Again with the comics


I’m pretty sure I’ve told this story before – 

In 6th grade there was a girl named Marguerite, an Italian-American girl like me (and like our teacher, Mrs. Forlano). Marguerite talked with her hands. So much so that, and I’m projecting here, it annoyed Mrs. Forlano. One day Mrs. Forlano held Marguerite’s hands down on her desk, asked her a question, and that poor girl could not utter a comprehensible word! She stuttered and err’ed and um’ed until her hands were released and the words came tumbling out in a rush.

In college I took Italian and most of the students were Italian-American. The professor was British and had been in British Intelligence during World War II. One of his assignments had been interrogating Italian POW’s. 

First day of class he had each of us stand, introduce ourselves and say why we were taking Italian. He then, correctly, identified which part of Italy our families came from.

According to the professor, he didn’t really need to know Italian to understand what the captive soldiers were saying – the hand gestures were enough. And, it seems, different parts of Italy generated different gestures. He allowed as Southern Italians were more ‘fluent’ in hand gestures than Northern Italians. I guess dialects applied to non-spoken Italian as well as spoken. 

Writing this made me wonder if mime differed from country to country. Turns out mime goes back to ancient Greece but became an art form in, wait for it, Italy in the 16th century, known as Commedia dell’arte. It was co-opted by the French in 1816 and now is thought of as being distinctly French. 

Mime aside, we Italians do talk with our hands, which is why I am way more funny and expressive in real life than I am writing or doing an audio-only. It’s why my blog Today’s Conversation went into decline. After so many years together the conversations between my husband and I were conducted in a sort of shorthand – he used words I used gestures – hard to write them down.

(A LINK to the history of mime, if you are interested, subtitled ‘…the most oh-so-French-of-art forms.)

8 thoughts on “Again with the comics

  1. Interesting about Italians talking with their hands and a prof who could figure where your family came from in Italy. My husband whose family is Greek talks with his hands more that I do. I wonder if it's a Mediterranean thing? Rhetorical question


  2. It's a good question for rabbit hole-ing…I don't know if I'm all that interested in the answer either. Maybe someday if I'm bored (and I don't forget.)


  3. Long story, but a met this guy who traveled around the U.S. for his work, and as a hobby he learned to identify people's place of origin by their speech. I was in Missouri at the time, and he correctly guessed I was from the central part of California, and that my work mate was from North Dakota (correct.) I thought it was funny because I figured I did not have any kind of accent–which is stupid I admit. But, because my mother was from Oklahoma, I have always been able to distinguish between an Oklahoma accent and a Texas accent. As far as hand gestures, maybe I'm too many generations removed from “the old country.”


  4. I should think it would be rather easy to distinguish a Texas accent from an Oklahoma accent. Then again, Texas has many accents and an East Texas accent is VERY distinct. I've known folks who have that uncanny ability – knew a fella who could tell whether a person came from Ridgewood, Queens or Ridgewood, Brooklyn from their accent – You might find this post fun –


  5. I talk with my hands 🙂 My English teacher would always ask me, Rory do you have Italian blood to you? You remind me of my husband's mother – she is always gesticulating – just like you are now! You are so animated!”


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