Friday, April 13, 2012

More bothersome un-Italian traits

Thursday, April 12: Conclusion of theme begun April 10
One might think that because I enjoy Italy so much, I must be a connoisseur of fine art, one who studies and appreciates the talents of the impressive Italian artists and the frescoes and statues they have left throughout the country—because truly this place is an art-lover’s dream. But this is just another example of a characteristic where I come up lacking, where I am not ideally suited to make the most of my opportunity of living in Italy.
What are these men talking about? Answers given below.

Some people come here for two weeks and do nothing but traipse around looking at the art and architecture. I visit a famous work of art every so often, but it is usually more by accident than design. I wish I were more passionate about these things, because it would make my time here even more special, but this is one of those personal shortcomings that I have come to accept.

Next on my list of unfortunate likes and dislikes: I am not at heart a night person, and this is a disadvantage for someone trying to blend in with Italian society. Dinners by the agriturismo’s catering service often start around 9 p.m. It is also typical for movies to start at 9 p.m. on weeknights, and if it is a popular movie, it will have a second showing around 11 p.m.

The example that most sticks in my mind occurred about 10 years ago, when I was teaching in Padova. A few of us guys from the school decided to spend an evening out at a place advertising that it had “American Bowling.” We arrived at around 10:30 p.m. and found the lanes empty. It doesn’t look like American bowling in Italy is catching on. This place isn’t going to survive long, we think.

We checked out our shoes, picked our balls and bowled a couple of games. When we left, around midnight, I realized that every lane was in use. The bar was packed, the video games were crowded. It’s just that we had arrived so . . . early.

We gradually adjust, eating dinners later and later, though we don’t usually eat past 8 p.m., which might be opening time here for a restaurant. Just as we finally adjust to the time shift, we will go back to the states and have to readjust. Last year, shortly after we returned, we tried to go to an Italian restaurant in Tacoma. We arrived at about 7:50 p.m., only to be told they were closing for the night in a few minutes.

Last on my list of non-Italian traits is my reserved personality. As I watch Italians engage in loud and animated discussions in restaurants and bars, I sometimes think, if I could speak Italian better, I could be part of that group. I often see Italian men my age and older, sitting or standing together in parks and outside of bars, talking enthusiastically about who knows what. Sometimes Lucy says, “You should go sit with them. They might talk to you too.”

Then I realize that besides the language barrier, this is not something I would typically do in America, where I excel in English and am knowledgeable about current events and the latest sports scores and scandals. I am generally quiet in crowds, preferring one-on-one conversations or very small groups. I don’t like to yell and rant about the crooks in the government or the terrible performance of the local star in yesterday’s big soccer match. I am a good listener but not so fascinating to listen to. At home in Washington, you won’t often find me sitting around chatting with other guys or in the center of a large group, so I shouldn’t expect that to change here.

I do have a pretty good idea what they are talking about, based on the time I have spent with Italian relatives and backed up by a 1,200-person Facebook survey by the people who make Sanbitter, a non-alcoholic aperativo. The survey, which allowed people to select more than one favorite topic, showed that 48% are talking politics. Sports, primarily soccer, also scored high at 42%. Then came work at 37%, gossip at 35% and shopping at 33%. Movies finished last at 25%.

So I wouldn’t do well in these discussions, even if I had an outgoing personality and spoke Italian well. Italian politics, with at least six major parties whose names change every so often, is baffling even to most Italians. I also know little about Italian soccer. However, I have deduced that one can hold his own for a minute or two by complaining that the politicians are all thieves and the footballers are grossly overpaid and self-absorbed.

In spite of the evidence that I don’t fit in perfectly with my image of Italian-ness, I remain hopelessly hooked for other reasons. I note that most of the Italians I know are also un-Italian in some ways. We are in the final month of a six-month experiment with living in Italy, and though we haven’t decided what the future holds, it undoubtedly will include Italy in some form. Just what that will be is a topic we think about nearly every day, but we are in no hurry to decide. For now, we are too busy exploring the things we have in common with Italy.


  1. Maybe to fit in with the men you should buy and wear a cap!


  2. Funny that. You resemble 'me' in many ways.... yet I have decided (more by chance than by planning) to stay in Italy. We've sold all our Dutch assets and have no family left.... love it here in the Umbrian countryside.... where some of the 'issues'you mention don't count anyway. The farmers around us don't dress up for one.... :D


Comments welcome.