Translating for Guests in Sicily

November 28, 2012

I’ve had a lot of guests in Sicily.

One spoke no Italian at all and kept roping me into doing her linguistic dirty work.

She loved shopping. We entered Max Mara, a high-end clothing shop. “See if you can haggle with them!” she said, fingering a leather jacket.

I demurred, but she insisted. So I sheepishly asked for a discount on a jacket that was not on sale. The shop clerk looked stunned.

Later, at a bar with a caseful of glittering pastries, she pointed at a pretty little ricotta-filled number. “Ask if it is fresh!” she kept insisting.

Reluctantly I did.

“Of course it’s fresh, signora,” the barista said with an offended look in his eye that his extreme politesse could not hide. “It is our specialty.”

Ricotta pastry in Sicily, copyright Jann Huizenga

The experiences reminded me of a time at a business dinner when I was called upon to translate dirty Italian jokes into English. Stutter. Blush. Torture.

Have you ever been pressured to translate words you’d rather not say?

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