“Do you speak English?” we asked three police-people standing at a signal in Milan.
The policewoman shook her head and turned to the men. “Just a leetle,” said one.
Then began our attempt to tell them we were lost and looking for our hostel. The hostel had given us a map, but we had walked clean off the map and had no idea how to get back. The word ‘hostel’ brought no reaction, so we showed them the map and said ‘ostello’. We had no idea how to ask ‘where’, ‘how’, nothing! But ‘ostello’ was enough. They brought out another, more detailed map of Milan and had an animated discussion while we watched. They argued with one another about how we could go, one would start explaining to us slowly, another would interrupt…
Then the policewoman tried. She said something like ‘douce’. We shrugged. She asked again, “Douce, douce?” We had no idea what she was trying to say.
Then, one of the policeman began a painstaking explanation, much to the amusement of passers-by. We realised that the lady was asking us if we were willing to take a bus. (Bus, not douce!) We understood a large part of what we were told and thanked them profusely. Our problems still weren’t over, though! When we got off the bus, once again, we didn’t know where to go.
Who could we ask? Who would know?
A delivery boy!
With metaphorical hands in our pockets and whistling in the air, we waited inconspicuously for the boy to emerge from the building. He was more than a little startled when we waylaid him as soon as he came, but ‘ostello’ worked once more. He pointed us in the right direction. The best part about Italians is that they explain slowly and elaborately. The not-so-good part was that sometimes, we could not understand a word despite all our – and their – efforts.
We reached, eventually. That day, we learned three important words in Italian. We should have gone equipped with those words – ‘where’, ‘right’ and ‘left’.