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Amber Paulen

Ma Dai!

It is a stereotypical observation to say that Italians enjoy an argument. I don’t mean the English way of arguing, the I’m right and you’re wrong pitted against each other kind of argument. An Italian argument is a stylistic persuasion that sometimes works and sometimes doesn’t. Though I’ve lived in Italy for nearly five years now, I haven’t taken part in many arguments. It’s not my personality. But my personality is adjusting to the country and when I’ve felt wrongly inspired lately, I’ve said so.

Like yesterday, at the post office, I didn’t have a document to claim the package I was picking up and I talked my way out of documents and into my package, albeit very inelegantly. And it was as if he was waiting for me to not agree with him and he wouldn’t have been happy if I would have accepted his “no” and walked away. The argument is accommodated by the language, the gesticulations and other physical expressions. It leaves both parties with the feeling of accomplishment, for something that is let done is hardly done at all. An argument is an expression and a point well argued is an art.

I’m reminded of Pier Paolo Pasolini’s essay Roman Slang where he says:

It is inconceivable for a Roman speaker, especially if he is young, to express a complete thought without using “expressive emphases” and without making use of “vivid” vocabulary… Roman slang depends on this fundamental “narcissistic fixation” in the average speaker, and his consequent exhibitionism.

And so the argument is the epitome of that exhibitionism and vocabulary. Where if the arguer is good, passion will be withheld in favor of what he has to say. I often wonder how much the Roman temperament was set back in the days of the Caesars when children would study and practices the art of rhetoric. But now they no longer need schools to teach it, for how often do you hear kids, walking with their parents, decry the persuasive lamentation, “Ma dai!”


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