December 15, 2009 | Italian

Vocabulary, Grammar, and Gynecology

In Italy you know where you stand with another person (or so says my vocabulary book).

An appointment with the gynecologist—one of my least favorite life events, even though my doctor is lovely—was made much more agreeable today by the Barron’s book Mastering Italian Grammar. I found it soothing to read up on subjunctive while I waited in my unflattering paper gown, and I highly recommend this type of thing as a distraction from imminent unpleasantness.

Calming at the Doctor's Office

Later in the day I returned to Italian Vocabulary by Daniela Gobetti, starting with Chapter 3, “The Body and the Senses.” It began, rather curiously, as follows: “In today’s society thin, tall, and beautiful people are at an advantage over fat, short, and unattractive ones. Italians attach great importance to posture. They buy leather shoes even for babies, though many teenagers have joined the flip-flop and sneaker-footed tribe.”

In this same chapter, I found I already knew a number of words—like naso (nose), occhio (eye), etc.—but there was one body part that I hadn't learned yet: bottom! It is sedere. So cute. There also happens to be a verb sedere, meaning “to sit,” which I am guessing is not a coincidence.

I did the whole of Chapter 3 and found the experience many times easier than the last time I tried this book. At the beginning of my Italian studies, I really couldn’t manage the book at all, because it required reading comprehension and grammar skills that I didn’t have. So it was discouraging. Now it’s going great.

So great, in fact, that I continued with Chapter 4, “Emotions and the Mind.” In the introduction to this chapter, I learned the following: “Individualism, first articulated in its modern form by Italian humanists in the Renaissance, is an important aspect of Italian culture. Italians are individualists not only of the mind but of the heart: they express publicly a wide array of emotions, from anger to great sorrow. This public expression of private feelings, often tempered by irony, creates a relaxed and reassuring social environment: in Italy you know where you stand with another person, even if he or she is only a colleague or an acquaintance.”

Wow. That is impressive.

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