Sunday, June 23

Culture Shock - What to Expect when you're an Expat

The longer I live in Italy, the more I feel like an alien setting foot in the USA.  I don't know the TV shows, picking up a People magazine boggles my brain, I watch with envy as kids' friends blithely open the fridge - in other people's houses.  And everyone goes barefoot, as soon as they walk in (or out of) the house.  So, after my mini-vacation in the USA, a few things made me laugh (or wince) upon the rientro (re-entry).  Here's a short list:

- Driving around the Colosseum.   Still gives me goosebumps.  But the drive to get there just isn't the same.  You realize that you risk getting rear-ended whenever you stop for pedestrians since no one but no one is expecting that.  But, coming from the suburbs, you are thrilled to even see human beings out and about (tho' you see them in any big city).  But here, pedestrians always have a concerned look in their eyes, some flee by your car, terror in their eyes, and I regularly see little old ladies make three or four attempts as if landing a plane in a tornado before they muster up the courage to cross.

Naturally, driving in Italy is the thing that strikes you most.  You let a car in front of you, three more dart in before you have time to move along.  Or, the fact that Romans gave up on indicating lanes, since no one stayed within the white lines anyway.  And, I don't know what they teach in Driver's Ed here about making left hand turns in intersections, but it's not unlike a game of 'capture the flag', using cars as the flags.  Sadly, this involves the pedestrians as well, with the cars skirting up the pedestrian walks in order to get through their turn. When I deign to do it correctly, I'm met with honks and epithets that I cannot publish here.

- Mealtimes.  We all know that mealtimes are big in Italy, and much of life revolves around them.  In the USA as well.  Except there, mealtimes start at a nebulous four or five and don't ever really seem to end.  Everything is about food in the USA.  It's a place that started with ice cream socials back in the day, and now has food eating contests for everything from a new furniture store opening to a church party.  The food fixation starts upon landing when you're smothered in deep-fried everything - while still in the airport.  I'm surprised they still use the word for breakfast there, because by my calculations, Americans never let the fast begin.

- The Mercato.  Buying my food from the little corner mercato always makes me feel like I've gone back in time.  The only thing that brings you into the present are the prices and the use of plastic bags.  Who needs Trader Joe's when you can get fresh peaches picked off the branch by the farmers?

- Bicyclists without helmets, and kids sitting in the front seat, in mamma's arms.  No further comment.

- Bringing my dog pretty much anywhere is fantastic.  The US may have as many dogs as people, but you'd never know it.  There, dogs are like those cement lawn ornaments, frozen stiff on the front lawn lest they get shocked after chasing a squirrel off the property.

- Purchasing a cappuccino at "normal" prices, round about $1.50 makes you never want to drink coffee anywhere else again.  Americans toting those huge cups full of everything everywhere begins to look like they carry baby bottles sized up for adults.  You realize how nice it is that Italians haven't totally bought into the 'walkie cup' food phase.

- Men sitting on park benches.  I've never seen it in the USA, although in NYC the men play checkers or cards (although I'm sure in Brooklyn or Queens they're a common sight).  I love it when I see them there, chatting away, wondering always what it is they talk about for hours on end, day after day.


jacques said...

I sooo agree about the mercato and neighborhood shops. I just moved a few kilometers away, and feel so lost without "my" shops, where you get the friendliest smile when you enter, you've known the people for years... and you even get greeted when you pass by and don't enter.
The butcher already knows the cuts you like and how you want them prepared... the produce stand knows how ripe you like your peaches [and whether you want white or yellow] and bananas and apples... about the only thing worse than changing maccellaio or fruttivendolo is changing barbers, which since it is only a matter of a few kilometers I AM NOT going to look for here...

Irreverent Italy said...

Yes, indeed! Although strangely enough, it's like that in U.S. big cities - like in your 'hood in Brooklyn - but not where things tend to be smaller, due to strip malls and chains..
I had forgotten to mention how, while it was nice to get free Starbucks French Vanilla coffee & a dog biscuit at my bank branch, they have no idea who I am.
In Italy, I can't get a transaction done if my banker is off on vacation...! Talk about personalized service...

Harm said...

Love the mercato* gem, men-on-benches** jewel -- sparkling bits, all!

* reminds me of Fiore's, at Erie & Oakley in Chicago (Ukrainian Village)

** reminds me of North Avenue Beach, in Chicago -- checkers!