Here's a review, in no particular order, of some other notes I skipped in the previous posts.
I remarked to Evan that Dutch and Belgian people have a language and voices like cheerful bells and chimes, and that German isn't like that. So he said, "What is it like then? Beer and bretzels?" Well I think he was onto something there. So I was trying to think what Italian sounds like, other than just plain fantastic. I think it would have to be some food or cooking analogy, but maybe I'll have to go there again before I can figure it out completely. :)
One of the top reasons that Italian is fantastic, is that people answer the phone with "Pronto!" Seriously, "Hello?" pales in comparison.
One of the culinary things that I had read about but that takes a while to figure out, is the aperitivo tradition. Bottomline, from about 6 p.m., before you have dinner, you can order a drink and you'll get some snacks that are included in the price. Seems Italians tend to have their actual dinner a bit later.
Tipping! Oh, man. It's the one thing you always forget to look up before you go to a foreign country. Does one tip waiters in _______? We were unsure the whole time. Googling it now the answer for Italy seems to be "it's mostly up to you".
Some people in very tourist-oriented Milan spoke plenty of English, as is not unexpected from younger waiters or hotel staff anyway. What I really appreciated was that no one seemed afraid of the language. They just used whatever they had. Also, they're not shy about their accent. Nowhere did we hear an automated recording made by a native speaker. On the train it was all, "Nextə stoppə, Turro. Doors open on de rightə." And the train ticket machines that seem to shout at you even had some parts that would be hard to transcribe. You know what the machine wants, you just don't know exactly which words it chose to communicate that.
The Senegalese bracelet guys! Or umbrella sellers. Or whatever else they might turn into, depending on the weather. I mentioned the bracelet "scheme" in the first post. What I was wondering is, how do these guys, and all other new and industrious immigrants, operate? Where do they buy their wares from? How quickly are they connected to other people from their home country who help them out? Just, everything. I bet there's a documentary in that. How does someone like the umbrella seller a) get to Italy, b) support himself initially, c) become economically active, d) continue from there? I'd love to know.
Milan was my first experience of beggars on the subway. Twice we had "musicians" announce their plight and then play their violin for their alms. After telling us about how his family needs to eat (see, my Italian is great!) one guy proceeded to do so, his violin plugged into a portable amp set on a really odd-sounding echo effect. The Italian guy sitting next to me said something, then realised he had to switch to English to tell me that "the music is so bad." There's that famous Milanese culture and snobbishness: I'm being tortured by bad music on the subway. Another time a lady got on the train and announced her problems in a loud, high-pitched voice, before making her way through the car with her toddler in tow. I wondered how he'll feel about that experience when he's older.
On a more positive note, I'm sure you noticed the greenery spilling from the rooftops and balconies. This was one of my favourite parts of Milan. Also, you need to peek through doorways to really get an idea of how nice the courtyards are. Alternatively, you can spy on Italy with Google maps. Torino also had nice greenery, but there I was more obsessed with the neon signs. Even Shiseido and Zara had neon signs in addition to their regular signage.
And finally, "prego". Japanese students and teachers often asked how to say "dōzo" in English. The answer is, "It depends." If you're handing someone something, it's usually "Here you are" or "Here you go", or something along those lines. There are situations where a gesture and a simple "please" could work, e.g. "Please, take my seat." A more formal context may even call for the closest phrase I can think of, "If you please." As it turns out, the European languages I've encountered so far have this idea of "dōzo" covered. In Dutch or Flemish "alstublieft" functions as "please" (as one might guess from "asseblief" in Afrikaans) but also as "Here you are" or "If you please". Waiters use it all the time. German has "Bitte schön" for "please", "If you please", "May I help you?", "You're welcome"... is that even all? "Bitte?" also works for "Pardon?" As for Italian, "prego" works for "please", "You're welcome", and "If you please"-type situations.