Celebrating our Italian teacher's birthday

We are celebrating the end of our first full week in Rome.  A big 
challenge for us is trying to learn Italian. But the nicest part of 
the experience has been how extremely encouraging everyone here has
been of our attempts to speak Italian.
 Nell came up with a game a few nights ago where she challenged us to 
speak only Italian for 30 seconds over dinner. Then we moved to one 
minute and so on. Our challenge continues. . . . Eli likes to have a 
parents-versus-kids Italian game where one team wins if they come up
 with an Italian word that the other team cannot translate correctly 
(so far, the kids are the reigning champions after Eli defeated us by 
knowing the Italian word for “flippers”).

Restaurant talk is relatively easy. The conversation is so contextualized and the phrases are so rehearsed.  After only a week,
we’ve all mastered regular phrases and some more idiosyncratic
 utterances, such as “My son would like another crème caramel” and “My
 daughter is a vegetarian.” Of course people working in restaurants in 
Rome are so used to dealing with foreigners that most of them can
 easily switch to other languages. Still, we all feel a sense of 
accomplishment when the food that we had intended to order arrives in
 front of us.

More of a challenge has been taking care of everyday things. The other 
night Jenny and I went to buy a printer. I practiced over and over 
again how to ask for what I wanted. But when the sales person
 approached me, I just gurgled. My mind went totally blank and I
 couldn’t even recall how to say hello. The next morning, our
 electricity went out (it seems to go out every morning as neighborhood businesses fire up their air conditioning units to combat
 38-40 degree—Celsius!—heat). The electrician and I went back and
 forth and he made a point of praising my Italian as he was leaving 
(though that was maybe 10% of our conversation). 
I was committed to doing better the next day when my eyeglasses broke. 
I wrote out what I wanted to say, and practiced it as I walked down
 the street. When I walked into the optical shop, I said something that
 probably sounded like: “Good afternoon. . .blah blah. . my
eyeglasses.. . .blah.” When the optician handed my repaired frames 
back to me, I took a deep breath and asked him if I could pay him for
 his service. “Of course not,” he replied, “but your Italian is
 excellent.” Buoyed by this flattery, I headed to my next errand. At a 
bookstore, I tried to ask the salesperson for help in finding a
 specific book on Italian grammar. She put her hand on my forearm and 
said, “But you don’t need it, you must be Italian.” Hardly (but I did
 blush). With this type of encouragement, who wouldn’t want to speak 
this language!

Yesterday, we decided to venture a bit out of Rome to do some shopping 
at an outlet outside of the city for a few things we didn’t bring with us (soccer cleats for the kids, umbrellas, etc.). We managed to buy our tickets and 
get comfortably seated on the train before remembering that tickets
need to be validated. I was able to get instructions from the 
conductor who ended our exchange giving me a thumbs-up while saying
 (in English) “good Italian.” When we arrived at the Valmontane train
station we found no outlet mall, no open station, no taxis. We had
 somehow assumed there would be a bus or taxi stand. A woman and her
 father at the station assumed we were lost and directed us back to
Rome. When we were finally able to convey where we were heading, she 
pointed to a telephone number on the wall for a taxi. I took out my 
telefonino and dialed the number. . .but then I panicked. As the
phone began to ring, I held it out to the woman and asked her to order
 the taxi for us, which she kindly did.
We ultimately got to the outlet mall and it was quite an unusual 
shopping experience. It was a huge outdoor area surrounded by
 absolutely nothing except a small village and beautiful mountains 
peeking out from behind the buildings. As it turns out, there is a bus 
service between Rome’s Termini Station and the outlet. But tickets are
 round trip only and must be purchased in Rome; it is called the “Fashion Bus”. At the end of the day,
we saw the bus loading and thought we might try our luck. The bus was 
full, but two people who had come out from Rome did not show up for
 the return. The driver waited ten minutes and then told us that we 
could have the two seats for free – we’d just have to have one child on 
each of our laps. So we survived our first venture out of Rome and had
 a great time. (and got lots of inexpensive stuff).