A language barrier falls with a wordless welcome to rural Italy

Dino, our neighbor across the road, saw me in front of our new home in Italy and called out, “Good evening!” His English, though limited, is much better than my all-but-nonexistent Italian. “Are you OK?” they asked.

I’d just concluded 46 years living in New York City, where you can live next door to someone for 10 years without saying hello. But now, residing in the countryside of Puglia, I felt pangs of isolation.

Why We Wrote This

Neighborliness transcends language.

So I crossed the road. I stood in the street talking with Dino – I in English, he in Italian. One minute later they invited me in for a tour.

Here was a huge old fig tree. Dino plucked a few plump fruits and piled them into my cupped palms. He Tore a fig in two and popped one half in his mouth, giving me the other.

Delicious!” I declared.

We repeated this sequence with plum and walnut trees. We sat at a table under a canopy of pines. While neither of us knew many of the other’s words, nothing important was lost. I’d understood the wave of his hand inviting me in. I understood being handed figs straight from his tree. We understood all we needed to understand: that now we were true neighbors.

The other day, Dino, our neighbor across the road, saw me in front of our new home in Italy and called out, “Good evening!” His English, though limited, is much better than my all-but-nonexistent Italian. “Are you OK?” they asked.

They had greeted me before, usually with a Buongiorno (good morning) or a Buonasera (good evening). Once, seeing him trying to fix a tall street lamp, I’d hold a ladder for him to climb. But that was pretty much it for us: a general air of cordiality prevailing, nothing more.

I’d just concluded 46 years living in New York City, where you can live next door to someone for 10 years without saying hello, much less introducing yourself. But now I’m living in a town in Italy’s Puglia region, and everyone here except my family is a stranger. And, residing in the countryside as we do, I’ve started to feel pangs of rustic isolation.

Why We Wrote This

Neighborliness transcends language.

This moment therefore seemed an opportunity to get to know Dino a little. I could have stayed behind our gates to talk with him through his gates, as if from cell to cell in a prison. But instead I unlatched our front entrance and crossed the road towards him. I then recalled how someone had once said of Italians that if you take half a step towards them, they will take a full step towards you.

And that’s what happened. I stood in the street talking with Dino and his wife, Grazia – I in English, they in Italian. One minute later they invited me in for a tour.

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