Talk about irony and coincidence….
I attended an Italian wedding celebration recently, but it was my Polish language skills that got tested and surprised, not my Italian ones.
The reception proved to be incredibly and surprisingly interesting. Approximately 150 people were seated in groups of 12 at round tables, an arrangement conducive to comfortable conversation with enough people to ensure a likelihood of good variety and exchange.
As usual, after introducing each other, the conversation turned to the wedding and how the serious storm missed the area, luckily so as the wedding ceremony was held outdoors in a grassy meadow.
I introduced myself to the guest on my left, a mature woman, likely in her late 60s or early 70s. Grazia was Italian, so I switched languages to my limited Italian. She understood me fully and introduced me to her friends on her left, a couple, the female a close Italian friend. I learned that the two ladies spoke an Italian dialect which was totally incomprehensible not only to me but to almost any other Italian-speaking person. They explained their particular dialect was totally incomprehensible even to native Italians. Thankfully, the two ladies switched to the more used Italian which I understood and speak. The male guest sitting between these two ladies did not speak. I assumed because of timidity or allowing his wife to have a broader socializing room. The balance of the table was 4-5 feet away which was a bit problematic for me as I am somewhat hard of hearing. I concentrated my conversational efforts on the trio to my left as I could hear them and because the ladies had opened the door to exchanges in standard Italian. I warmed up to the idea of practicing my Italian language skills.
The conversation with Grazia. a retired textile worker who lived in Brantford, Ontario, was warm and engaging. Next to Grazia sat an older man and next to him, another woman. As it turned out, the man and the other woman were married and it was Grazia who was the widowed spinster. More conversation revealed that Grazia and the other woman, Lucy were from a very rural part of southern Italy where a very incomprehensible dialect was the language of the region. When they tossed out a few phrases my rudimentary Italian was not only challenged but completely failed me. Thankfully Grazia switched back to standard Italian and I was in my glory as I practiced my Italian skills.
Food courses changed, wine flowed, music played and our conversation flowed. The man next to Grazia was sparking my attention as he never engaged in any of the repartee. Finally, my curiosity got the better of me and I asked him what his views were about the topic of the moment, in Italian. His face remained blank as if he did not comprehend the question. I switched to English. He clarified the reason why he had not responded, nor engaged in the conversation. First, he was not married to Grazia, rather he was married to the other lady, Lucy but more interestingly, he did not speak Italian. This really piqued my curiosity as I am not Italian but because my wife is Italian, years ago I made an effort to learn some basic Italian. He did not do likewise. I asked about his national roots, Polish. Polish!!! Yikes, I am Polish and speak the language.
I switched to Polish and opened a whole new world of information. But as this conversation developed, the surprises never stopped. He had come to Canada when he was 19 after living all his life in a rural backwater in southeastern Poland. When he said, “Przemysl,” identifying the area, I nearly fell out of my chair. Przemysl is the village area where my mother was raised.
The conversation really flowed now as he lived in the area that I had explored it as deeply as I could while on my holiday in Poland because of its relevance to my mother.
To understand the atmosphere of the conversation, imagine two Europeans talking in a Munich bar about a backwater rural area of southern Ontario, Harrow, population about 1500 people situated about 4 km from the Detroit-Windsor border. Geographically, this has some commonalities with Przemysl, though the Polish history of the region is richer.
One’s nationality if born there varies from Polish to Ukrainian/Russian depending on the date of birth. The border with Ukraine is less than 10 km away and fluctuated through history depending on the supremacy of Russia, Poland or the Mongols. The people of the area are equally fluent in Ukrainian and Polish as was this man, Adam. I barely understand Ukrainian as I concentrated on the retention of my Polish language skills while growing up in Canada. Of course, once Adam realized I knew the history of the area, the conversation really warmed up.
An Italian wedding where two Poles had a vibrant and energetic conversation about Polish history. What a coincidence! What irony!!