It was an eerily sunny day and my friend Silvia and I were weaving our way to the park with the greenhouse. Her daughter Sofia had a play date and we were, of course, late. As we dragged the poor child by the cuff through the whizzing traffic of via Bolognese, Sofia made a comment that caught both her mother and I off guard.
‘Fosca is Davide’s girl’, she said in her out-of-the-blue three­ year-old way, ‘I’m Nico’s girl.’
And Nico’s girl she was. Upon arrival, the little rogue took her by the hand and sang her a very lengthy on-the-spot serenade. With barely two years of speech under his belt, Nico’s sing-song was simple and quite profound. Its only words were ‘my Sofia, my Sofia, my Sofia.’ By the tenth Sofia mia I gave her mother a questioning look. ‘Hanno unfeeling’,  she explained.
‘Unfeeling? This is more than a feeling. This is true love.’ ‘Oh, Linda, let the child at least turn four’, Silvia laughed.
‘I don’t know’, I countered, ‘considering how long it takes for the average Italian to actually pop the question, they’d best start their eternai courtship now. Especially if they have unfeeling.
As  it  turns  out  the  expression  avere  un feeling   does  not necessarily mean you’ve fallen in love; it simply means that you get on well with someone. English speakers, who talk about sentiments as if they were describing electrical equipment, would probably say something like ‘he and I really click’ or we have a connection .’ Both ‘click’ and ‘connection’ allude to the Anglo’s technological view  of  well-functioning  friendship.  Solid  relationships  ‘work’, shaky ones ‘stop working.’  It’s simply a question  of mechanics. You’ve got to manipulate the rapport until you hear ‘a click.’ Only then will the emotional mechanisms start functioning with some level of reliability. But if household appliances leave you cold, another adequate translation for avere un feeling is the well-loved English phrase ‘to have chemistry.’ Let’s just say that when sparks fly or personal intuition meets instant  understanding, there’s undoubtedly un feeling floating around in the stratosphere. But those who favor steadfast science over fleeting indefinable sentiment should still refrain from translating literally. In Italian, abbiamo chimica is nothing more than a hallway warning to a classmate who’s late for a lecture on molecular theorems.
Funnily enough, few Italians realize that in English the expression ‘have a feeling’ has more to do with harboring a sneaking suspicion than it does with nurturing empathy toward someone you’re keen on. In English, if you say ‘I have a feeling about Marcello’ it means you’ve got a hunch about him.
A far cry from chemistry, this type of linguistic confusion often runs rampant in Italy. Italians are not die-hard word nationalists and they employ foreign ‘expression with the zeal of those who love to speak-no matter the tongue. Words like ‘computer’, ‘weekend’, ‘stop’ and dozens of others have quickly become an ever-present part of daily chatter. Original meanings and structures often get changed as soon as they pull into the Italian pòrt.
The straightforward noun ‘foot’ grows into ‘footing’-the pseudo-English equivalent tojogging. Theleisure activity ‘camping’ becomes the universally recognized synonym for ‘camp-site.’ Italians say ‘spot’ to mean ‘television commercia!’ and ‘beauty’ to say ‘cosmr:;tics case.’ All this is proof that Italy is fertile soil: sow even the simplest of English expressions into this ground and what sprouts is a strange new species whose significance scarcely resembles the origina! seed.
‘Maybe Italians change meanings because we are not very good at defining things’, Silvia told me. ‘It’s also more fun to leave space for open interpretation ‘, she mused as we watched the soulmates play in the sandbox. Nico was singing again.
‘In English, we would call their feeling ‘a first crush’, I said. “‘Crush”?’, Silvia asked. ‘Is that like “crash”?’
I laughed, ‘No, it’s more like “smash”.’
‘Oh. How ugly’, my friend frowned. ‘Unfeeling  sounds much more beautiful.’
Unsurprised, I smile. Leave it to the Italians to import only the beautiful words for love.

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