Here’s an Italian phrase worth knowing. Simple. Useful. Completely analogous to its English version. And constantly in fashion:
“I’ll be right back.” I expect that in every culture in the world it means exactly two things. One: “Wait here. I really will be right back.” And, two: “I have no intention of ever coming back, at least any time soon, but I don’t want to hurt your feelings.”
It’s the subito that’s so questionable. That word that means “immediately.” Or “never.” Ask any Italian child what their mother means by subito and they’ll answer the same way an American child would. Or an Australian. Or a Brazilian.
That’s why when we showed up at the laboratory of the man who re-canes our chairs, we were stymied by the sign in his door. Did he mean that he’d just gone to get a quick caffè and would return right away? (Not a very consistent behavior with this choice of profession, if you ask me.) Or did he mean that he’d gone to get a caffè corretto (i.e. with grappa) and that he’d come back when he damn well pleased? (Seemed more likely.)
In any case, we waited. And it turned out to be a perfectly delightful wait. Life on the Italian street rarely disappoints. A young woman had parked her car over the tram track and disappeared, so the tram was stuck, with nothing to do but honk its weird little horn. The tram driver got out, studied her vehicle. Scratched his head. She hadn’t hung a torno subito sign on her car, but she might as well have.
As destiny would have it, both our chair-fixer and the car-parker did come back, if not immediately, then within the chronological realm of feasibility.
[If you liked this post, you might also like “Monday: Living the rhythm.”]
I love this. Along with so many Italian expressions, it is so musical to me, lyrical even!
I love this as well. In our village Marco always made a nativity scene and put it near his restaurant at Christmas time. One year, a wag took the baby Jesus from the manger, and left a sign “Torno subito” Marco was not amused. Baby Jesus eventually returned.
in ireland (another country that starts with an ‘i’!), we had a van driver who used the phrase “down the road a bit” in the same non-specific way. could be a block, could be thirteen miles. ya just never knew.
so we sat and waited.
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