Florence is known for being the epicenter of perfect Italian. It was where Dante first wrote in the local dialect instead of in Latin, and in 1861, the Unification of Italy made the “Tuscan” Italian the official language. Yes, even today, Tuscans speak much more of the Italian I learned while taking it as a foreign language. I cannot, for example, understand a dialect from Naples to save my life (unless we’re talking about a few specific bus drivers – a story for another blog). If my great grandmother was still around, even though she was from Italy, I probably would have a hard time understanding her because of the dialect she spoke in Calabria. When Rami and I took a trip up to the northern part of the country, we couldn’t even find a channel on the TV that was in Italian – it was in Austrian German.
Italy is still so divided in language that sometimes on Italian TV they have to subtitle Italians from different areas. Yes, many more people speak and can understand “proper” Italian, but what many don’t realize is that true Florentines have a wicked heavy accent. It’s so prominent that I’d compare it to another group I know quite well.
I grew up in a linguistic cloud of Boston accents. I would say I don’t have a strong one – not like much of my family that grew up closer to the city. But a few words are apparently stuck in Bostonian because they come out of my mouth only one way: for example – Margarita = “Maahhgariiidaa,” and my husband dies every time. Now when I hear dropped “r’s” anyone saying “yous guys” or hear that flattened humming sound that we all produce when speech lacks the appropriate number of dropped r’s, I am drawn to them. I love to hear “pahhhk tha cahhh.” It’s home.
After six years, and especially after coming back home from traveling around the country, the Florentine accent also is starting to feel like home. This city that is supposedly overflowing with perfect speaking Italians even have a saying just like Boston. Oddly enough, they like to drop things too, but they hate the letter “c” instead of “r”.
The Florentine answer to the Harvard Yard sentence is “Coca-Cola con la cannuccia corta corta” which translates to “Coca-Cola with a short, short straw.” If you ask a Florentine to say it (don’t unless you’d ask a Bostonian to say Harvard Yard – same type of thing, though a Florentine may be a bit less likely to punch you if they think you’re making fun), it will sound like this: “Hoha-Hola hon la hannuccia horta.” All of the c’s melt away to huffs, just like the r’s get rolled over back home.
Now imagine learning Italian…and then having to relearn it all because everyone sounds like they’re breathing heavy and missing half words all over the place. That was me a few years ago. Now I have the hang of it, I can follow a conversation as long as it isn’t too heavy. As I said, it is my comfort Italian accent now, just like the Boston accent is at home.
Just recently I was talking to a private tour guide I know here. She had taken a family around the Uffizi and the Duomo for the day, and said that they were wonderful people and that they were from Boston.
“But Lisa!” She gasped, “I had no idea what they were saying the entire time! It didn’t even sound like English!”
And I laughed as I ordered a Mahgarida.
She ordered a Hoha Hola. No straw though.