderly. I initially felt out of place, as I was the only outsider of a different ethnicity, age, culture and language. I tried asking in English for ‘the dessert menu’, but the old lady at the counter gave me a blank, cold look.
Even though we did not quite understand what we were saying to each other, we still connected and fully understood each other through our own complicated yet fulfilling means of communication.
I tried looking inside the dessert refrigerator to see if I could find tiramisu, so that I could just point to it. But nothing remotely resembled tiramisu. The lady scanned my face in disapproval while I was peering at the refrigerator. I looked back at her and asked again, “Tiramisu?” Her face suddenly lit up in understanding. Her cold face turned to warm invitation, and she asked me to sit. I had just wanted to grab a takeaway and eat it while walking outside, but didn’t want to turn the old lady down. I feared disrespecting her, so did as she said and sat. She brought me a glass of water and kept smiling at me. The other people in the cafe also seemed to warm towards me.
An elderly man with a younger companion sat next to my table. The older man seemed amused to spot me in this place. I assumed this town didn’t get many foreign visitors. He kept looking at me and gave a happy grin, so I responded with the same. He started speaking in Italian. We ended up having an animated conversation with just our hands, expressions and gestures, while speaking our own respective languages, in the hope of finding common words. Never had I ever felt so excited to talk to a stranger. Even though we did not quite understand what we were saying to each other, we still connected and fully understood each other through our own complicated yet fulfilling means of communication.
By the way: the tiramisu tasted divine! It was very rich and creamy, and made in the traditional style.