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Can I Give You a Hand/Posso Darle una Mano?

It's a beautiful thing to know enough Italian to help someone else.


I was on my way home from Italian class the other week when I noticed someone by the paper goods store (or cartoleria--my favorite place to buy notebooks, pens, markers and highlighters as a teenager in Milan). He was an older gentleman (most likely someone's grandfather or great-grandfather), very thin, and very frail. I was at a crossing light a ways away from him, so I watched him for a few minutes as I waited for the light to change.


I don't know why he stood out to me, but it was raining, and I noticed that he was struggling to carry several of those heavy-duty, reusable grocery bags, which were full to the brim.


As I got closer, I saw that he was doing OK, but he was moving the bags incrementally back and forth; he would take one across the street, drop it off, then come back to get the other bag and do the same. One by one, he was making progress, but it looked incredibly hard for him to manage (and that it would likely take him a long time to finish).


Why does he have so much stuff? Where is he going? And how is he going to get it all to this mystery location?


Help him, something said. He needs help.


In a swirl of concern for him, I decided to listen to my instincts. I figured that I could simultaneously balance my umbrella while carrying something for him. Except...how could I offer help in a way that would come across correctly? He's a stranger, after all, and because I didn't know his personality (or literally anything else about him), I didn't want to come across too strongly. Hopefully I could offer in a way that would be kind and helpful instead of potentially condescending. I mean, maybe he was doing just fine--how was I to know?


"Can I help you" is posso aitutarti, so if I changed that to the formal, it would be posso aiutarla. It felt like a split-second grammar lesson.


But in the moment, I didn't want to say that. Not that it was wrong, but I knew there had to be something better. I had just seen a video on TikTok about this, about how to take certain phrases up a notch in nuance.


"Can I give you a hand?" Yes. That's it. Posso darle una mano?


Pause for a second to enjoy phrases that are perfect translations. I love when that happens!


I worked up the courage to ask my mystery man, and when we locked eyes, I saw that his were a bit sunken. They were a bit sad, but also kind. He, in fact, was missing many teeth. He seemed surprised by the offer and didn't initially take me up on it, because he said that the bags were heavy.


How heavy could they be? They don't look too bad. I can handle it.


Wrong, Stefanie. So, so wrong. I tried picking one up and experienced a bit of regret. If I didn't know any better, they were full of hand weights with some clothing on top to hide the contents. And, there was a less than pleasant smell coming from somewhere -- maybe the clothing needed some laundering. But, I told him that I was very capable and it wasn't a problem.


We started walking, and I subsequently started to sweat.


What the heck, Stefanie! Why do you get yourself into these situations??


The thing is: I know exactly why. My dad always says, if you have the ability to help someone, help them. My parents have always been examples of generosity and kindness; whether I think of my dad jumping my sister's neighbor's car in the middle of a snowstorm, or my mom baking dozens of cookies for her friend's daughter's wedding, they have always taught me the value of being a generous person.


I looked ahead and hoped that I didn't just sign up for a mile-long walk. I had to stop and set the bags down a couple of times to recover from my arms shaking. But, to my relief, it wasn't long at all, it was still on my way home, and we entered a building I pass every day.


He didn't thank me profusely or even much at all when we got there. But, that didn't matter, because I don't (and didn't) need anything to validate the good feeling of fulfilling a random act of kindness. My prize was approaching a stranger in a foreign language, using a new phrase, and helping him get where he needed to go.


Because in this situation, I literally had two hands to give, and being able to give someone a hand from time to time is reward enough.






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