I had dinner at my favorite local Italian restaurant a few days ago. As is the case with many restaurants in
America and a few Western restaurants in Hong Kong, a looped soundtrack plays over the PA system in the restrooms.
This restaurant washroom, however, doesn’t play music. It plays a “learn to speak conversational Italian” recording. So while one is washing her hands, she may hear a stilted dialogue about locating a seat on the train or navigating the airport check-in counter.
No matter the topic, only two voices are heard: a teacher voice and a student voice—or perhaps it’s the native Italian and the visiting foreigner. Every line of the scripted discussion is spoken in both Italian and English, in a very deliberate, pedantic tone. For instance, one might hear something like this:
Foreigner: “Are there any rooms available in this hotel?”
Foreigner: “How much does a room cost?”
Italian: “It depends on how many people are staying.”
Periodically, a pause in the exchange occurs and a new topic of conversation is encountered. (Disclaimer: I don’t spend exorbitant amounts of time in the washroom; but I have frequented this restaurant numerous times over the past six years. And they do have free refills on iced tea…)
My favorite Italian dialogue occurred while I was visiting this loo a year or two ago. It was such a bizarre conversation that I ran back to the table and wrote it down.
Foreigner: “What should I do if I meet a robber?”
Italian: “Do not resist him.”
Italian: “He may have a knife or a gun.”
Foreigner: “Will he try to hurt me?”
Foreigner: “What should I do?”
Italian: “You should give him what he wants.”
Foreigner: “What if I do not have what he wants?”
Italian: “You should always carry money for a robber.”