Stambergo Strillante

The Shrieking Shack (from Harry Potter) is called “La Stamberga Strillante in Italian, and the first time I heard it, stamberga seemed to my anglophone mind a rather imposing word for what a shack is. I’d been repeating it in my head, the way I do with words whose sounds please me, until the episode recounted in this post tainted it by association.

A little over a week ago, we started getting phone calls from a man who mistakenly believed that our number was the number of one of his friends. I’ve noticed that callers of this type of wrong number (one that hasn’t simply been misdialed) tend to be less willing to accept that they’ve made a mistake. I think their logic must go something like this: they’ve accurately dialed a number that someone has given them, someone has answered, so there’s nothing wrong with the number, isn’t it reasonable then to expect that they be permitted to speak with the person they’re trying to reach?

In this case, the caller, a certain Dottor Stambergo, was convinced that I was the person he wanted to reach. Our first conversation:

KC: Pronto?
Stambergo: Pronto? Ehi, Ciao!
KC: Buon giorno. Con chi parlo? (Who am I speaking to?)
Stambergo: Ehi! Who are you speaking to!?
KC: I don’t know you.
Stambergo: You don’t know me!?
KC: I think you have the wrong number.
Stambergo: Excuse me, Signora. Click.

Later that day, I noticed that there had been several calls from the same number within a two hour period. Not recognizing the number, and thinking it could have been one of N’s clients, I called to find out who it was. A woman with a Ukrainian accent responded.

Woman: Pronto?
KC: Good evening, I found this number, which I don’t recognize, on my phone. I’d like to know who wanted to contact us. There were several calls and I think it might be important.
Woman: I don’t know, Signora. It must have been Dottor Stambergo.
KC: Dottor Stambergo?
Woman: Yes.
KC: Do you know why he called?
Woman: No, Signora.
KC: Oh. Well, thank you. Good evening.
Woman: Good evening.

Over the next few days, we had more calls from Dott. Stambergo. Every time, I politely explained that while our number was in fact the one he had dialed, I was not his friend, and I suggested that either she had given him the wrong number, or he had misremembered it. During one of these calls, we had an exchange that I consider the most absurd of them all:

Stambergo: Well, who is this?
KC: I’ve told you before, Signora C., this is the C. residence.
Stambergo: Oh, come on! Always with this Signora C., Famiglia C.!

I suppose that the consistency of my responses counted for nothing.

For a few days I didn’t answer when he called, but he persisted anyway. Yesterday morning, when he called yet again, I picked up the receiver and hung it up, hoping to prompt his memory. It didn’t work, and a few minutes later, he called again. I wondered how to prove to him that I wasn’t his friend coyly pretending to be someone else, and I thought that speaking English might be a trick she wouldn’t be able to repeat. I answered politely, tried to explain to him again that he had the wrong number, that he could call it until the end of time and that he would never find his friend here, and that he needed to stop. He protested. So I told him the same thing in English, then repeated it once again in Italian, at the end asking if he’d finally understood.

“No I don’t understand you!” he yelled, and turning away from the receiver, he addressed someone else, saying, “you talk to her, I don’t understand her, she’s a foreigner.”

In all our previous conversations, I’d spoken Italian well enough that he mistook me for his (Italian) friend, and despite my repeated protestations to the contrary, he persisted in that conviction. Now that he knew that I was a foreigner, my formerly acceptable Italian had become unintelligible. This is one of my biggest pet peeves, (as absurd it seems, it has happened to me more than once) and I wish I had a name for it, something like immigrant-induced comprehension dissonance. I find it disturbing because it demonstrates the extent to which our reality is conditioned by our prejudices.

(It calls to mind a couple of related pet peeves, the first being accent-induced comprehension dissonance, which sometimes occurs whenever I betray my origins with a badly accented word. It causes the listener to become mute. The second is the more annoying accent-prompted language assistance that I receive from helpful people who feel that they must finish my sentences for me. They never actually guess what I’m about to say, and protest my every attempt to correct them with a polite, “no, no, I understand, I understand.”)

But back to the phone call:

Woman: Pronto? Signora? I don’t understand about this “foreigner?”
KC: I’m a foreigner too. This man has been calling my house, and I don’t know who he is. I’ve explained to him that he has the wrong number but he continues to call. I have a baby and it’s not easy for me to run to the phone whenever it rings, especially if it’s a wrong number.
Woman: Oh, I understand, excuse me.
KC: No, it’s not your fault. HE is fixated on this number and won’t stop calling. It’s not you.
Woman: Okay, Signora, excuse me.

(That would be the immigration-induced exaggerated politeness of foreigners who are often reminded that they are outsiders; I recognize it because I have it too.)

KC: Okay, Signora, good day.
Woman: Grazie, ciao.

I haven’t heard from Stambergosince. I think that our last conversation finally convinced him that rather than being the friend he is looking for, I am just (an)other.


13 responses to “Stambergo Strillante

  1. I'm surprised you don't know all about byzantine phone rules 101!! I think part of the reason he thought you WERE the person he was looking for is that people are slack about answering phone calls here. I have noticed EVERYONE answers their mob phones at the drop of a hat – no matter how rude or interrupting they seem – but answering the phone at work etc is a different matter. I have heard people saying someone is not there when they are, or even denying they are themselves just because 'the person on the line wasn't important enough' or 'who do they think they are, calling me'. ALso regarding answerphones – i believe they are infrequently or never checked and no one wants to leave a message on them (nor with anyone else!) precisely for that reason. Even my husband said (re answerphones) 'as if i would have an answerphone on my mobile. Then the onus is on ME to call them back AND i have to pay to listen to their message. If they want me, THEY can do the ringing around, and i'll speak to them when I feel like it'. Maybe he thought you were an 'identity denier' ha ha. And then when he figured out you were actually telling the truth, in order to save face maybe that is why he then pretended to not understand you. VanessaPS that name is funny – sounds like a villain from a Bond Film to me!PPS you can also use the fact that you are a foreigner in your favour. Just pretend you don't speak italian and then all the annoying phone calls stop.

  2. That's so funny that people deny that they're themselves to get out of talking. If it were just me I wouldn't ever answer the phone, and I'd turn the ringer down too, because it annoys me, but there's always the possibility that someone is calling N about a job, so I have to answer it.Dottor Stambergo would be a good name for a villain, but the character would have to be a fair bit more clever than the actual one.

  3. forgot to add to my rant yesterday that people here also never want to leave messages (either in person or on the phone) as they believe the person will NOT call them back. SO they hassle even more to talk to the person they are after. I usually answer the phone as well – could be someone 'important' – and people are always so reluctant to leave a message wiht me and then surprised when their call is returned! The 'pretending not to speak italian' is v useful for telemarketers. Dr Stambergo sounds russian and I can imagine him with a bad russian accent, an eyepatch and black clothes. He could perhaps be a secret police interrogator practicing on unsuspecting campania casalinghe …..? V

  4. I like your terminology for the accent-related phenomenon we experience…so true! I had a few wrong number callers but after two or three times they did actually believe me when I told them I wasn't the restaurant they were looking for. The other question is…just what kind of dottore is Dr. Strambergo? That opens a whole other dialogue, eh?

  5. The immigrant-induced comprehension dissonance as you nicely call it, or complete BS from stupid native italian bigots as I call it really, REALLY got on my nerves. I remember vividly how one tempoary job agency was searching for job seekers. The caller found one, me, but told me that since I was a foreigner and didn't understand italian she couldn't help me. Meanwhile our entire conversation was taking place in Italian. If I understood her well enough to answer her questions relating to me, and afterwards when I told her my place of birth and defended myself (in italian)it would have been obvious to anybody but a bigot that I was good enough to work in an environment where Italian would be spoken.But I'm glad the shack doctor won't call you any more.

  6. Vanessa, so that's why no one ever wants to leave a message for N! Re: Stambergo sounds good.Lol, Valerie, I was wondering the same thing about the good doctor! I hope he's not the kind that has patients. J.Doe, sorry you had to put up with it too. How ridiculous that you had an entire conversation with that woman and she still couldn't figure out that you spoke Italian. That's pure stupidity, (in this case brought on by bigotry.)

  7. Classic. I love IICD , APLA and the AICD descriptions-spot on! APLA I have noticed is just the way folks here talk. Which makes following a conversation very difficult. My husband does it to me in english too. So annoying.

  8. Stambergo: Oh, come on! Always with this Signora C., Famiglia C.!That's fantastic! Why did you have to keep dragging out that tired excuse?!

  9. Great post KC. "Immigrant-induced comprehension dissonance" is perhaps the biggest reason I developed a sort of agoraphobia while in Italy. I actually chose lunch time to do my daily shopping in Italy because there would be less people in the markets, and less chance of my ruining someone's day and hence my own, by opening my mouth and revealing that I was a foreigner. I can't tell you the times people would be talking and sometimes even smile, then I would speak… and then I would literally see a wall go up. I must stress- not everyone was like that, but it happened often enough for me to eventually change things like shopping times. I vacillated between trying to be invisible in public and being irritated that I should have to be that way. I love your phrase "Immigrant-Induced Comprehension Dissonance!" If only I had been able to coin that phrase for such awkward behavior, I would have had a lot more success explaining to my husband some of my frustrations!

  10. Scattered moments, I'm glad to know that I'm not imagining the sentence-finishing (and that it doesn't happen only to me. It's so perplexing- what makes someone think they know what someone else has to say?Laura, I think that was precisely what made it funny, rather than just frustrating- that my sticking to the same 'excuse' made him all the more suspicious!Amber, I've had the same feelings. It was much worse at first and I never wanted to go out. I think the main reason it's better now is that I live in a small town so most people already know who I am. But when we go elsewhere I feel self-conscious about speaking. And now I have Pata, so I have to speak English while we're out. I'm sorry that you had to experience this too.

  11. If it wasn't so true it would be a funny story. KC you have WAY more patience than me. I would have probably slammed the phone down after a couple of times. Is there no caller ID over there? So there is also a whole phone culture also, that foreigners are not privvy to and must figure out. Acckkk!!!!!

  12. Ah yes, the dreaded accent-induced comprehension dissonance. Everything is going along fine until I mispronounce a word then a look of bewilderment comes across the other person's face and the once normal conversation comes to a screeching halt and they can then not understand a word I'm saying.As for the good Dottore, since anyone who has a Bachelor's degree can use the title "Dottore" here, he could just be an office worker. His constant calling must have been extremely annoying.

  13. Gail, I left out the part about how what I said in English wasn't nearly as polite as what I said in Italian…by the end I was ready to throw the phone out the window, and it felt so good to say some really nasty stuff (albeit that he couldn't understand.)Mary, I was thinking the same thing about him, that he's just self-important rather than actually important.

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