Why I Learned to Speak Italian, I Mean Spanish

To maintain our reputation on the East End as a highly sophisticated community, it’s incumbent upon us to constantly improve ourselves. To this extent, I was shocked to learn many of my Southampton neighbors were non-bilingual. Even the highly educated Robert from two doors down, who runs a NYC Hedge Fund, speaks only English. How shameful is that?

To do my part, and to advance the collective intelligence quotient of the peoples of the Hamptons, I recently decided to learn another language. I already speak the American, Australian and British languages. I pondered what additional language would serve me best, living on the South Fork. All options were on the table. However, it turned out that this was not as easy as I thought.

I contemplated learning Russian because that would impress my barber, who hails from the former Soviet Union. But outside of that relationship, I know of no one else in the area who speaks Russian.

How about French? After all, I am of French descent and it might be cool to be able to waltz into my favorite restaurant in Bridgehampton and carry on a conversation with the staff. But then I remembered that the last time I was in Paris, the indigenous people didn’t seem to warm up to me—so for that reason I decided to continue eating their delicious food but not to learn their language.

A friend, who is also a rabbi, told me I should learn Yiddish. A good portion of my social circle is Jewish, so it seemed like a logical choice. However, although it is a home language in Hasidic communities, most of my Jewish friends are orthodox and only know a small portion, if any, of the language.

In desperation, I turned to the trusted 2010 census to see just what other languages would most likely be spoken as a second language in the Hamptons. As of the most recent census, there were 1,493,350 people and 569,985 households residing in Suffolk County. The most common ethnicities were Italian (29.5%), Irish (24.0%), and German (17.6%).

So that basically gave me my three choices.

I know that it might sound petty, but I just don’t think the German language is romantic enough for me. It’s a harsh dialect with lots of emphasis on the hard-sounding letters. I also found out in my research that it’s a pluricentric language. I’m not sure what that means, but it was enough to make me know that I would not be taking German lessons.

I next did some research on Ireland and soon learned that the official language of Ireland is actually “Irish.” After remembering that corned beef and cabbage upsets my stomach and that I sometimes have nightmares that involve those scary little people they call Leprechauns, I decided to vacate that idea.

My last choice seemed the most logical, as I never met a pasta I didn’t like. My girlfriend is half Italian and it’s a very romantic language as well. Yes, as a gift to the East End, Mr. Sneiv would be taking Italian lessons.

I purchased a program online for $499, and a few days later it showed up in the mail. After several days of “listen and repeat” I was ready to try out my newfound wisdom. I headed over to my favorite Italian restaurant and, after being seated, started asking questions of my favorite waiter in Italian. I made sure I did it loud enough so that my sophistication could be witnessed by the other patrons within earshot.  The waiter looked at me as if I were crazy; “I’m sorry but I do not speak Italian—but I do speak Spanish.”

Could it be? At that moment, I realized my waiter was in fact not Italian but Latino. Come to think of it, so is my very talented landscaper. Some of my neighbors are Latino. Many of the East End businesses I frequent have someone working there who is Latino as well, including my favorite market. I sent the Italian lessons back to the retailer with the following note:

To Whom It May Concern,

I understand that you have a strict no-refund policy. I am not requesting a refund but would be very happy if you could exchange these Italian Lesson Discs for a set of Spanish Lesson Discs. I got some bad information from the census and failed to realize that Spanish is the Hamptons’ second language. Gracias, Mr. Sneiv.

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