Mar 212012
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Travel raises questions!

When in Italy, blend in

Is it time for lunch yet?

A Cantankerous Old Coot is inclined to be set in his ways. It’s not exactly a job requirement. It just seems to work out that way. Maybe it’s the number of miles on the odometer that makes you finally decide that what you are used to is what needs to happen. Maybe the mind gets rigid and fixated over time. Maybe it’s a personality disorder. I can’t explain. All I can say is that somewhere along the line I decided that some things are right and others are not and that I’m not the one that needs to change.

I never gave it much thought but lately I pretty much knew the way things ought to go, what ought to happen and how I like things to be. I have been around the block. All the years invested in life have left me feeling pretty comfortable that I have life all figured out. No need now to make any changes or consider alternatives. But then I had to complicate things and travel to a foreign country.

Those foreign countries are different.

Let’s face it. Foreign countries are like a box of chocolates. You never know what you will find. To start off, foreign countries are full of foreigners and foreigners have odd behaviors, odd systems and as the icing on the cake, most of them speak a foreign language even though they may call it English. I’ve just returned from Italy where they do speak a foreign language and I have to say that if a country has to speak a foreign language, Italian seems like a pretty good choice. It is lyrical to listen to, has lots of cognates and many Italians know enough English to get you by with basic needs. Besides, Italians seem to like people and want to help. Language was an obstacle but not a problem. Nothing odd at all about foreigners speaking a foreign language. I can live with people speaking Italian.

It’s their priorities! 

What shook this Coot up was some other odd things Italians do. They don’t think that commercial activity is all important. They shut down at noon and don’t open up until after 3:00. They throw away three hours of good selling time. What a waste. In America, we pretty much expect a store to be open all the time, even 24 hours. Nothing odd about that. After all the customer is always right and so whenever the customer wants to buy something, the store should be open to sell it. It makes perfect sense. Italians, however,  see it differently.

Don’t mess lunch! 

They like their lunch hour- or three. The stores open at a reasonable time- say 9:00 in the morning and then stay open until noon when they close for lunch. Lunch can be until 3:00 or 3:30 and then they open again until 6:00 when it’s time to get ready for dinner. They don’t actually eat until 8:00 but they have to get ready. There is a definite sense of priorities here and it is not selling that last damn widget.

It looks odd at first.

They all look so good.

Dinner isn't until 8:00

To a tourist fresh off the plane, this whole commercial schedule seems lunatic. We can’t imagine setting up a business for the convenience of the store owner and not the customer. We can’t figure out what to do in that empty time slot when the store is closed. It is maddening to throw away good hours in the middle of the day when money could change hands, profits could be made and people could be working. To an American, the waste of time and resources is appalling. No wonder Italy is not a world power. It’s very odd, at least until you stay in Italy for a while..

Somewhere about the fifth day in Italy, a seismic shift happens. The world starts to look different. You begin to tell yourself, “What’s the hurry?” All the rushing around seeing things, the frantic urgency of checking items off the list begins to raise questions. What is the point of pushing yourself to fatigue and dealing daily with sore muscles and aching bones when you can kick back and enjoy life. After all, this is a vacation and not a work assignment. There is nobody to please except yourself.

Oddly, it stopped seeming odd. 

I soon discovered that there was nothing I needed to buy during those three hours. If I don’t manage to buy it later, I’ll figure out something else to use. I can make do or just do without. No need to rush my digestion or move away from the sunny campo. I might even take a nap. By this time, it was hard to remember what was so important anyway or where I put my list. Italians may not get much done but they sure have a good time not doing it.

So back in the states trying to make sense of my time in Italy and put my life back in order, I’m struggling to regain my old priorities. I still know that a country like Italy is odd with its emphasis  on personal time and the joys of a leisurely lunch and I’m not about to change my opinion. After 70 years, that old American drive is there to stay. I do admit to wavering some about which lifestyle is better. Somehow, it seems to me that an unbiased appraisal might suggest that the American way is not the best after all but I’m not going there. It’s nearly noon and I can think about it over a glass of wine or two after I eat lunch.

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Ralph is the inspiration for Cantankerous Old Coots and is our Grand Duke of Cantankerousness

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  3 Responses to “What’s odd and what’s not”

  1. Maybe Italy has it right and we have it wrong.

  2. Oh giving that odd and what is being open to others. And we can just earn initiative to close each day for better. – Pete Spittler

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