When I booked a trip to Italy, my wife had one demand: Under no circumstances are you to develop an Italian catch phrase.
And I can assure you, after my experience in Puerto Rico, I had no intention of doing so.
In fact, we planned our trip only three weeks in advance, so I was only able to learn three phrases, ‘bon journo’ (good day), quanto costa (how much does it cost?) and il conto per favore (the check please). I had hoped that we could have planned our trip six weeks out so I could have learned six phrases, but that just wasn’t in the cards.
Anyway, everyone said I must try the food in Italy, which was great advice, because I would have starved had I not. I had also planned to try the water and oxygen while I was there as well.
After searching high and low for an Olive Garden unsuccessfully, we finally settled on a small outdoor café. When the pizza arrived, it was covered in whole strips of prosciutto.
I swear, I only removed a strip of meat from the pizza to pretend it was a moustache, which I knew my wife would appreciate, but the wind must have caught it because the prosciutto went flying through the air and slapped right over the eyes of a guy who was riding by on a moped. He crashed right over a fruit stand and onto some nearby tables.
The entire restaurant gasped.
A silent moment passed when I finally spoke up.
“Il conto per favore,” I shouted out to the waiter.
The entire restaurant started telling me how hilarious I was in Italian (or at least I assumed they were telling me how hilarious I was. Karen claimed they were yelling at me, but I think she was just being negative).
Karen warned me right there not to allow that to become my catch phrase, but it was too late. I was addicted.
I immediately started to apply ‘il conto per favore’ to other situations.
At the Vatican, we were stuck in a large crowd. A short Italian woman kept pushing into me until I turned to her and shouted ‘Il conto per favore!’
Her husband seemed to be offended by this, because he grabbed me by the collar and began shaking me. When he had finished, I replied ‘il conto per favore.’
Later, I was stopped in the street by an Italian reporter. She started asking me questions in Italian. I was just about to tell her that nobody understands what she’s saying, when a passerby informed me that she was asking what I thought about Italy’s new government.
I turned to the reporter, paused and said ‘il conto per favore?’
The Italians around me all started snickering, including the old man who had been shaking me.
“What are you laughing at, old man?” I said to him sharply.
“Il conto per favore!” he replied.
“That’s my catch phrase!” I erupted. Karen had to restrain me.
Unfortunately, I soon learned that ‘il conto per favore’ didn’t so neatly apply to every situation, as I had hoped.
At night, I had stepped out of the hotel to grab a bottle of wine. When I returned, the guy at the front desk greeted me with ‘buno sera.’
‘Il conto per favore,’ I replied.
And with that, I had accidentally checked us out of the hotel.
We were left wandering the streets of Rome.
Karen was furious.
“I know,” I tried to calm her down, “I’m mad at that hotel clerk too.”
“No, I’m mad at you!” she replied.
“Are you sure you’re mad at me and not the hotel clerk?” I asked.
“You!” she replied.
“And not the hotel clerk?” I asked.
Karen didn’t get a chance to reply (which I interpreted as her not being mad at me) because we were interrupted by a bum, one of those fancy Italian bums dressed in a suit and Italian loafers, which little know fact, in Italy are just called loafers.
“We don’t have any money…” I started to tell him.
“Il conto per favore!” he said pointing at me.
Before I could accuse him of copyright infringement, I was surrounded by Italians, patting me on the back, laughing and saying ‘il conto per favore.’
One of them pointed over to a TV. On the screen was a large Italian crowd outside some sort of government office, carrying signs reading ‘il conto per favore.’
Apparently, my TV interview earlier had sparked some sort of revolt against the government.
Later, we were taken into custody for questioning.
“Ever since your little TV stunt, Italians have stopped taking the government seriously!” an investigator said angrily. “They’re demanding new leaders, and a check. A check for what?! You know how long it took us to elect that government?”
“Quanto Costa?” I replied.
Karen elbowed me. “Don’t try to start a new catch phrase!” she yelled under her breath.
“You Americans are so arrogant,” the investigator went on. “You come in here, destroy our government’s credibility and then you’ll go back home like nothing happened and share photos you took of the Coliseum.”
“You guys have a coliseum?” I asked.
“I bet you can’t even name three Italian presidents,” he challenged me.
“Yes I can,” I replied. “There’s the comedian, the pervert… and…. Julius Caesar?”
With that the Italians tried to hang us, but we managed to escape in a Delta 747. Karen claims we weren’t sentenced to death and that we didn’t escape, we were simply asked to leave. Whatever, there’s a fine line.
Karen says there isn’t a fine line, there’s a huge difference between escaping and leaving.
After returning home, I learned that things had deteriorated even more in Italy and at last check, the country had vanished from the globe.
Karen says I’m looking at the wrong part of the globe, and if I simply give it a spin, I will find that it’s still there, but I don’t have time to spin globes. I’ve got a bunch of stuff I’ve got to do.