Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Una Memoria Confusa

As a Christmas present to each other, Erin and I took a small vacation to Lake Como for a few days last week. As usual she has comprehensively blogged about the whole trip, and I am writing just to reflect on the experience of meeting Caterina Greppi. Quickly summarizing, Caterina was born in Varenna and spent her entire life there. At one point in her younger years she worked in the nearby town of Lecco, and has visited a few places in Italy. However she has never been outside of the country and speaks nothing but Italian. We spent an amazing evening with her; speaking only Italian of course as there was no other way to communicate. There were a few things here and there that I didn't fully understand, but such things were few and far between. As impatient as I am, it was encouraging to have had such a trial-by-fire encounter and fare so well, after only 3 months of school.

Caterina is a warm lady who almost immediately feels like family. However what I wanted to quickly share is how odd the memories have of her are. It's not that anything particularly strange happened apart from the happenstance encounter, but how it's filed away in my mind. This will be difficult to explain to monoglots, as well as polyglots who were raised speaking more than one language or otherwise learned one early in their youth.

I am a native English speaker, and apart from having lightly studied a couple of dead languages, I have not been able to communicate in anything other than English until very recently (and still not very well). I think in English. I dream in English. I ponder, calculate, fantasize, and speculate in English, all within the autonomous and subconscious lines of my brain. Now that I am studying Italian and slowly gaining experiences and learning concepts that only exist in it and not English, the lines in my brain are gradually becoming more and more blurred.

Caterina is so far the biggest example of such blurring; let me try to explain. When you spent time with your friend or a family member a week or so ago, and you think back to the conversation you had, you automatically recall things that were said. "Tiffany had a birthday." "Dad came home early and mom grandma made tea." "Sono nata settanta cinque anni fa a Varenna." Did you catch that?

People speaking only one language never encounter this because they don't realize the work their brain does, especially with things like memories. It's done automatically because it has been trained for years to do so. One doesn't think her or she thinks in English because he or she just thinks... or so he or she thinks.

When I think back to the time we spent with Caterina I get a bit confused. If I think about experiences she shared, my brain feels quasi-normal. When I think about what she actually said, that's when things get rather weird. I know she was born seventy-five years ago in Varenna, but she never said those words!

I know there are others out there that have experienced this. If reading this has struck a chord, please share. <nerdiness> To me it's a rather interesting phenomenon. </nerdiness>

Monday, December 24, 2007

And the 24hr Loop Begins!

Aside from family, Christmas movies are one of my favorite things around the holiday. Erin and I always watch several Christmas movies over and over during this time of year, but there is one that tends to get more airtime than the rest: A Christmas Story. For as long as I can remember, the TBS station in the US has looped this movie for 24 hours every Christmas Eve!

It's just about 11:00am here in Florence, and Erin and I have started the loop (we ♥ technology)! Of course we'll probably mix it up a bit with the Home Alones (only 1 and 2 of course) and a few others, but A Christmas Story will be on the most.

I leave you all with this brilliant reenactment of a classic scene from the movie. Merry Christmas!

Sunday, December 23, 2007

What Would Jesus Buy

For those of you not familiar with the Reverend Billy and the Church of Stop Shopping, be warned - he may have a chemical imbalance. He also may seem cynical and overly sarcastic, but he carries a message near to my heart: American (over) consumption is destructive to Americans, the environment, and countries foreign to our own (particularly those blatantly exploited by corporations like Wal-Mart).

I just heard of this crazy through the Sojourners blog. After reading and following a few links, I discovered that he teamed up with Morgan Spurlock to create the film titled What Would Jesus Buy. I can't speak at length on its content as I haven't seen it, but I imagine it would be one worth watching. I am a fan of Spurlock since Super Size Me, as well as an anti over consumerist, so being that Christmas is only a couple of days away I present to you the trailer for What Would Jesus Buy:

On a closing note I'd like to link to these reminders of how we as Americans have allowed such behavior to stain our culture. The sad part is that many people find footage such as in the linked videos to be humorous, as if it were just a comical blip on our cultural radar.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Confusion, Crisis, and Disillusionment: A Preface, Part 3 (the Conclusion)

Picking up where I left off, Erin and I finally left the states for Italy. The first 2 weeks were vacation, and it was amazing. Erin wrote about this time on her blog, so if you're interested peruse her August and September archives. After this relaxing period we finally settled into our apartment in Florence. Of course this turned out to be a considerably more difficult process than we had anticipated, and again Erin documented it quite well.

So life began carrying on almost how we had planned. Our Italian classes started at 9am and ended at 1pm, and from 2pm to 8pm I worked from home for the company at which I had started as a contractor. On the Italian side, life was good. We made friends quickly through school and some outside. Our school itself was (and still is) excellent. The teachers are very qualified and passionate both about the language and teaching it. On the US side, well, things were turning for worse. Due to the abysmal conditions of the real estate market (and the US economy in general), as well as "other internal issues", the company began making cutbacks. At first it was the developer hired to work alongside me - his time was reduced from almost part-time to considerably less-than, to no time. Some other parts of the team also parted as time went on, and the general direction of the project now seemed quite lost to me. As of this writing, the conditions of the project are the same.

At this point, assuming you were able to digest my last posts, you can probably imagine where my head is regarding my professional path thus far. Let me summarize: I'm burned out, tired, confused, unmotivated, unsatisfied, and uncertain. How does one cope? I'm good at what I do and I enjoy it, but after these experiences I'm left wanting.

Amidst this spinning of my head, we moved to a foreign country with the decisive goal of learning a foreign language: Italy. Why Italian? That is an excellent question, an answer for which I hope to clarify in my own mind through these writings. As far as I know, I don't have the slightest trace of Latin blood in my history. I've been led to believe that I'm a fairly classic mix of Scottish and Irish, a bit of English, and a dash of native North American. My wife is probably of similar descent, consisting of Irish and English heritage.

So why Italian then? Boh. I do actually enjoy the mathematics behind language, and I find the evolution, dispersal, amalgamation and cultural assimilation of them very interesting. I studied a bit of Latin and ancient Greek in high school and college, and for whatever reason found them both fascinating. So I do possess a general nerdy attraction to language, but why study Italian above all others? I think it's part chance and part choice. Chance because I wanted simply to experience the shock of a new culture. I wanted to assimilate; I wanted to learn how others live first hand. What better way to do that than diving in? The specific choice of Italy has to have something to do with the rich cultural history and the juxtaposition of that with modern Italian life. I find it beautifully contradictory; something like oil and water and at the same time like melody and harmony. If you take a walk in the part of Rome that leads up to the colosseum, where you emerge from modern urban buildings into its ancient and seemingly monolithic presence, you will know what I mean.

I think that's all for my "preface." If you managed to read it all, thanks. I'll continue with posts in this category in the present, as I experience things that lead me one way or the other, bringing with them clarity or otherwise taking it away.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Back to Normal...

It looks like the strike has come to an end.

Viva la repubblica!

Terza Giorno Dello Sciopero

Produce section at the COOP where we shop.
Today is Wednesday, the third day of the national strike of the autotrasportatori (truck drivers). This means that no products whose delivery depends on the truckers, including produce, dairy, meat, and gas, are being delivered anywhere in the country. The grocery store shelves are starting to thin out and the streets are gradually becoming more and more tranquil.

Running out of cheese!
What is the strike about? Money of course. The truckers are claiming that they need more money to combat the rising costs of diesel. Great. Newsflash - Italy is expensive and many workers in many job sectors are in desperate need of higher pay. Is the answer to effectively hold a key piece of national infrastructure hostage and drag the economy to a grinding halt? Now let me clearly state that I believe strongly in workers rights and protection, but to me this is borderline terrorism and should not be tolerated.

Here is an article (in English) about the happenings. Viva Italia!

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Backwards Verbs

Anyone who as traveled in Italy and/or possesses an elementary grasp of the language at a conversational level has surely run across the word piacere. If you've paid attention to how it's used, you've probably noticed that it's a bit of an odd word. As a noun it means "pleasure" or "favor", and as a verb means something like "like." An example usage as a verb:

Mi piace quella ragazza!

Which means "I like that girl." Sounds simple enough, until you understand the structure and realize what the subject of the sentence is. In English the subject is "I" - "I" does the action and the girl is the object. And in Italian, it's completely backwards! "Ragazza" (the girl) is the subject and "I" is the object. A more structurally similar translation in English could therefore be "That girl is pleasing to me." While this is grammatically correct, no one speaks like this in everyday conversation, at least not in the United States. Nevertheless it was useful (at first) for me to think like this, until I learned that piacere belongs to an entire family of verbs that function like this!

Now consider the verb mancare, which means "miss" respectively. Now peek at its usage:

Penso che ti manchi quella ragazza!
I think you miss that girl!

As far as I know there isn't way to translate the structure of this sentence in English, even awkwardly, as there is with piacere. Once you get the hang of how this group of verbs work, it's not so difficult. However it takes time for one's mind to subconsciously file them away and autonomously cope with how they work.

Out of curiosity, does anyone out there know of a way to (structurally) translate this use of mancare? Also if you care to share some other verbs in this "backwards" family, please do so!

Wednesday, December 5, 2007


I wanted to share a song by Regina Spektor. It's not a new one, but new to me. In my opinion she is underrated, perhaps because she doesn't quite fit into a well-navigated area of music, or maybe instead she is in fact lame and I'm simply delusional. Whatever the case, I find her original, lively, daring, creative, stunning, and altogether refreshing.

Confusion, Crisis, and Disillusionment: A Preface, Part 2

I didn't expect a preface to be worthy of more than one post, but I've realized that quite a lot happened before we left our mother country for Italy. I also seemed to have passively ignored the effects they had (and continue have) on me, and have realized that writing about them has proven to be a therapeutic exercise. Therefore if you haven't read part one you'll probably find the start of this one a bit choppy. On with it!

To further complicate my already my disheveled state of mind, my wife and I had finally decided on moving to Italy to study the Italian language after a year or so of wanting, scheming, and searching. We had nailed down an almost exact date at which we would leave the country, which left us with about 9 more months in the states. While our departure wasn't an absolute certainty, I had a hard time considering full time positions knowing that in 9 months I may very well be leaving. On the other hand, my bringing in money wasn't an option, so it was only on survival instincts that I searched high and low for work.

My first find was at a crappy real estate magazine that would require me to drive an hour and 15 minutes to work everyday in Daytona, which is one of my least favorite places in Florida. Now it's known by people in my profession that the pay scale in north Florida for our work is embarrassingly low, so when I tell you that this company offered me a laughably low amount, you better believe it was laughably low. After a half hour (or more) of talking, explaining, negotiating, and several calls home to verify some numbers, I accepted and agreed to start in 2 weeks. Why? Because I told them I was likely moving to Italy and that wasn't a deal breaker... and because I had been desperately (and unsuccessfully) searching for a steady job for several weeks.

Fast-forward 1 week. As I was driving to a nearby city to finalize a contracted project I had finished, I received a phone call from another company for a full-time position as a lead developer. The work was more interesting, the pay was much better, and the location more accessible, so that evening I accepted and broke off the deal with the other company. I don't normally operate in such a dog-eat-dog fashion, but desperation and emotions got the best of me. All of this time I was relentlessly stressed about the instability of my life, and almost exclusively by the fact that we would most likely be leaving the country in 9 months. I knew that it was highly unlikely for my new position (a typical corporate office one) to keep me on staff while I was overseas as that just wasn't the aura of the company. As such I fostered a contracting position on the side, one that would likely be able to come with me to Italy.

This is when things started to become fairly crushing. To keep it short, I worked in the evenings on the contract. Each day its needs became greater and greater, and slowly I began seeing my friends less, getting out of the house less, eating less, sleeping less, wanting to live less, etc. I had become a workaholic. I allowed this to happen not because I wanted to be, but because I felt I had to find some way of bringing in income while in Italy. Eventually the contract became a full-time position, and after 6 or so months at a corporate job, I left to work for the other company from home.

My health improved rapidly as I was eating and sleeping normally, surfing with a good friend on a regular basis, and enjoying life again as I had been accustomed to. Sadly this lasted for maybe a month, and my new full-time position became all-consuming once again. Why? Because the project was underestimated, poorly thought out, and generally misunderstood by its creators. I realize these are strong words and I don't bash, but there is simply no other way to describe the situation. It had become a living nightmare and I loathed it. Of course I allowed this to happen (again) because of the prospect of having income while in Italy. For a few months I sucked it up, all the while questioning how I had reached this point, was it worth it, did I remember who I was, had I chosen the wrong path of work ... the list goes on.

Finally the day came when we left for Italy. To quickly summarize: I trained someone to keep things afloat for the 2 weeks in which we (my wife, in-laws, and I) would be unavailable. We'd be traveling through Germany, Switzerland, and Italy, before settling in Florence where we would begin our study of Italian. I had been telling the company owners from very early on that what they wanted was not attainable for what they had prepared for, and finally they listened ... or so it seemed.

I'll end here, and I think one more post should do for the preface ;-).

Saturday, December 1, 2007

La Mia Altra Insegnante: Dylan Dog

Last night as Erin and I were returning from our evening passeggiata, we passed a libreria that sold old/used books. I had seen this shop many times and had been meaning to stop by and have a look around. As we were passing I noticed a box just outside the door full of comics, and most of them were Dylan Dog originals from the mid 90s.

We had just come from what could be compared to a thrift store in the states, at which we had bought a couple of books at a reading level of 10 years or younger. For some time now we've been wanting some reading material that we could actually digest, and were happy to find a couple of children's books at a cheap price. However when we saw a box full of Italian fumetti outside such a quaint store, we had to stop. After looking through a handful of Dylan Dog editions (each costing € 1), I decided on issue 99, "SINFONIA MORTALE":

This is an original print from 1994 and I was excited to have bought it. I didn't know much at all about the series, but looking through the covers I realized that Dylan Dog was of genres near my heart: sci-fi, cult, and horror! After buying it I did some research and found that, much to my surprise, it was born in Italy! I find it odd that a comic with such a name would have been of Italian origin, but indeed it is.

The series has an international presence as well (in the states under Dark Horse), so perhaps some of you are already aware of it. I remember one of my teachers mentioning the series two months or so ago, but at the time I had no idea what it was. A different teacher also suggested that students invest in fumetti as learning materials, because they are cohesive stories with graphical contexts. I thought this was a good idea but had yet taken any action.

So now I am a happy reader of Dylan Dog, and I can't think of a better combination for my learning than a sci-fi/horror comic in Italian :-).

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Confusion, Crisis, and Disillusionment: A Preface, Part 1

This is the first post of what will be many on my current personal state of being and thinking. For the past several years now I have been experiencing a myriad of different things which have greatly affected me. From my core beliefs to the way I view other people and myself, to my general perspective of life and my ability to reason, I have been and continue to be changed. It's worth noting that some of what I'm experiencing are probably the effects of a quarter life crisis, which I accept. I'll hastily point out that while I am clearly experiencing some symptoms, there are some that I am unquestionably devoid of. These include boredom with social interactions and a desire to have children, with which anyone who knows me would quickly agree.

On a final preceding note I'll say that posts such as these may prove to be boring to most people. However I believe that there will be a handful that find it interesting, either because they are conducting sociological research on my age group or because the find they can relate. At any rate, here we go!

While I'd say I have been experiencing this seemingly endless metamorphic state for much longer, I'll start my ramblings with November 2005. At that time I had been working for a small software company in St. Augustine, FL for about 5 years. I started working there when I was 19 and worked on through my time at university, at which I was studying computer science. I enjoyed it at first as I was new to the industry and had many opportunities to learn many different things, including how (small) business functions, conducting marketing research, and many things related to technology. Most of what I learned had to do with software development, as that was the focus of my studies and my position in the company. However after 3 or so years, I began to stagnate. I attribute this to the stagnation of the company, which made several efforts to grow, and while successful on some very small levels, failed to ever really ascend to the next level. Aside from the fact that this indicated a clear (and comparatively low) ceiling on what I could achieve financially, it also clarified the immediate lack of intellectual opportunity. It's not that there were never tasks of moderate difficulty, there were, but there was nothing that would challenge me to a point at which I would evolve to a higher level of intellect. To me this was not acceptable, and the search for new work proceeded.

In November 2005 I was offered an exciting position at a start up which formed to provide a new breed of technological solutions to the voting world, in both the United States and the United Kingdom. Even though the company was a start up (which mean less pay), I was absolutely ecstatic to take it because of the industry, challenges, and locations it offered. The company was an American child company of a parent based in England, and some of the development team was defecting. My first task was to go to England for a 2-week training session with the developers, and it was absolutely amazing. The work was enjoyable, my colleagues were both intelligent and progressive in their fields, and the challenges were altogether scintillating - I couldn't have been more excited.

Fast forward to April 2006. While I was very please with my new job, there was one insurmountable problem: the company was afloat by capital invested solely from the parent company, and the parent company was tanking. Yeah. When things turn for the worse, what must one do to survive? Whatever one must do, and in the case of the parent company that meant abandoning the child. So in April 2006 I found myself officially unemployed by downsizing.

Fortunately I had just started doing some contract work with a good friend, so it wasn't the absolute end of the world. In fact at first I wasn't really fazed at all. Having been led to believe the company would bounce back in a month or so, I rather liked the idea of a little down time and some freelance. As it happened, the down time became true unemployment, and the freelance wasn't as plentiful as needed. Things began seeming more clouded for me. I was disappointed and frustrated at having lost a position that I had found so exciting, and while freelancing provided some income, it didn't satiate my need for intellectual growth. However it was during this notably awkward time in my life that my friend and I incubated and brought into fruition another project. This was truly fulfilling, even if on different levels. However by design it wouldn't pay the bills, and so shortly after the launch I once again began my search in the "real world" for a "real job."

I'll end this post here as it's becoming almost indigestible :-).

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Listening, Learning

I have found that listening to my Italian friends speak English has helped me understand some things about Italian which seem quite strange to an English speaker. Let me first say that the single most difficult hurdle for me (and probably for most monolinguists) has been accepting the fact that not all things translate, no matter how illogical that may seem. However if you can just absorb the meaning, the wording begins to seem less alien. One of my teachers worded this phenomenon quite well; she said that you must first capisci il significato (understand the meaning), and then worry about the structure.

For example, in Italian you almost always have to use a definite article (like "the" in English) before a noun. There are exceptions of course, but this is the normal structure. For example:

Il mio gatto e` troppo grasso!

This means "my cat is too fat." The Italian word "il" is a definite article and translates to the English word "the". Leaving off the "il" would be grammatically incorrect and would sound strange when speaking with an Italian. However in sentences like this it doesn't make sense to translate "il" as "the", or anything else for that matter! My first reaction to this (after my initial "what the") was to simply ignore it. This allowed me to understand the meaning and still translate the sentence directly into English - and therein lies the problem. It is not possible to truly learn a language without thinking in that language, and translation makes such thought impossible.

This is where my English-speaking Italian friends come in. Let me first say that most of them speak English better than I do Italian, even though that is changing. While they speak it well enough to hold conversations it's obvious that English is not their first language. There are certain patterns to the way Italians speak English, and you're probably familiar with some of them as they have become popular stereotypes. One such stereotype is the exaggerative inflection on certain parts of words, while another is the seemingly automatic suffixation of a vowel to the end of every word. Think of how this might sound if spoken as written:

I wOUld-a lIke-a pIzza wEEth-a meatbAlls-a!

I often heard stupid things like this from my friends in the U.S. whenever I talked about moving to Italy. This is a stereotype because it is indeed true in many cases (this isn't as much a consequence of Italian as it is Latin), and it sounds goofy to native English speakers. Of course when English speakers speak Italian without inflecting properly, and certainly without rolling the Rs properly, it sounds equivalently goofy to Italians.

The pattern that has helped me truly understand and accept the definite article problem (without translating to English in my head), is how they forget to use certain pronouns (generally "it"). For example, when I am talking with one of my Italian friends in English, or watching a movie, there will sometimes be something that he doesn't understand (like a word or concept). He'll ask me to repeat the word, and then if it's new to him he will ask me:

What is?

Or if we are talking about a person that he doesn't know:

Who is?

If you were in such a conversation you would immediately know that English is not his first language. In English you have to identify who or what you are asking about either by using its name or by substitution with the pronoun "it." In Italian, you do not. Thus those phrases would be:



Chi e`?

respectively. There are no pronouns in these questions because you don't need them in Italian, so when an Italian asks those questions in English, they simply ask how they would have in Italian. This mismatch of grammatical rules is comparable to the mismatch of when definite articles are used in Italian versus when they are used in English. Such mismatches highlight the illogical nature of language, and that is a fact that is better learned and accepted early on. Indeed the grammar of a language is often mathematical, but every language is riddled with exceptions to the point where one can't realistically say it's logical.

Hearing my friends make these mistakes underscores a simple truth: that language is often illogical and understandable not only by adherence to its grammar, but also by shared cultural and social understandings.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Fare la Spesa a Firenze

I've never lived in a city the size of Florence before. It's not that large, but more so than any place I've lived. Tourism here is pretty much a phenomenon of epic proportions, and without a doubt the crux of the regional economy. With that in mind, consider that we live about 100-200 meters from the Basilica di Santa Maria del Fiore. Yeah, it's a bit crowded.

Because we live right in the center, we get the brunt of the crowding as well as the ridiculous prices at grocery stores. To circumvent this we take l'autobus (pronounce bus like boos) to a store further from our apartment, where the prices are much saner. The buses here are crazy by default. Not by design, but by consequence of Florentine traffic and the multitude of tourists. Stack that on a trip with 4 heavy bags of groceries stuffed between Italian leather boots, bus seats, mumbling immigrants and stranieri (like me), and you find yourself in a veritable inferno. Dante would have written another chapter.

Fortunately this particular trip is being offset by the stunning Tuscan sunset I'm watching right now :-).

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

I Just Work Here

It's amusing to me that in studying Italian I am subconsciously becoming more and more aware of how little I know about the grammatical structure of my native tounge. I frequent the bar across the street from our apartment to take a break from work and have an espresso. Over the last month or so I have become friends with the barista Miguel. When we first met we spoke mostly in English, for the sake of my understanding. While his English is probably still better than my Italian, we now speak mostly in Italian. The nice thing is that while he wants to learn to speak English better, he doesn't insist and enjoys speaking Italian with me. This evening however, we got into a discussion about grammar and comparing tenses in Italian and English. In my nerdiness I found it quite interesting, and even more so when I couldn't answer a couple of simple questions!

Miguel: Does "Ho vissuto" mean "I lived" or "I had lived" in English?
Me: "I lived."

Miguel thought it was "I had lived", and when I told him that wasn't exactly right...

Miguel: Why? What is the difference?
Me: ...crickets...

After a few seconds of silence...

Me: La differenza fra 'I lived' e 'I had lived' e` quasi uguale come la differenza fra il uso di il passato prossimo e l'imperfetto.
Miguel: Ho capito!

This he understood. I explained that the difference between the two is similar to the difference between the Italian tenses of passato prossimo (recent past) and imperfetto (imperfect). If any English and Italian buffs out there know this to be incorrect, please correct me. I apologized to Miguel for my uncertainty and told him I would find out. Another question followed:

Miguel: How do you pronounce "ch" in English?
Me: Like "ce" in Italian. Except sometimes when we pronounce it like "ch" in Italian...

Miguel: Quale parole (Which words)?
Me: ...crickets...

In Italian ch is pronounced like ck in English. I again apologized and assured him I'd come up with an example or two (and I have: architect and chorous). These questions and my troubles answering them really underscore the fact that as a native English speaker, I don't really know the language, I just speak it.

It's things like this that I really love about living here. I am really glad to have started finding friends, for lots of reasons. I learn much from them - about Italian, English (go figure), culture - but more importantly, friends are just good to have. They help dull the edge of being a foreigner, and help this place feel more like home.

Thursday, November 1, 2007

A favorite Italian word: "dimmi"

As a native English speaker, I find Italian to be a very playful language. It seems that every couple of weeks I have a new favorite word. Currently, my favorite word is "dimmi." You pronounce this word like you would say the name "Jimmy," but the first "i" is long. It might look like "dee-mee", except that the accent is only on the first "i". Perhaps it might look more like "DEE-mee."

This word is actually two words: the verb dire and the pronoun mi. The literal translation is something like "tell me" or "say to me", but as with most literal translations, this fails to capture the meaning.

I'm still absorbing the meaning, but it tends to be used in informal and semi-formal situations. For example, in class I (often) say to the teacher "ho una domanda" ("I have a question"), to which she responds "dimmi." Another example is bars. Bars are in Italy are not what they are in the states. They are more like what we call coffee shops or cafes, but they do serve alcohol. Italians use the English word "pub" to refer to what we call bars. Anyway, bars are known foremost for coffee - an absolute staple in the Italian diet (as well as my own). When you get the attention of the barista, you will often be greeted with "dimmi."

These are the most common situations in which I hear this word. If you're as overly analytical as I am, you'll get hung up on the use of the same word in the different contexts. If a bar tender were to say "tell me" to you upon entering a bar in the states, you'd probably think he was being rude. However I've experienced this enough now to have realized that it's not rude here. Of course if the context or tone were different, it could be. However it is used here as a terse way to say something like "Hello, may I have your order?" in English.

Why is this at all fun or interesting? I don't know :-)