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The Tour in English
by Betty Mermelstein

We waited in the Tour in English line, wavering between feeling comfortably smug that we were important enough to be given this special attention and feeling obviously incompetent in our skills to communicate in Italian. Making new best friends quickly gave us newfound confidence.

"Where you from?"


"Oh! That's just kitty corner to us in Arizona! "You been to the Four Corners?"

"Oh, sure. We've got relatives in Flagstaff."

We continued our bestie dialog, as I wondered if I would even have smiled at this guy in my local grocery store. 

Finally, it was time to begin our descent into the famous grotto. Our guide reminded us in his heavy Italian accent to stay on the path and not to touch the rock formations.

"These stalactites grow at a rate of 0.0051 inches a year." Fixing his eyes on my face, he smiled inquisitively, "Is that good for you?"

"Uhhhh," was the only thing emanating from my mouth. Not exactly the right time to ask that question. I tried to picture the training session this guide went through. At the head of the class stood either someone taking his or her English cues from Facebook or a sadistic American.

"Now we mount the boat," our guide announced, motioning to the wobbly rowboat waiting for us on the underground river. I raised my eyebrows to my bestie, who snickered into his jacket.

"Everyone step under the behind," we were newly directed.

Though we all should have known what he meant, a woman distracted by her children took him at his word and put her foot out under the stern of the boat. She hit the water like a flipped pancake slapping the floor.

I can only assume the tirade of Italian we heard next was either a profuse apology or our guide questioning his decision to lead the masses.

Having only lost about ten minutes while an escort was called for the sopping, sobbing woman and her kids, we embarked on the river tour.

"All branches inside the boat," we were warned.

Meandering through the grotto, we came upon a cavernous room whose ceiling was nearly indiscernible.

Our guide became very proud as he stated, "This is the best part of the tour. We call it the Cathedral. You can hear your organ in it."

As our eyebrows raised, he pushed a button on his phone, so we could indeed hear the echo of his, uh, an organ.

I gained a new appreciation of communicating in a different language, especially when someone is not fluent in it. I can only imagine what I would have sounded like if the situation were reversed. In my hope to wish that my clients would have a good time, I probably would have shouted, "Voglio goderti!": "I want to enjoy you!".