by Melinda Smith
A few days into the program, and I found myself at a counter trying to order lunch. Usually I had a gaggle of classmates trying to help me piecemeal an Italian sentence together, but this time I was all by myself. At previous cafés, servers had been quick to acknowledge me, and they were gentle with my sparse Italian as they took my order. This particular time, I had to get the server’s attention. I fumbled through my mini Italian-English dictionary to look up the word ‘order’, in effort to ask the waiter if I could order at the counter. I found the word in the dictionary, and I kindly excused myself for interrupting what he was doing. Then, in Italian, I asked the waiter if I could order at the counter. He looked at me funny. A second time, I asked him if I could order some food. Again, he stared at me. I tried asking him a third time. An Italian gentlemen, standing to my right, seemed to understand what I was trying to say. He correctly stated the pronunciation of the word ‘order’, and then the waiter acknowledged that in fact I could order at the counter. The waiter started to take my order. In the middle of taking my order, the waiter left to get a pen and paper. Still standing to my right, the Italian gentlemen looked at me, breathed in and took a long breath out. He relaxed his shoulders and smiled. All this was done in effort to get me to relax. He acknowledged I was nervous trying to communicate with the Italian waiter. The Italian gentlemen did not speak English, but he read my body language.
Fast-forward a week later, and I was taking a walk by myself. The Italian gentlemen, whom read my body language, he drove by in a car and acknowledged me with a friendly “Ciao.”
Connecting through dissonance requires motivation. You never know who is watching and listening, and in some cases, body language can transfer. I acknowledge that communication is an imperfect system that requires negotiation, and when you do make your way through the dissonance and connect, it is exciting!