Thursday, February 8, 2007

English, do you speak it?

“Do you speak English?” I asked.


It was at this moment that I pushed the speakerphone toward View from Dupont, flashed my biggest, toothy grin, and reclined back in my chair. I hadn’t planned on being on a long distance phone call with an Italian receptionist at 10 in the morning, but sometimes work has a way of surprising me.

My task for Wednesday morning: Track down an important researcher at all cost. Important Researcher was supposed to be in California, but wasn’t answering his phone or responding to his email. Oh yeah, and he’s Italian.

After failing at the normal ways of contacting Important Researcher, like calling the hotel he was supposed to be staying at, I realized I was going to have to try to call the university that he teaches at in Italy. Except my Italian consists of about three words: sí, pizza, and sopranos.

Luckily, View from Dupont had spent some time in Italy. I explained my situation to her and asked if I could commandeer her for this important task. View from Dupont explained to me that she remembered many important Italian phrases such as “Can I bum a cigarette?” I didn’t hesitate for a moment, “Come with me to my office,” I said. I figured at the very least we’d be able to get some cigarettes out of the phone call.

Armed with View from Dupont’s strong grasp of the Italian language, and supplemented with the infallible Babel Fish, we proceeded to call Italy. After determining that the receptionist did not in fact speak English, I sat back and let View from Dupont work her magic. She proceeded to launch into long strings of Italian phrases that I can only assume translated into “The dog is over there. The shirt is red. The car is old. Nice to meet you.”

View from Dupont’s impeccable Italian must have worked, as the receptionist proceeded to ask something in Italian to the effect of “A professor?” I instantly perked up. Ha ha! – an opportunity to contribute, and use my Italian. “Sí!” I exclaimed.

We were able to get a phone number from the receptionist and then ended our call. View from Dupont and I proceeded to celebrate. We then looked closer at the number. It was the exact same phone number we had before, the phone number that the researcher had not been answering. Damn, all that work for nothing, not even a free cigarette.

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