Words by Jessica Hake, Print Production Editor
The motivator for my learning of Italian should be the deep joy of language, the drive to diverge from the painfully accurate ‘British mono-lingual ignorance’. It should not, arguably, to provide coherent apologises to your Italian colleagues. Apologies, may I add, that are riddled with grammatical mistakes and punctuated with horrific pronunciation.
I work in a lovely Indian restaurant situated near Brighton seafront that is populated with a front of house staff that are nearly all from Italy. As a result, I have started to learn – painfully slowly and with horrific pronunciation – some Italian. With my year abroad fast approaching and having a keen interest to master a language beyond the embarrassing GCSE German years, this sounded like the perfect plan. However, the Italian I have been learning, swear words and insulting phrases aside, has definitely been some of the most British Italian that can be learnt, the ‘sorry’. If anything, it is the most British way to begin a venture into language acquisition, only second to colonialism.
Apologising when a mistake is made, apologising when someone walks into you, apologising when apologising – it’s the British way.
I have run into issues with the apology at work. This is partially due to the presumed ingenue and superficial nature of the excessive ‘I’m sorry’. Numerous times ‘star mentendo’ has been the response, where I then had to clarify that no, I actually felt genuinely sorry for the very minor inconvenience I contributed to. However, the superficiality was not the sole issue. Coupled with the apologetic tautology being perceived as ingenuous, it was not functional.
“Jess, if you say ‘I’m sorry’ one more time…. Oh Santa pazienza, say ‘thank you for the feedback”
Delivered in an incredibly soothing Neapolitan accent, with the tone conveyed through a series of accompanying hand gestures and my manager had a point.
What is the function of the apology?
Is it to diffuse situations and appease the British craving for politeness too, ultimately, gradually normalise failure, rejection and mistakes. The caveats akin to ‘oh don’t worry if not’ or ‘was just thought’ all work to reject the speaker (or often the typer) before anyone else can. Therefore, suggesting that the British world of apologetic tourrettes and caveats is a world where rejection is such an intense fear, that the inhabitants of this small island have internalised the worry so much that they have adopted a form of self-rejection as a sort of coping mechanism. Or, even wore, potentially to use as a long term self-harm.
Another issue of superficial British culture that was brought to my attention whilst working in an Indian restaurant with nearly all Italian front of house staff, is the issue of hugs. Or, more specifically, fake hugs. For a society that is stereotyped as being horrifically physically repressed – the average British hug does nothing to counter this notion. Considered in conjunction with the overuse of ‘I’m sorry’ and panic reflex rejection of self, this led me to wonder – do we not commit to a hug, or any form of physical expression, because we fear rejection? We would rather settle for fake intimacy with no fear, then risk some small rejection for genuine connection.
Ultimately, through an attempted learning of a forge in language, I ended up learning an awful lot more about British language and culture then, I would argue, Italian. So, all in all, to my Spanish ex, French friends and British pals I’m truly sorry, but it is safe to say that it’s the Italians that give the best hugs. Mi dispiace.
Big shout-out to Georgie, Fernando, Mattia and Fran – your patience knows no bounds