Travel is a great thing. I put a period at the end of that but I probably should have put a comma and a but. Travel is good in small doses. If you do it all the time it wears you out. Its a constant struggle to be understood and to understand other people and other customs. I generally love the challenge, but there are some days I really could just do without it.
Yesterday after work I decided to run. The run was just not going well, I felt terrible and just could not run. I decided that I would do the sprint, walk thing for 3 1/2 miles. So that is what I did. Oddly that is always way easier for me. I can sprint until I am going to drop, walk a block and then do it again. So I make it back to my room and I am dead. I sit and surf for a while and then get up to tinkle. I could hardly move. I thought oh god if I sit here all night and do nothing I am going to atrophy and die. So I shower and decided to walk the two miles to the grocery store and back. The mall here has a large grocery store so I decide to get some snacks for my room and as I am trying to offset the daily pasta lunches, I decide to get some apples. At this point, even though it has nothing to do with the story per se, I must say the grocery stores here are just amazing. In particular the meat departments, which also, for what appears my convenience, are combined with the cheese section. There is a man behind a counter with a large slab of cured and dried pig leg which he is shaving and passing out to shoppers. Si Gratzie. I get a pack of some sort of peppered cured meat and a cheese of unknown origin or type to add to my healthy apples. After adding a bag of biscotti and a lemonade to my basket, I go to the register and stand in line. When it was my turn, the checker takes my apples and asks me something. I have no idea what she said, so I say what I always say at this point, “mi non parlo italiano sorry”. She says something else while pointing to the apples. She is clearly irritated already and is being huffy with me and I am wondering why she keeps talking to me. I just said I don’t speak Italian. Does she think my interpretation is going to develop in the checkout line? Finally I think, AH! She wants to know if I know how much these were. So I try to impress her with my Italian numbers (I have managed to memorize them) “cento novanta chinqua!” I say in my most proud voice. She says in a very snotty tone “no!” then does the international pantomime for weighing something. Now I get what she wants but at the same time don’t know what she wants. I point to her scanner thing and say “qui?”. She says “no”. With all the confusion and the people in line behind me probably getting more irritated by the second, I finally tell her “no mele” (yeah I know the word for apple also) and wave my hand in the internationally known sign for just forget it. Then and I swear to you this is true, she litterally chucks the bag over her shoulder. Now this is irritating because I am nice. I treat people here with the utmost of respect. I consider myself a guest here but that snotty ass woman didn’t need to give me attitude because I didn’t know what the deal was with the apples. Hell if I was at the store at home and someone from another country was stuck in line not knowing what was going on, I would help them, not be pissed at them. Although I am sure someone would be.
Anyway, I walk the mile back to my hotel. Claudia the girl at the counter who speaks great English says hi. I walk over to her and tell her my story. She thinks its funny so when she laughs I sort of forget how irritating it was. She says “Ah yes, you need to weigh the apples in the back and get a sticker”. Claudia told me that when she was visiting her sister in DC, she had the same thing happen in reverse. She was wandering around the produce section trying to find the machine that weighs the fruit and gives you the sticker. Of course she speaks English and is cute as a bug so I am sure she had no problem getting help. I don’t know why the cashier was doing giving me attitude, its not my fault they are stuck in the 19th century with checkout equipment.
THEN. The other day I go to get gas. This is the first time I have had to gas up since being here and I pull into the station. First I screw up by starting to pump my own gas. A young guy comes out and says something to me, yeah yeah, “mi non parlo italiano sorry”. I get that he was supposed to pump my gas. Not sure if that’s the deal everywhere but whatever. As he is pumping the gas, I take out my wallet and show it to him while pointing to the store area. He says “si”. I head in to pay for the gas. The guy working the counter looks like an ass. No I am not being judgmental, you know when someone is just going to be fun to deal with. I take out my corporate card, which is how I am supposed to pay for gas. He snatches it out of my hand and starts swiping it through his machine. He can’t get it to work and is grumbling. He tries another machine and it still doesn’t work. So he leaves the store goes somewhere around the corner and comes back with another machine. He swipes my card as he is coming through the door and as he is handing me back my card he mutters vaffanculo. When I was in Charleston with the Italian guys, one of the ways we passed the time was by teaching each other all the pertinent swear words in our native languages. At the top of their list of most vulgar was the famous vaffanculo. Go F yourself in the A! As luck would have it, the guy in the gas station uses on me one of the very few words I would recognize. I don’t do well when someone tells me to vaffanculo, even when I am a guest in their country. I respond “vaffanculo mi?” “Mi compreno vaffanculo you ass!” in my most menacing voice. I read before I came here that if you ever get in a confrontation with an Italian be as loud and firm as possible. That Italians have this view of Americans as laid back and not ones to get riled up (I wonder where they got that from). If you stand up to them, it generally scares them. It was actually funny. I was pissed that he said it, but I thought it was funnier that I knew what it meant and that I was able to call him on it. He did seem a bit set back by the whole ordeal. I was quite a bit bigger than he and seemed to lose the attitude after that.
I guess Americans don’t have the lock on being assholes. The world is full of them from every country. For the most part I do think Italians are very friendly and seem to be helpful when you don’t know the language.
On a completely unrelated note, as I sit here typing this, I have my hotel window open. I am on the 2nd floor and I can hear loud music coming from somewhere and at this very second Suspicious Minds by Elvis is playing. LOL the next song came on and its “In the Ghetto”.
Good times in Italy….