During summer, I learned that Italian tradespeople are especially wary of hornets.
Having never lived with hornets, we must be rather ignorant of them because we simply do what we have to do around the place and ignore them. There are also wasps. Compared to the insects and bugs in Australia, these are almost friendly.
So, in our ignorance, we've had a blissful summer surrounded by stinging insects.
One day, after a particularly aggressive thunderstorm, we noticed that our phone and internet had died. We called Telecom Italia, who sent a man out to check our lines. He was in his 50's and loved listening to our dodgey Italian. At one stage, he got particularly animated, pointed to his arm (which appeared swollen) and hit himself with a pointed finger! He kept repeating 'Non bene!'. We had no idea what had come over him but attempted to smile and frown at the right times.
After he'd left, I launched at the dictionary to look up the word he'd used during his remonstrations: 'calabrone'.
It meant hornet.
The next Italian tradesperson who came had a similar reaction to hornets. He was the muratore and we'd called him about the leaks in the roof of the house. He'd come out to the house, taken a quick look around, pointed out several hornets nests in the eaves, told us lots of horror stories about hornets, then said that nothing could be done about the roof until the hornets breeding season had finished after September.
For the rest of summer, I proudly made conversation with all and sundry, telling them that we had lots of hornets at our house. Unfortunately, at some stage I'd forgotton the correct word for hornet and had replaced it with another word that I must have heard somewhere else: 'cambione'.
The people I talked to looked rather confused at my proud statements and I assumed this was because Italians normally wouldn't be proud of having hornets. I didn't care. I was simply proud that I knew the word for hornet. At least I thought I did.
When we re-commenced our Italian lessons after a very long summer school holiday period, I took the opportunity to show off my new word to our Italian teacher.
She also looked confused.
I stuck my arm out and made a buzzing sound and 'stung' my own arm with my forefinger.
She looked askance and sought the assistance of another teacher.
After a short exchange, our teacher explained that a 'cambione' was a sample. A 'calabrone' was a hornet.
I was so embarrassed.
All summer, I'd been telling anyone who'd listen that we had 'lots of samples at home'.
Goodness knows what they must have thought. At the bare minimum they must have wondered what sort of business we were in...