I’m in a rush today as I spent a good chunk of the morning studying Swedish (words for things in the bedroom – it felt a bit like shopping at Ikea…) followed by an enjoyable online lesson.
Amongst other things, I learnt how to say ‘I’m joking’ (Jag skojar).
I asked my teacher “Do Swedish people joke?”
She assured me they do, which is a relief because while Italians claim to have a sense of humour, it’s never seemed much in evidence to me.
Of course, different cultures have different attitudes to humour. In fact, different cultures have different attitudes to lots of things.
For example, I was telling Stina (the Swedish teacher) that in Italy ‘the teacher is always right’.
Not in Sweden, apparently, nor in Britain. We both agreed that it was neither true or particularly desirable.
But in Italy, it’s drummed in from an early age.
Knowledge, or the appearance of knowledge, and status = respect!
I was saying that when I’m arguing with students about something (in a good way of course), now and again, as a joke, I’ll remind them that “L’insegnante ha sempre ragione!” (The teacher HAS always right!).
Knowing that they’ll immediately look embarassed and back away from the argument so as not to be disrespectful.
I think that’s hugely funny!
The Italian term is ‘prendere in giro’ (to tease someone), but while the term is common, the humour part doesn’t seem to be.
You hear it more in the sense of ‘not being serious’ – it’s not a serious proposal, they’re taking the mickey.
Anyway, today’s free Italian lesson is on Il libro (The Book).
Perhaps your life is like an open book?
Or maybe you speak as if you’ve swallowed a dictionary?
Which brings me back to cultural attitudes.
Speaking as if you’ve swallowed a dictionary would surely be a bad thing in Britain, where there’s a very anti-intellectual culture and teachers are no better than anyone else.
Whereas for Italian jouralists, authority figures and so on it’s virtually a pre-requisite!
Similarly, writing incomprehensibly is a vital skill in Italian academia, but also in business. If something can be understood, it’s clearly not formal enough.
Students will often ask me to teach them how to write more formal emails. I’ll ask them to show me emails they’ve received in English, say from colleagues or clients abroad, then point out that the typical style is neutral to informal, much like speech.
In the past I’ve tried to explain to Italian students about plain English (for example, writing terms and conditions in such a way that people can actually understand them).
But they think I’m having them on…
So, what about you? Are you like an open book? Or more like a printed book, maybe?
Discover the difference in today’s free Italian lesson, Il libro (The Book).
It begins with the singular and plural forms, proceeds with some typical examples of usage, and ends with some idioms.
This one is no. 4 in our ‘nouns’ series.
Browse the others on this page.