But once again, everything can change in an instant. At the hostel my keen ears picked up Australian accents in a nearby room, so I marched in and introduced myself. Four young Melbournians, exactly what I needed at the time. They really helped me out. They showed me the ropes of Venice, taught me how to get to the supermarket, the train station and told me what they knew of the places to avoid, flood wise. Most importantly they were company that I could relate to. They were good fun, and best of all I should be seeing them again in Rome. They’re at the same hostel as me for the same amount of time. Awesome.
They were uni students and were on a budget that might even be tighter than mine, so it was hilarious and cool to hang out with them. We went to Billa, the supermarket, for cheap wine. It’s a funny thing to be in a place like Venice. The most basic meal you can find is going to cost you between 15 and 20 Aus dollars, but you can get a bottle of wine for as cheap as two Australian dollars. Madness. We polished off god knows how much wine from the region, reds and whites. We made friends with a whole bunch of people from the hostel, French Canadians, Norwegians, a Turk and a Japanese guy. Hostel parties are the greatest, especially when you’re united by the fact that you’re staying in a dive.
Now let’s talk about language for a little while. You see I have a problem. Whenever I first arrive in a country I’m typically starving, exhausted and hung-over, and my brain isn’t at it’s sharpest. I usually try to practice basic language stuff on the trains and prepare myself as best I can but I almost always get a bad case of the blanks, and I often feel so overwhelmed that I might not even try (see Amsterdam and even Germany to an extent.)
Coming into Italy though, I thought: “Surely this time I’m gonna get it.” But for whatever reason, I just couldn’t bring myself to try. I know all the basics like the back of my hand, but each time I would go to buy some food I would chicken out. “What the fuck is wrong with me?” I thought. I tried harder to get my nerve up but I just couldn’t.
Here’s where it gets interesting. Now some of you might know that I’ve been thinking a lot about getting into performance of some sort when I get home. Maybe acting, maybe stand-up comedy, I don’t know yet. Now, I had been feeling like crap being too nervous to attempt to speak Italian, and then me and the Melbournians went to a restaurant. I was the last person to order, and of the four, 3 just flat out went English, and one made a slight attempt in Italian. When it came to me, I seemingly effortlessly ordered in Italian, impressing every one else, and possibly shaming them as well. I also went to the supermarket for more wine with the two guys, and got through that fine as well. I find it really interesting that if you put me in front of some random people I suddenly have more confidence.
Anyway, from that point on I’ve been flying. I’m ordering all my food in Italian. I reserved my place on the train to Rome largely in Italian (only switching to English to double check that I hadn’t booked the wrong time or day) I’m teaching people in the hostel some basic words and expressions. I even have a little bit of nerve. Today I had lunch in Padova, and after a brief moment of confusion when I came in, the waiter brought me the English menu, so I turned the tables on him and ordered it in Italian. I guess it isn’t really all that impressive to be able to figure out that sandwich = panini, that mushrooms = funghi, and stuff like that, but at the time I felt like a pretty cool cat.
All that being said, I wouldn’t at all say I know what I’m doing. I still have all kinds of embarrassing moments. And, you guessed it, people keep approaching me thinking I’m Italian. I must have the ultimate chameleon appearance. Every country I go people think I look like I’m from there. Here’s an interesting fact though. Most English speakers that I’ve met tell me that when they try to speak another language to somebody, that every time they just get spoken back to in English. This has NEVER happened to me. Not once. Not even in Paris. The only time it turns to English is when I have to ask them because I don’t understand what they’ve said to me. I think that’s pretty weird. I can’t imagine that I’m even half decent at speaking other languages. Maybe they just appreciate the effort.
So after the shaky start, now I’m loving Italy. The weather’s been beautiful, and since that first day I haven’t seen any flooding. I finally feel okay about speaking to people, and it makes everything a million times easier. I’m loving just strolling through fruit markets and bakeries. I’m really looking forward to Rome tomorrow. Padova today was really awesome. It must be such a great place to live. Friendly people, lots of young students. Good vibes. Hilarious graffiti on the streets. Beautiful. It really gave me an idea of just how much of a rip-off Venice is, and it should all be becoming cheaper from here on. Excitement building… Nothing is going to bring me down now. Even the fact that somebody stole my 6 Euros worth of bread, cheese and salami that was going to be my breakfast wasn’t going to bring me down.