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.
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.