The Neapoletan dialect did not help daily life. All those hours spent at my ‘Parliamo Italiano’ BBC discs, learning the Italian verbs, practising conversation – what was the point of all that? How was I to know that Italian, the language I had been trying so hard to teach myself, was not spoken by the people I met on a daily basis. Instead, they all communicate in the Neapoletan dialect, left over from the Bourbon occupation – apparently quite useful still in certain parts of Spain – but meaningless to an English woman like me. Fortunately, the use of hand-language was relatively easy to understand and by watching people’s gesticulations I could ‘sort of” manage to follow some parts of conversations around me. However, it wasn’t much fun sitting at a table where anything from four to a dozen people would all be communicating in dialect and little old me had to be resigned to enjoying my meal. I didn’t at all like the sound of the dialect for quite some time, but when I eventually gained some familiarity with it, my opinion changed somewhat.
It took almost ten years, with no help at all, to fully understand what was going on around me and when I finally did, I kept it to myself. No-one had tried to help me, despite complaining if I dared to say something in English to one of my close friends, so I was not going to let them know how many tit-bits of conversation I could at last understand. By then many of the Neapoletan songs were familiar to me and although I found dialect being shouted down from a window to an acquaintance way below sounded very coarse, the poetry in those songs did touch me and I now really do love them. I can understand why that particular dialect apparently is the most popular one in all of Italy – it is humorous as well as tender and romantic.