"Translation is not a matter of words only: it is a matter of making intelligible a whole culture.”
I was having dinner with a friend last week when conversation turned to relationships. “All six friends within my circle are engaged”, he says (our friendship arose from a language exchange, so naturally we switch in and out of Italian and English). I know that at 25, people within our friendship groups are starting to do adult things like think about getting married, however I couldn’t quite believe that all of his friends could be engaged (and that all of them had got engaged last year as well...). ‘All of them?’ I asked him in disbelief, and he nodded.
10 minutes later, it all fell into place. He didn’t mean ‘engaged’ at all. He meant fidanzato, i.e. all his friends were in relationships. I explained and we laughed about it.
This wasn’t the first instance of this sort of thing happening. I had already experienced communication issues surrounding the lack of direct correspondence between terms for ‘having a boyfriend’ and ‘being engaged’ when I first moved here. I consistently disputed the fact that I was fidanzata (having told my new housemates about my boyfriend), wanting to make it absolutely clear that I was in no way, shape or form engaged. This then got me thinking about what you do if you actually are engaged….
I don’t think there are any set rules, and everyone I speak to seems to have a slightly different take on the term, but I’ve tried my best to clear it up a little bit.
Originally, fidanzato did mean ‘enagaged’ as we know it in English. However, the word now encompasses a range of relationship statuses:
1. Steady relationship (again, I don’t know exactly how ‘steady’ is defined, but according to most Italians this seems to be a relationship of about a year or more).
2. A little more than steady relationship.
3. A relationship in which the two partners have the ‘intention’ to marry, BUT this may or may not have been voiced.
4. Wedding date set.
Clearly the ambiguity lies in our differing viewpoints regarding marriage and engagement. To me, you can’t be engaged until the question has been asked and accepted, and the line between a ‘little more than steady’ relationship in which the intention to marry hasn’t been voiced, and a relationship in which the intention has been voiced is pretty distinct. However, in Italy, it is largely the rule to be fidanzato for eight to ten years before getting married. Often, no ‘engagement’ period as we know it even exists: being fidanzato leads seamlessly to marriage or simply long-term partnerships.
Could this be the result of la sindrome di Peter Pan, i.e. mammoni (Mama’s boys) not wanting to cut the apron strings?
Whatever the reason, is this not another example of the challenges of translating across cultures? Take note all of you who continue to argue that in five years time I won’t have a profession, due to machine translation.
Has anyone else experienced anything similar? I would ❤ to hear your stories.
Ciao for now!