Near closing time at my local supermercato, I found myself alone in the checkout line. I have no idea how they do it, but the clerks there usually guess that I am an American and ask in English if I would like a bag. Perhaps it’s my way of dressing, the food I toss in my basket, or the way I carry myself, but they always seem to know. In this instance, whether from fatigue, indifference, or ignorance, the clerk asked me – in Italian – if I would like una busta. I replied excitedly, in Italian, that I would indeed. When it came time for the customary transaction of the credit card for the pen to sign, she noticed that the one she presented to me was out of ink. In frustration, she threw it in the trash and stomped over to the next till – muttering exasperatedly about her long, boring, and tiring day – to find a functional one. As she walked, I said after her, “posso firmare in sangue” “I can sign in blood”. She returned chuckling with the pen, and when I left with my busta, she wished me a good day with a smile on her face.
To have the words immediately available to respond with empathy and effect the timing of comedy is a testament to my small degree of linguistic achievement.