By Mark Orwoll
Mark Orwoll, seasoned traveler and T&L Managing Editor, is here to help you with all your travel questions. Think of him as your personal concierge, and ask away....
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Q. My wife and I want to spend a week in Europe this November, but we're having trouble selecting a destination. Our first choice would probably be Rome, but we're concerned about our not being able to speak Italian. What do you think?Can you recommend a hotel that could assist us with our language problem?
A. Let me ask you a simple question, bambino: "Ci andiamo?Non aver timore! Fai pure!" That's Italian for "Git on your hoss and ride." Rome is about as cosmopolitan as cities get. You won't be the first or last visitor there who doesn't speak the lingo. I certainly don't speak the language of every country I've traveled to. I am, however, adept at international sign language. Do you know it?Try some of these in front of friends, sort of like charades, and see if they can figure out what you mean: scooping motion toward mouth ("I'd like something to eat"); thumb extended toward your face, pinky extended away from you, and hand making a tipping motion toward your mouth ("Something to drink, please"); pointing at an item in a shop and holding up two fingers ("I'd like two of those, please"); dancing wildly in place ("Where is the nearest men's room?"); hand behind your ear and quizzical look on your face ("I'm sorry but you're speaking Italian so I don't understand you"). Actually, these are my own gestures, but they usually work (except for the dancing wildly).
The best advice: Don't be nervous. If you are staying at a moderate to large hotel in Rome, someone at the front desk will speak English. They will be able to give you directions, recommend restaurants, and generally orient you before you leave the womblike safety of the lobby. Armed with a pocket-size phrasebook, you'll be able to communicate in most situations.
Will people ever be rude to you because you don't speak Italian?Probably. Will you be frustrated at not being able to convey your thoughts?Almost certainly. Should any of that stop you from experiencing one of the most wondrous cities in the world?Not on your life.
Always remember: Tutte le vie possono condurre a Roma.
The information in this story was accurate at the time it was published in July 1998, but we suggest you confirm all details and prices directly with the service establishments before making travel plans.