Monday, February 11, 2008

I'm living in a dryer-less nation

I just came downstairs from retrieving the laundry that was drying on the clothesline on the roof. Sure, sounds soooo Italian and kinda cool. But, really, it's not. At first I was also taken by the smell of air dried clothes, but after a few times of hanging each sock by a clothespin, the novelty wears off. And everything is kinda stiff--sure, you can add fabric softener, but until you wear it or use it (i.e. a towel) a few times it's a little like cardboard.

This is one of the many very Italian nuances that I am adjusting to. Each day, I become more used to how things work here, but some things are just so totally different than in the US. Not better or worse necessarily, just different. In some cases, I'd take the US's version and others are a few of my favorite examples (and other random observations):
  • There are no dryers and the washers are TINY. The supersized, wash 33 pairs of jeans at a time, monstrosities that we have in the US would never fit into the normal place where a wash machine is kept in bagno (the bathroom). Yes, they are cute and tiny and can maybe hold 33 socks, but really, you do a lot less laundry a lot more frequently. Actually, that's not true. Italians have no qualms about wearing clothes over and over until they are dirty. In fact, my teacher wore the same thing 3 days in a row last week, and that's pretty normal. We are a little more paranoid about that in the US. As if wearing the same thing twice makes us either dirty or poor. I can do it with jeans, but I usually have to switch my sweaters (even if they are not dirty), I'm working on it though. It's one of the easier Italianism to adjust to.
  • Nothing is open, ever. Ok, that's not really true either. But, shops are open from around 9am until 12:30 and then they close until 4, and then stay open from 4-8pm. And a lot of them are closed on Sunday. Oh, and Monday (from the difficult weekend??). There are some Target-type stores that are open normal hours everyday, but nothing is 24 hours. I'm sure in the larger cities the hours are a lot different, but I'm living in a small town in the very south. Things are still pretty old school down here...
  • Speaking of old school, there are old men everywhere. This is true. My mom told me the other day that the Italian population is becoming much older. This is due to family sizes shrinking and the economy not being so hot that young professionals are looking outside of their beloved country for work. So the old guys gather on the street corners or in front of the market and just stand around and talk. You can find them there at any point in the day. I often wonder where the old women are and if they ever leave the house?
  • Their government is a bigger mess than ours! Yes, I know, hard to believe. They are having an election for a new Prime Minister on April 13th. The current PM was recently voted out of office. This is the 61st time since World War II that power has changed hands in Italy (another factoid from la mia mamma...she's been reading all about Italy since her and my dad are coming to visit for two weeks in April!!! Yay!!) .
  • There are a lot of stray dogs. And nice ones at that. In Thailand or India, you wanted to avoid the strays at all costs. But here, there is a little problem with people getting dogs and then realizing for whatever reason they cannot take care of them, (going on vacation for a month and can't take the dog--just let it go, and hope it's there when you return!) so the strays are often very sweet, good-natured and clean. Sometimes I ask Paolo if we can take them home (this goes for dogs, cats, and cute old men...I love 'em all). He's yet to cave.
  • There is a couple that meets outside of our condo a few times a week for what is apparently some kind of secret rendezvous. They look to be in their 20's and they arrive in separate cars. They proceed to stand outside and smoke cigarettes and make-out passionately for a half and hour or so, and then leave separately. Sometimes I wanna yell out my window "is she your AMANTE????" But, I restrain myself.
  • You go grocery shopping virtually everyday. I actually really like this. I thought it would be a hassle, but buying bread that was baked that morning, fruit straight off the truck, and watching the butcher slice the perfectly thin bresaola makes the trips worthwhile.
  • Italy does not have notecards. Just an FYI, in case you ever find yourself here in search of notecards. I'm talking about the kind that you use to study--you know, when you make flashcards with a word or phrase on one side and the definition on the other (or for recipes, etc). Anyway, I thought these would be a great way for me to practice my Italian vocabulary. Until I found out the hard way that they apparently don't make flash cards here. We looked for days, one day for 2 hours in 4 different towns. I finally got some blank business cards.
  • In school, they don't have spelling tests. Every word is spelled exactly how it sounds. So if you can understand the phonetics of the word, then you know how to spell it. Almost all words in Italian end in vowels. In fact, Italians really enjoy vowels. It's not unusual for a 7 letter word to have 5 vowels in it. A fun example: "Miei" is one of 4 ways to say "my" depending on if it’s masculine or feminine, singular or plural. And it's pronounced Mee-ay-ee. Not easy for us consonant lovers.
  • Italians LOVE graffiti. So much so, that they often sign their names. Like if a lovesick boy writes "Emma, ti amo (Emma, I love you) he'll write "by Marco"--we can't have Emma thinking that Giuseppe wrote it now can we? Rome has more graffiti than I've ever seen in one place. This made the city so much more real to me. There is the Coliseum, and then the walls across the street are covered top to bottom in colorful street art.

So how’s that for some "you'll never need to know this information" information? But, it's stuff that I find interesting. I've had to dig deep some days to find patience and remind myself that I am in their country, and things run their way. Not mine. So the inefficiencies (and there are many, by American standards), I just have to get used to (don't get me started on the layout of large stores and where you are allowed to enter and exit...whoever designed them should maybe take up cooking or something).

But, as I am sure you can imagine, for all of the things that are difficult to get used to, there are so many wonderful things about living here. Um, waking up as looking at the sea each morning overrides 99.9% of the problems. We walk and walk and walk. There are miles of big beaches and a ton of quaint little towns to explore. And still so much about Otranto I have to see/learn. When we went to the north for Paolo's exam (which he passed btw!! YAY!!) we drove through the most beautiful landscapes I've ever seen--along the coast, through the countryside, into the mountains. We were in the car for almost 7 hours and I didn't pick up a book (for study or pleasure), I looked out the window the entire time. Italy is so, so, so, so, beautiful. It's no wonder it's one of America's favorite places to visit because it's absolutely breathtaking. Each area brought something new and so very Italian--the architecture, the vineyards, the olive trees...

Sometimes it's a love/hate relationship. But, I guess it's normal during an adjustment period. The best part about this period is I still see it all. I don't drive by it and no longer take it in. I enjoy and appreciate all of the beauty, and do my best to find humor in the hard parts.

Oh, and Paolo and I are having a party for San Valentino (Valentine's Day)...really just an excuse to show off all of the work we've done on the condo and get all of his friends and family together. My mom sent a bunch of cute V-day decor, and we are planning the menu and preparing this week so I'll be sure to write about hosting my first festa in Italia.



JenniferLWilliams78 said...

"is she your AMANTE????" - hilarious.

Oh, Maggie, I so wish I could be there with you. And I'm so proud of you; you are really learning to live your life exactly where you are; in the moment. Your posts are refreshing.

And, damn, I think I would fit in over there seeing as I wear the same jeans 5 days in a row :)

Maggie said...


You must be dirty and poor.

Anch'io. (me too).

Cherrye said...

ha ha...funny post and great observations.