Parla lei italiano?

Little L waddles out the front door with his coat and shoes on, patiently waiting for me to put on mine. Our destination this afternoon is the post office to drop off a letter I should have sent to my health insurance company three months ago.

I remind him that he needs to hold my hand as we cross the street. It's a good thing that "hand" is the same word in both English and German.

"Hand," I say.

It's simple, I know, but I don't say much more because I still can't form a proper sentence like, "Give me your hand." He takes my hand and we're on our way.

When we arrive, I proceed to the first clerk and hand her my letter. I blank because I haven't the slightest idea what kind of directions I should give her with regard to my letter. I'm sure she'll need to know how soon I want this to arrive and I neglected to bring along my dictionary or memorize post office related terms. She begins to ask me questions in German, of course. Something about one franc.

"Sprechen Sie Englisch?" I ask. I hate asking that question. It's futile because what if she says that she doesn't speak English? What's my plan B?

"Nein. Französisch?"

"Nein. Italienisch?"

Good. She speaks a bit of Italian, and so do I. She explains that it costs 85 rappen to send a standard letter as "B-mail" or for one franc I could send it "A-mail" and the letter would arrive the following day. I send my letter "A-mail" and the polite clerk gives me a candy for Little L.

I walk away, amused that two semesters worth of Italian language courses have saved the day in the German speaking part of Switzerland, yet again, and I am sure this time won't be the last.

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