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Sempre Diritto Redux (2001)

Italy is beautiful, fabulous, and embraces a much different way of life.
It is also a country most maddening, with its own share of quirks.  Read on.

Sempre Diritto, “straight ahead.” You may recall that in Calabria whenever I asked for directions, I was told sempre diritto. In Week eight, I got my revenge when two Italians asked me how to get to the Pantheon.Week 8 in Rome

I pointed in the direction and replied sempre diritto. I came to the conclusion that Italians don’t like to admit they don’t know the directions, so they just say sempre diritto. This in a country where I have yet to see a straight street.

Okay, here’s my biggest pet peeve: service sucks!.

I know I am not the first American to notice this, but unless you are ordering un cafe in a coffee bar, you have to wait. The other day, I went to an agenzia to buy my train ticket to Venice. I stood in line for 20 minutes while the man behind the counter pored through a big fat book with tiny print of what I presumed to be train schedules.

In that time, the shop filled with people, about five of us in a space the size of a shoe repair shop in America. A New York friend in Rome has observed that they are simply not in a hurry. Because, whether you get service or not, they are going for their two-hour lunch break.

I think I must have violated a couple of key dictums of shop etiquette during my stay. One day at a Tabacchi shop, the man behind the counter did not charge me enough for my l’autobus tickets. After I figured out how to say, in Italian, “excuse me, sir, but I think you just shorted yourself,” he seemed more shocked, than relieved.

In another episode, I had purchased a small inexpensive accessory for my digital camera. When I opened the package and tried to use the device, I found out that it was defective. I took it back that same day to tell the man that it was not good. Of course, I had to wait 15 minutes to get his attention.

When I picked the most delicate words in my limited Italian vocabulary to explain the situation, he glared at me, started speaking very loudly, and handed me a can of film. I thanked him, told him that I did not use film in my digital camera and I just wanted another part. He reached into the cash register, threw my 7000 lire at me, and then I think he told me to never come back into his shop again.

Rome 2001Call me dense, but I think I must have broken a local custom heretofore unknown to me.

About Janet

The author of Ruling Woman is a television journalist, based in Manhattan who spends her workdays at 30 Rock, her nights on Broadway, and her weekends at the Farmers Market. Likes to knit, commune with the angels, and travel.

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