Saturday, 13 August 2011

Cultural eccentricities

I write this two thirds of the way through my 14-day stay in Italy, at which point I don’t think I’ll notice many more of the cultural eccentricities I’ve seen, now being in beautiful but tourist-filled Venice where it’s almost impossible to speak much Italian as shopkeepers will address me in English – after noticing my Englishish accent – even when I try to start a conversation in Italian.

1. Stopping to make a point while walking
After spending time with relatives who do it, this is something my dad and I have started doing. As you walk down the street chatting, do you sometimes just stop to make a point or explain something using your hands? Think about it. Here, people just stop in the middle of the pavement, even when walking in a group when doing so makes you take up the whole path. Great, really; I love it.

2. Aversion to variable weather
It’s incredible the impact the slightest change in temperature or weather conditions can make here. On an evening where it’s ‘ventilata’ (literally, ‘ventilated’, but said to mean ‘cool’), a word they love to use, we’d barely see a third of the amount of people sitting out that we’d seen the night before.
The temperature only has to drop by a couple of degrees and the majority will stay at home one evening. As for rain, merely mention you heard it might drizzle and people will be running for their umbrellas. When it rained at a local festival we went to one night, everyone ran for cover: either running for their cars and going straight home or scrambling into the marquee if they could fit. It did start to rain quite heavily, admittedly. In the UK, however, people would surely have just reached for their anoraks and carried on enjoying the festivities.

3. Ridiculously inflexible rules

Bars and ice cream parlours (among others) often have rules that almost make Ryanair look reasonable. Take the other day. A kind aunt and uncle were taking us out for ice cream and as they discussed whether to eat in or take away with my parents, my grandma told me to buy my hungry brother an ice cream from the take away section. They then decided to eat in so we found a table, while poor Rocco (my brother) was left standing outside eating his ice cream he ‘wasn’t allowed’ to bring inside because to eat in you can only consume the same but doubly expensive (no exaggeration) ice cream presented in the same cup but on a plate. When I asked if he could just bring the ice cream he was holding inside with him to join us, the lady repeated: ‘Non si può’ (you can’t). In the end, they took pity on the poor boy standing outside alone – it was quite cold of us, no pun intended, to go in regardless of whether he was with us – and let him in. It wasn’t half difficult, though.

4. The 2 hours in between lunch and physical activity
Quite comical each day we spend in the swimming pool in the tourist-free area we spent week 1 in is the pool around lunchtime. Empty, save for my mum, brother and sister. My dad and I succumb to the peer pressure rife in Italy at all age groups and don’t swim at that time, allowing ourselves a good hour and a half to 2 hours to digest lunch like everyone else. This is the minimum time Italians feel comfortable leaving in between eating and swimming, or even other sports like football. Now I was never any good at science, but is it really putting your life at risk swimming only half an hour after eating? Italians always seem sure it is when I talk to them about it, while my siblings always do it and are always fine.

5. The ‘men only’ bar
Now this isn’t something that’s necessarily an Italian thing; just something we noticed in Cherasco, the village my grandma lives in, and something that might not necessarily be common around Italy (or indeed may be in the UK, for all I know). Every day we’d walk past a bar full of what my uncle used to jokingly call ‘escaliers’ (staircases in French) and all men. We’ve been going there summer after summer, yet not once have we seen a woman there. My mum often jokes she’ll get a drink in there and see how they react. I know there are pubs in England that men go to a lot more often than women, or vice versa, but do you know of anywhere where just one or the other go? I’d be surprised but interested to know if you did.

None of the things I’ve written about, ridiculous as some of them are, make me like it any less over here, mind.

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