Umm… When he or she has a side job, for cash, which he/she isn’t paying any tax on?
Thank you, but no. That’s not what this is about.
Go on then, when IS an unemployed Italian not an unemployed Italian?
So, Friday morning I was at the CUP (Centro Unico Prenotazione) to book blood tests.
Note to U.S. readers who have so far managed to avoid the injustices of socialized medical care, given that I have a chronic condition, and do pay taxes, the tests will be done absolutely free of charge.
As will the subsequent visit to the specialist to discuss the results. However, I did have to wait in a line to book them.
So I took my number and sat down. There were seven people ahead of me, mostly elderly, and just one employee dealing with questions and booking the medical tests and appointments that our various doctors had prescribed.
Of course, you can hear everything that goes on. And given that the average age of those waiting their turn was seventy-plus, so not big smart-phone users, we were all listening attentively.
There was the usual run of people who wanted to go to hospital A, which wasn’t currently taking bookings, so had to go to hospital B, but then couldn’t remember the date of their holiday, or whatever.
This is always a slow, frustrating process, in part because the employee was patient and explained everything at great length.
The guy in front of me was getting visibly twitchy.
He held a plastic supermarket bag full of documents, which he kept delving into to check that he had everything he would need.
Other than that, and the fact that he and I were the only non-pensioners, he was unremarkable. Not young, not rich, not obviously poor. Just nervous.
Finally his turn came so, clutching his paperwork, he entered the cubicle and sat down.
I want to register with a doctor.
Are you resident in Bologna? – Yes.
Have you chosen a doctor to register with? – Yes.
Have you completed forms X, Y and Z? – Here they are.
I’ve lived all my life outside Italy, the man explained. This is the first time I’ve done this. But I am an Italian citizen!
No matter, the lady explained. As long as you’re resident, you have the right to register with a ‘medico’. You are resident, aren’t you?
And I’m unemployed (disoccupato), so I want to claim ‘essenzione’. I can’t afford to pay the ‘ticket’.
Do you have form W, showing that you’re unemployed?
Have you worked in Italy before? If so, you should have form W. You need it.
As I said, I’ve worked outside of Italy my whole life.
Then you’re not ‘disoccupato’, signore.
To be ‘disoccupato’ you must have had a job previously, then lost it.
And demonstrate that with form W.
But I don’t have a job! I can’t pay the tickets!
Well, you can declare the lowest income band, and so pay the minimum. But if you haven’t previously had a job in Italy, you’re not ‘disoccupato’ and can’t claim essenzione.
At which point, the guy got up and left.
The woman called after him…
But signore, you have the right to register with a medico!
That evening I checked this with my Italian wife. We already knew, from bitter experience, that certain benefits are not available to everyone.
The ‘Assegno per il nucleo familiare’, for example:
L’Assegno per il nucleo Familiare (ANF) è un sostegno economico erogato dall’INPS per le famiglie dei lavoratori dipendenti, dei titolari delle pensioni e delle prestazioni economiche previdenziali da lavoro dipendente e dei lavoratori assistiti dall’assicurazione contro la tubercolosi.
Basically, if a family has a low income, it’ll qualify for help from the state.
But ONLY if you are ’employed’ or have a pension resulting from having been ’employed’. Or have tuberculosis…
So that ruled my family out, despite there being five of us and our income being way below the average.
In Italy, if you’re self-employed or have never had a job (i.e. most young people), sorry but no help from the state!
Beh, anyway, we’re used to that after all these years.
But I WAS interested to know if there was some linguistic basis to the discrimination this poor guy suffered because he hadn’t previously had a ‘proper’ job in Italy.
Does the ‘dis-‘ in ‘disoccupato’ mean something like ‘used to be’ or ‘out of’?
In which case, it would logically exclude people who are simply ‘not’ for other reasons (the young, the recently-arrived, the entrepreneurial but skint, and so on.)
Not according to my resident Italian expert, no. ‘Disoccupato’ is ‘Unemployed’, my wife said, and that’s all there is to it.
But she was wrong, that isn’t all there is to it.
See this explanation, if you’re interested: CHE DIFFERENZA C’È TRA INOCCUPATO E DISOCCUPATO?
The formerly-having-worked get special privilages in Italy. The not-yet-having-worked don’t. Go figure.
Anyway, all this got me thinking about the meaning of words.
And specifically, the idea that words have or don’t have ‘equivalent’ meanings in other languages.
A common ‘first time language-learner’ assumption is that the way they ‘encode’ meaning in their own language is going to be the same in the new language.
i.e. a person not having a job must be a.) a child, b.) a pensioner, or c.) ‘unemployed’
‘Unemployed’ in English = “disoccupato” in Italian, and leave it at that.
But hey, the more you learn, the more you realise that it really isn’t like that.
That some words, as commonly used let’s say, don’t have the same meaning at all.
For example, if you’re looking for an accountant in the UK, you might want someone to audit your mega-business or simply prepare your tax return. ‘Accountants’ are a flexible profession and do a variety of useful things, though confusingly, not all tax specialists are accountants.
Our Italian school has a trusty ‘commercialista’, basically an accountant, but the word doesn’t translate well.
As with ‘accountants’ in English, a ‘commercialista’ doesn’t do just basic ‘bookkeeping’ but might supervise or check the books. For basic bookkeeping, you need a ‘contabile’, who does ‘ragioneria’ (accounting). And for anything to do with payroll, you need a ‘consulente di lavoro’ (Italian labour law being so confusing it’s generated its own profession of experts…)
Yup, it’s a mess, at least linguistically. Go check wordreference.com or Google Translate and you’ll find that they’re just as confused as me.
Another example that springs readily to mind is ‘ape’ (in English). Careful because ‘ape’ (in Italian) means ‘bee’, the insect that makes honey.
So how to say ‘ape’ in Italian?
But doesn’t that mean ‘monkey’?
Indeed it does, but for the Italian man or woman in the street, monkeys and apes are the same thing.
Wordreference.com helpfully suggests:
ape n (large tailless monkey) scimmia antropomorfa nf
Though in many discussions with students the term ‘scimmia antropomorfa’ has never once come up.
OK, anyway, the point is this: a language is a system for ‘encoding’ meaning.
And different languages are different systems that operate in different ways.
Just as computer languages are all used for programming computers, but vary in how they do so.
Languages are all complex, that’s obvious.
There’s the grammar, of course, which varies hugely from language to language and is the target of much formal teaching.
But there are also hundreds of thousands, or millions, of ‘words’, let’s talk about ‘words and expressions’, as these range from short, simple words for common objects (hund = dog), to ‘sayings’ which attempt to encapsulate folk knowledge (there’s nowt so queer as folk).
Not to mention the passing weather systems of popular culture and memes.
Used together in combinations, the ‘words and expressions’ allow many millions, or billions, of options for ‘encoding’ meaning.
Logically then, in your foreign language (and in your native language, too) you’re never going to know them all.
There will always be words you are unfamiliar with, or half-familiar with.
There’ll always be texts that mean nothing to you.
There’ll always be subjects that you know nothing about, and would lack the words to explain even if you were suddenly to understand them completely.
Suppose you’ve never sailed before, as in hauling up sails, pulling on ropes, etc.
You’d probabably have no idea how to do it, so when your Italian friend shouts ‘Cazza la randa’ at you, you’d have to politely ask what a ‘randa’ is and how one should go about ‘cazza-ing’ it.
As you learn about the world, you learn the language that is most useful in describing it.
‘Cazzatura‘, according to Wikipedia, is basically ‘tightening’, a sail, a rope, and so on.
And there’s a lot of that going on on a sailing yacht so it won’t take you long to pick up.
The ‘randa’ is the main sail, by the way, the one going back from the mast towards the rear of the boat, tied at the bottom to the ‘boma’ and at the top to the ‘albero’ (‘tree’, so mast.)
Most sailing boats only have two or three sails, so those aren’t hard to learn either.
Here are two words for language-learners to BURN INTO THEIR BRAINS.
The first word is…
Everything you learn or don’t learn stems from the same basic idea.
Your brain will naturally figure out the routines it needs to follow to do the stuff it MOST OFTEN needs to do.
Jobs you do on your computer every day, opening your email say, will be easy, probably automatic.
Whereas things you only do occasionally will require more attention.
Words and grammar that you read or hear every day will quickly become familiar to you, even without you consciously trying to remember them.
Personally, I never memorise anything, yet I manage to learn a lot…
That brings us to the second word…
We’re back on the sailing boat, but this time you’re in your element, or almost.
You know loads about sailing, have your own boat at home, and could easily take over command.
Except for one thing.
The crew are all Italians who don’t speak English.
And you, sadly, don’t yet speak enough Italian to tell them what to do.
No matter. When it’s your turn to ‘drive’, you just yell out commands in English.
‘Hoist the mainsail!’ you say, and point.
That’s what the crew was expecting you to order, so they do it, even though you were speaking an unknown language.
Of course, there’s no guarantee that you’ll understand what you read or hear.
In fact, you probably won’t a lot of the time.
But that’s normal.
Frequency and context are two essential keys to unlock the process of language-learning.
You are, after all, attempting to learn, in just a few months or years, something that a native-speaker will spend a decade or two picking up.
So short-cuts come in handy!
If you ask me, your language-learning goals should be:
1. get better at guessing, interpreting, hypothesising
2. get used to understanding less and being able to say less, at least for the time being
3. find ways to stay interested and so motivated
Practice is therefore essential and, as they say, ‘makes perfect’.
Whereas looking up loads of unknown words, and/or memorising lists of vocabulary you don’t know is NOT helpful, at least for the first two goals.
Some people enjoy memorising lists of words they’ll probably never use, I don’t know why. For me, it’s a pointless distraction. You could be using that time to read, or listen, or read and listen!
Read, listen, read, listen, read listen.
Your brain will do the rest.
P.S. Somebody wrote to me the other day saying he wasn’t convinced by my ‘osmosis’ approach.
Think of it as ‘just osmosis’ if you will, my friend, but I call it deliberate, strategic, intelligent, efficient, effective learning.
Which memorising low frequency lexis or grammar forms certainly isn’t.
When I went to Milan in September to take my A2 Swedex exam, the owner of the Swedish school that was running the exam asked me if I was ‘the one who was teaching myself’ (i.e. not taking one of her courses.)
That must be hard, she said.
I got 92%.
And hey, your brain works the same way as mine does.