High Dining in Florence

Eating good stuff while taking in the rays

On our final day in Florence – a Sunday, we decided to explore the portions of the city situated across the river and away from the main attractions.  We meandered down the streets drawn by steeples in the distance.  As we turned the corner, in the courtyard behind the Santo Spirito Church we found an amazing farmers market (Fierucola Market – 3rd Sunday of the month).  Many of the stalls had stickers with that now famous snail supporting the Slow Food movement, and the foodstuffs we discovered were just amazing  delicious.  Unfortunately, the limits of our luggage and reluctance to deal with customs restrained us, but here’s a bit of what we discovered:

plethora of freshness

a real artisan

pepper, we got them!

The cheese monger

if you're not lactose intolerant, you've found heaven

At one point we were peering over the shoulders of another shopper who asked for and paid for a sample of some luscious cheese.  My husband thought to do the same, and dutifully  placed a Euro coin on the table and said “I’ll have what he had” (in English). Along with the cheese sample, the food proprietor thought to share that he felt Americans were funny coming to a foreign country and not speaking a lick of Italian.  He was absolutely right, and I’ve thought about this and some of the possible reasons and I’d love to hear your thoughts.

This lady only had one thing, and....

samples of some incredible cheese

move over Michelangelo, this is my kind of sculpting

Americans are funny this way, we launch ourselves to all corners of the earth, often with little linguistic research and even less cultural review, yet manage to succeed time and again, thanks to the patience of our hosts we end up having a grand time.  Any confusion is often marked down as part of the experience, “I thought I was ordering scrambled eggs, and you should have seen what I got.”  I know of no other country who’s denizens are so quick to wander with so little preparation.  For some cultures, even seeing another major city within that country is considered a major achievement.  On the one hand, I  think it is pretty amazing that all these people put aside any reservations and think nothing of jumping on an airplane for sights unseen, lacking the basic communications skills for their new environment, unless you count a seemingly preternatural ability to pantomime. As to the citizens of the rest of the world, I am in awe of their patience.

So here’s some possible explanations for our lack of language skills:

the ability was lost with our ancestors

Lack of educational opportunities aside, many of us are reluctant to speak a foreign language.  I took French for eight years and was fairly fluent, but my high school French teacher once informed me I had an accent that would kill a Frenchman (she subsequently informed me in a rather surprised voice that I was doing rather well in the verbal department) but it was too late as from that point on, I was hyperconscious of my French or any other language, and cringed at what it must sound like to a civilized ear.  I tried switching to Italian in college, but they asked me if I was attempting Portuguese.  Ever since then, I’ve been very reluctant to try my hand at any language, especially in the presence of linquistically gifted folks and because I also have no desire to leave death and destruction in my wake.

other cultures have us over a barrel

I was once in a tiny restaurant in Budapest and worked up the courage (see above) to ask for the check in Hungarian.  The waitress looked at me a moment, and then responded in English with nary and accent “Oh, you want the bill?” that seemed to confirm my suspicions about language troubles and awe that other people did not have the same difficulty.  I suspect part of the reason other countries are so much better at languages is that aside from teaching multiple languages in school, they are much more focused on exporting goods and services that we are in the United States, and being able to speak the language is a critical advantage.  For many businesses, the customers are fellow Americans.

Another example involves my brother attempting to study German in Salzburg with little success as the locals, as soon as the recognized he was American, wanted a subject on which to practice their English.

we’re lazy

I also think that many of us are lazy as the citizens of the world have graciously accommodated our lack of language skills.  I was once with someone in the Czech Republic who said this would be a great place if they spoke English.  What would that make it, Epcot Center?

Whatever our reason, we’re missing a lot by not speaking the language of the places we visit.  Research has shown that language influences culture.  It is fascinating how languages focus on word or descriptions of concepts or ideas that are important to a culture, and may even lack words to describe something you and I think is commonplace.  Never mind a lack of basic communication skills, how else are we to understand the nuances that make us different and special.

With all that being said, I am grateful that the global citizens of this world have the patience to put up with us as we fling ourselves on airplanes and explore the nooks and crannies of your lives.  I for one would feel bereft if I did not have the opportunity to learn more of other cultures and what makes them tick, even if I am often missing tools to facilitate the process.  So at the end of 2010, here’s to global citizines, food and culture… patience and a sense of adventure.  Here’s to an incredible 2011!

Florence in the morning

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28 comments for “High Dining in Florence

  1. December 31, 2010 at 8:38 PM

    First I have to say…I could barley take my eyes off of those treasures, especially the cheese 🙂
    As for the language and traveling, I have not really traveled much…but I am opinionated 🙂 Seriously though I agree with your points and I think that it is a shame that our educational system does not focus at least a bit on the basics of language outside of our own. I also wonder if other languages were a bit lost to us as our ancestors focused on “being an American” and generally not passing down different languages from our origins. Meaning we focus on our single language, and as you stated thankfully others have focused on ours as well…
    I am so dragging on here 🙁 Sorry…
    I stopped by to wish you a beautiful New Year filled with love and wonder! Happy New Year to you and your family!
    Magic of Spice recently posted..Whats on the side Mini Mushroom Croustades

  2. January 1, 2011 at 8:37 AM

    I am drawn to markets when I travel so you can imagine the smiles this post elicited. Language? I always try – 5 years of French and my French is appalling – but in general in smaller towns people are grateful I tried. In Paris, they answer me in English. Oh well. My grandmother did not allow Italian spoken in the home and my mother grew up hearing dialect anyway. My grandmother emigrated here and said, “We are Americans now. We speak English.” (Usually) My Italian is horrid but I soldier on. I can make my wishes known but cannot understand what is said to me. And then there is the expanse of the USA. Imagine if every state spoke a different language. We would be more able to converse. Here you travel across the country and we all speak English.Europe is another ballgame.
    Claudia recently posted..Marinated Figs with Gorgonzola Dolce

  3. January 1, 2011 at 10:53 PM

    oh….cheeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeese! I just love them! Well, I know very little about them, but it doesn’t stop me from enjoying them. :-))
    What have you got instead of scrambled eggs?
    Happy 2011!
    Angie’s Recipes recently posted..Olive Muffins with Fresh Goat Cheese

  4. January 2, 2011 at 10:24 AM

    This post really got my thinking juices running. I travelled thrughout Europe teaching English along the way for a living. At the same time I made an effort to learn the native language of each country. However, I did find that everyone in every country wanted to practise their English with me so learning their language became a struggle at times.
    That except for one country, Italy!!
    I found the Italians were notoriously shy when it came to speaking English and some were quite offended that I had dared to move to Italy without being proficient in Italian. I couldn’t argue with that.

    As Time went on, however, I came to learn that the reason why they felt so insulted by my limited Italian, was because they lack in confidence to speak English and were terrified of making mistakes or appearing silly.

    This on the other hand, allowed me a better understanding of their culture and a chance to improve my Italian. For that I was very grateful.

    Personally I believe everyone should make an effort to learn a bit of the language before venturing off into an unknown country. I have to admit, that us Brits do behave like our fellow American friends in that sense too.

    But in every country I have been to, the little I knew of the language has always been very much appreciated by the natives. Yes, even in Italy, somehow.

    Loving your experience in Florence! So glad you tried out those yummy cheeses and a very happy New Year to you too!!
    ruth recently posted..Happy 2011- Everyone!!!!

  5. January 2, 2011 at 6:03 PM

    You are right about Americans traveling without knowing the local languages. I’ve been fortunate to always travel with someone who is fluent in the local language. Recently I subscribes to several Italian and French blogs to learn both languages. It has been more helpful than I thought.
    Christine @ Fresh Local and Best recently posted..Chicken Liver Porcini Pâté with Pistachios

  6. January 2, 2011 at 8:06 PM

    Those cheeses sure look good! We do try to at least pick up at least a few necessary words from the language of the country we are visiting. My husband speaks fluent French and it always makes a huge difference for our travel experience.
    5 Star Foodie recently posted..Coconut-Poached Chicken Salad with Apple- Daikon- and Saffron Aioli

  7. January 2, 2011 at 8:15 PM

    Ha, this is an incredibly interesting topic…I’ve heard both sides. And since I’m not an American and I come from an Asian country, I’ll add in my two cents.

    To be honest, it’s not just an American that can be ignorant. I’ve had friends who thought Los Angeles is a state. But the truth is that English is fast becoming kind of a universal language in the world…so Americans can comfortably go traveling without having to prepare and take basic language classes. Not true for a Vietnamese or Russian, since a very tiny proportion of the people in this world speak their language.

    That said, people really appreciate it if you make an effort to learn the language, at least the basic ones, before you visit. It won’t cost an American the enjoyment and comfort of travels, but it sure would leave a much more positive impression.

  8. January 2, 2011 at 10:42 PM

    Would you believe I was once at a conference in Canada, and one of the American attendees sighed, “Why do we have to change currency here? Canada IS connected to the United States.” Oh my! It was good for a laugh, though.
    Carolyn Jung recently posted..My Fave Eats of 2010

  9. January 3, 2011 at 12:42 AM

    I used to have decent Spanish language skills when I was still back home. I used to buy my lunch at those taco trucks in L.A. when I was a poor student. And I had a lot of practice. People here don’t speak a word of Spanish in spite of being a former Spanish colony. After a decade living here, I can now barely form a sentence.

    Being monolingual isn’t exclusive to Americans. Australians, Kiwis and Brits are pretty bad too. I’ve met quite a bit of them during my travels and business hours. English-speaking countries usually have a monolingual population. And I won’t even talk about Koreans or Japanese people, also notoriously monolingual peoples.

    Making an effort to learn the local language of the locale always goes a long way. The locals appreciate this. Some find it even charming that they throw in an extra piece of whatever you’re buying. What gives American tourists a bad rep is being arrogant by expecting the locals to know how to speak English and that Yankee tourist carrying the “Oh-my-God-they-can’t-speak-a-word-of-English-here!” attitude.

    I’d love to take home a few wedges of those!

    The Kitchen Masochist recently posted..New Years Eve 2010

  10. January 3, 2011 at 5:19 PM

    A very Happy New Year to you LouAnn! On the language front, I think Sophia pretty much said what I would have said on the subject – anyone who has English as their first language can, more often than not, get away without having to learn other languages when they travel because English really is a kind of universal language.

    Having said that, I do like to try my hand at different languages when I travel – speaking even a few words does often enhance the experience and is generally appreciated by the natives!
    Daily Spud recently posted..Spud Sunday- The Year In Spuds

  11. January 4, 2011 at 3:25 AM

    I love those cheese stalls! Florence is surely a great place to visit.

    Happy New Year!



  12. January 4, 2011 at 6:59 AM

    I don’t think I ever really learned to pronounce anything in the French language correctly. So I don’t mind trying to decipher some written French text, but speaking is another matter. I’m only slightly more comfortable with Spanish which isn’t saying much. I’d love to get better and to learn more through travel!
    lisaiscooking recently posted..Panettone

  13. January 4, 2011 at 9:08 PM

    Hahaha. That’s funny. I used to work at Epcot Center.
    Many Americans may not be fluent in their second language, but I think they are a lot more patient when it comes to foreigners speaking English with their accents. 🙂
    Kitchen M recently posted..Whole Wheat Fig Scones

  14. January 4, 2011 at 10:03 PM

    Wow, so many different cheeses…I wish I could be there just to try them all….thank you so much for sharing such a nice pictures. Happy New Year!

  15. January 5, 2011 at 1:04 PM

    I love the cheese monger and the artisian working his craft in the open market..i love that americans travel freely and yes english is spoken everywhere, good point in stating the business side, somany places focus on the american tourist

    sweetlife recently posted..Roasted Poblano Gordita Burger

  16. January 5, 2011 at 5:32 PM

    How beautiful those cheeses – I’m a cheese lover – love everywhere I find them.
    As I live in a country that is all from immigrates I need to learn basic skills outside, at least some words, not all speak Spanish 🙂

    Have a Great 2011!

    Gera@SweetsFoodsBlog recently posted..Happy New Year and Blogging- Social Media- Food- Internet Tools – Best of this Week

  17. January 5, 2011 at 8:23 PM

    Hi, Louann. I enjoyed this post and concur completely with your assessments and speculation for the linguistic Chauvinism.

    While Canada is officially bilingual, it is amazing how many people (Anglophones, in particular) are proud that they do not speak the other official language. Ignorance is bliss? On the other hand, there are many bilingual and nearly bilingual speakers here, with many trilingual in Montreal, for instance.

    The only time I’ve been to Florence was just one day, and I relished the Santo Spirito area, just about devoid of other tourists. It was so much fun to explore the less popular areas.


    IslandEAT recently posted..2010 – A Year in Food- Part Two

  18. January 6, 2011 at 9:11 AM

    First up, have a great 2011 LouAnn, I hope it is filled with loads of delicious food and culture! And I am a touch envious of your red peppers – I always wanted to acquire a string for my kitchen. Alas.

    All your illustrations of the ‘language problem’ are valid – living in the Netherlands, I get the same thing sometimes when I speak Dutch and get answered in English.

    For some, it might also be laziness and a matter of assumption on the traveller’s part that English is spoken the world over…..and therefore no extra prep is needed.

    Whatever it is, I can personally say that the feeling of ‘integration’ and involvement when you know even a few words of some other language is worth it all and appreciated by most.

    Have a great 2011 again and stay well

  19. January 6, 2011 at 11:56 AM

    If only I could speak another language. Four years of French in school – can’t say a thing. Nothing anyone can understand, anyway.

    Best wishes to you in 2011!
    Lynn recently posted..Fever- chills and lentil soup

  20. January 8, 2011 at 2:15 PM

    I completely agree. I think we are incredibly cocky when it comes to thinking others should speak our language. That being said, we aren’t the only ones guilty of this as I’ve witnessed it among British and Aussie travelers as well.

    I too, try to learn a few words in the language, even if I butcher the pronounciation. 🙂 Or I ask if they speak English before I speak. Even if we can’t speak a language, I think an appreciation and humbleness is important. We are incredibly fortunate that we can travel so many places in the world without language issue, which is also my main complaint as to why in the world USAmericans don’t travel more. Anyway, this appreciation grew in me especially when we visited Indonesia.

    Great post! And that cheese is amazing! That is one thing that is imitated, but never duplicated here. We have some great cheese makers in our area, but there is just nothing like seeing it in Europe and I haven’t even been to the best places for it yet! 🙂
    Lori recently posted..Honey Pecan Baked Brie

  21. OysterCulture
    January 9, 2011 at 4:13 PM

    Best wishes to everyone and sorry for the delayed response, its been a tad busy here and I’ve had a bit of a struggle getting back into blogging.

    MoS – Thanks for sharing your thoughts, I just find it interesting in that I work with many international companies and many (not all) come to the US having done more research, and I don’t think that some of the Americans are necessarily lazy, maybe complacent because they know thats not an area they need to immediately concentrate on.

    Claudia – Great perspectives, thanks for sharing, I agree something to be said about having a mostly mono language culture.

    Angie – Happy 2011 to you!

    Ruth – Interesting points, from what you’ve written it sounds like Italians are at the other end of the spectrum, in terms of comfort with traveling without speaking the language.

    Christine – Great idea on following the blogs to keep up the written aspects of the language, try to do a bit of that myself

    5 Star – Do you think that might be the reason you have such incredible meals?

    Sophia – Great points, you are indeed a wise woman!

    Carolyn – I believe you as I’ve heard similar comments. It is a bit funny and kinda sad at the same time.

    KM – Great points on the English speaking countries you are not the first to raise this issue, about other countries and I really appreciate your perspective as both an insider and outsider.

    Spud – Happy New Years and I agree, getting a few basics from whatever language is spoken goes a long way.

    Rosa – I’ve never met you in person, but I can tell that you would love Florence!

    Lisa – There’s something about traveling that gets me inspired to learn a language, but as I mentioned I appear to be linguistically challenged and appreciate the oversight of others at this misfortune =)

    Kitchen M – You worked at Epcot – wow, growing up I think that was a dream job. Interesting take that Americans are more open to accents, but maybe that’s because our families came from such diverse places?

  22. OysterCulture
    January 9, 2011 at 4:35 PM

    Julianna – I’m with you, a complete sampling is definitely required.

    Sweetlife – you are right, so many places do focus on the American tourists, I wonder how that will change with the new economy

    Gera – How did I know you liked cheese? =)

    Dan – You’re after my own heart, I love to check out the less explored areas. I find your comment interesting about people being proud to only speak one language, that’s a position I had not considered.

    KB – Well said, I think making an effort goes a long way.

    Lori – Intersting points about the lack of travel too, in one of my early posts I met an American that went to Auckland NZ and spent her entire time in the B&B. Her incentive for going was having watched Zena Princess Warrior. BTW, that was her only trip abroad.

  23. January 10, 2011 at 2:57 AM

    Just a quick touch to wish you a very happy New Year!
    Cellar Tours recently posted..The Mercado de San Miguel- Gourmet Gem in Madrid

  24. January 10, 2011 at 12:46 PM

    i was so young when I went to Florence that I don’t remember much and at the time I was far more interested in the fashion than any fantastic farmers’ markets… thanks for sharing this post. the offerings look plentiful!

  25. January 16, 2011 at 5:18 AM

    Wow! I’ve never seen a cheese that big before! Would love to buy one or two of them.
    As for the language, completely agree with you. One should at least learn some daily expressions of the target country. And as Sophia stated above, those who know English are luckier, they can find someone to communicate in most of the countries.
    As a non-American person, I can honestly say that I don’t like feel like helping a foreigner in Turkey when they insist on not learning any piece of Turkish. Believe me I came across such people, looking down on our culture, but getting interested just in tourist attractions such as beautiful beaches, historical places.

  26. OysterCulture
    January 20, 2011 at 8:50 PM

    CT – Right back at you! Happy 2011!

    Bren – I was equally entranced with the fashion and felt very dowdy as a result. However the food soon perked me up.

    Zerrin- Great points, its hard to take someone seriously if they do not do the same to you. I completely agree.

  27. January 27, 2011 at 1:35 AM

    I grew up in SOuth Africa where one speaks English and learns Afrikaans (a form of Dutch) and Xhosa (a tribal language). Both languages seemed “useless” to me when I left Africa, but at least it taught me how to learn languages and I am so grateful for this as communicating in a foreign country is so rewarding. As you rightly say, understanding the nuances are so important and highten the fun of being in a foreign country. Thankfully most foreigners are so nice to other foreigners who don’t speak the language so we all get to enjoy one another.
    Crystal recently posted..Warm Red Cabbage Salad with Blood Sausage – Black Pudding – Blutwurst

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