Your Word

He said, "Don’t you know that the secret to understanding a city and its people is to learn – what is the word of the street?"

Then he went on to explain, in a mixture of English, Italian and hand gestures, that every city has a single word that defines it, that identifies most people who live there.  If you could read people’s thoughts as they were passing you on the streets of any given place, you would discover that most of them are thinking the same thought.  Whatever that majority thought might be – that is the word of the city.  And if your personal word does not match the word of the city, then you don’t really belong there.

"What’s Rome’s word?" I asked.

"SEX," he announced.

"But isn’t that a stereotype about Rome?"

"No."

"But surely there are some people in Rome thinking about other things than sex?"

Giulio insisted: "No.  All of them, all day, all they are thinking about is SEX."

"Even over at the Vatican?"

"That’s different.  The Vatican isn’t part of Rome.  They have a different word over there.  Their word is POWER."

"You’d think it would be FAITH."

"It’s POWER," he repeated.  "Trust me.  But the word in Rome – it’s SEX."

Giulio asked, "What’s the word in New York City?"

I thought about this for a moment, then decided.  "It’s a verb, of course, I think it’s ACHIEVE."

(Which is subtly but significantly different from the word in Los Angeles, I believe, which is also a verb: SUCCEED.  Later, I will share this whole theory with my Swedish friend Sofie, and she will offer her opinion that the word on the streets of Stockholm is CONFORM, which depresses both of us.)

I asked Giulio, "What’s the word in Naples?" He knows the south of Italy well.

"FIGHT," he decides.  "What was the word in your family when you were growing up?"

That one was difficult.  I was trying to think of a single word that somehow combines FRUGAL and IRRELEVANT.  But Giulio was already on to the next and most obvious question: "What’s your word?"

~ Elizabeth Gilbert – from Eat, Pray, Love

I haven’t figured mine out yet, although I have been trying for days.  What’s yours?

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