The other day I was stopped on the Ponte alle Grazie by an Italian couple looking for directions to Piazza Michelangelo. It's always a moment of smug pride when I am mistaken for Italian, and it's always short lived! As soon as I started to speak, make eye contact and gesture, they knew. I am not one of them.
I adore Italians, their country and their culture. I don't think in terms of better or worse, as much as I notice the cultural distinctions...subtle, but ever present. I have assimilated into day to day life in Florence, there is still a certain amount of Americana that persists in this girl! Here are a few of the giveaways:
1. ICE: I like it, and a lot of it! Request ice for a drink in Italy, and you will get one cube. Digestion is a top priority here, and ice isn't good for yours. In the summer, when the temperature and humidity climb to Inferno levels, I fantasize about a Diet Coke from 7-11, chock full of digestive ruining ice.
2. PERSONAL SPACE: Suffice it to say, when I can feel the breath of the person standing behind me in line, it's too close! My idea of personal space is fully American, with a dash of the wild West thrown in. That is very different than my fellow Italians! Whether it's the post office or choosing produce at the market, I need a little more elbow room.
3. GOODBYE: Once a phone conversation has moved to the point where I say "goodbye", it's over for me. Not so in the boot. Plan on a least another two more minutes. "Grazie, ciao ciao ciao, grazie mille bella, ciao ciao ciao, arriverdeci, ciao bella, grazie, arrivderci, ciao..." And so it goes, until I ultimately just pull the phone away and disconnect. I don't know what else to do. I was finished at goodbye.
4. THE GRUMPY FACE: Looking into the faces of fellow Florentines as we pass on the street, you would think we were on our way to the salt mines. Sales personnel in stores may not even look up when you enter, and those minding a ticket counter act as though you interrupted them at naptime. But slip or drop something, and twenty people will immediately swoop in to assist! Their faces belie the kind hearts they have. The simple greeting, smile, or nod that are such a part of our American culture, are seen as too casual in Italy. I smile anyway...because, after all folks, we are in Tuscany!
5. WHAT TO WEAR: Every morning, I pull up the weather forecast for the day. I check out the high and low temperature or the probability of rain, and choose my clothing appropriately. Not so in an Italian home. Clothing is dictated by the month. If it's April, quilted jackets and scarves are worn, long pants and no bare legs. Doesn't matter if the day will see mid-70's, it's April.
6. FOOD MIX-UP: My American palate still enjoys having several different foods on the same plate together. Perhaps it's my love of casseroles, but I enjoy a bite of pasta followed by a bite of vegetables. Italian cuisine has a rather strict protocol, and each dish is served separately and no food touches (or interferes) with another. Salad follows the main course, and plates will be whisked away before the next course is delivered. Such a minor point, though, when the food served is simply the best I have ever eaten!
Finally, I often walk down to Ponte Amerigo Vespucci, loop around and up past the American Consulate. It never fails to make me smile as I see the American flag waving in the breeze. My hand flies to my heart, just as it did all those mornings of elementary school when I stood to pledge my allegiance. That is the American flag, my flag, waving in a foreign country. And I am, still, an American girl!