Our man in Calabria tries sweet talking the local butcher – with dire results!
Mele, Maiale e Miele. To the untrained ear these three words sound strikingly similar but mean quite different things, though not without their occasional synergy – apples, pork and honey.
It’s absolutely true what they say, a little knowledge is a dangerous thing. My language skills have improved to the point now where I can be lethal... to myself and all those around me! So much so that I can breeze in with a pretty accurate Italian accent and be mistaken for a native. This ability has the perverse effect of actually increasing the chances of misunderstanding rather than diminishing them.
“He said it in such fluent Italian that he must mean what he said.” It’s the misplaced stresses and nuances in pronunciation that mean you can arrive at a completely different destination to the one intended.
Last week I hot-footed it down to my friend Franco at Remo’s butchers to buy a joint of pork for roasting on Sunday, a little British treat with apple sauce and a honey glaze. With aforementioned breeze I entered the shop and greeted the staff with bonhomie and chatted about the wonderful weather we were having in December. Why are we always surprised by the same weather every year?
“So what would you like?” the staff enquired as one after we’d chewed the cud.
“Two kilos of your finest pork,” I answered assuredly. The faces frowned. “Are you sure? Two Kilos?”
“Yes, it’s for a traditional British dish. We roast it in the oven with some potatoes.” At this point any other self-respecting butcher would have chucked me out the door, but not at Remo’s.
“OK, give me a minute,” said Franco as he disappeared into the back of the shop.
“So how much will that be?” I asked the staff, producing my thin wad of euros.
“How much?” I exclaimed.
“Well it’s the best in the region so you have to expect to pay a little more,” explained Franco.
“A little more! OK then, I suppose,” I replied, beginning to regret my promise to cook the Sunday lunch.
Franco arrived on the scene a few moments later, staggering in with a large brown box which he dropped rather quickly to the floor.
“Pork in a box?” I wondered.
“Have a look,” urged Franco. I opened the box to find a neat row of jar-tops.
“Two kilos of the finest honey in Calabria,” he announced proudly. “Now, what wine would you have in England to go with this?” he asked, moving to the racked bottles along the back wall. I think he might just have been taking the mickey by then.
Friends of ours, an Irish couple, recently had their own story to tell. When they went to their local municipio to register their intention to live in this wonderful country and obtain their ID cards as proof, they were asked, after much form-filling confusion, to come back the following week with their luggage (this is not as bizarre as you might imagine, if you have any experience of officialdom in Southern Italy). Quizzical but compliant, they duly turned up at the appointed hour and heaved their suitcases to the front desk.
“What’s this?” enquired the concerned clerk. “Have you lost your home?”
“It’s the luggage you asked for.”
“No, I said, ‘Next week come with someone who knows both the languages! Mamma Mia!”
Charles Winning is a Scot and Blue's guitarist who has started a new life in southern Italy. You can follow his adventures, in this largely ignored part of Italy, on his blog Winning Over Italy. You can even win a jar of surplus honey!
"This was my introduction to the way that the Calabrian economy works. You never think about spending until you’ve met at least a cousin or a friend of the man who sells the item you want, be it a car or an evening meal. Drop the name and see the price drop too." – From Charles's previous post You can't marmalade without a guitar... Read more
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