As we enter the holiday season, this is my attempt at being a bit more jolly. Did you know “Ho, ho, ho!” is written “Oh, oh, oh!” in Italian? I learned that from a festive tissue box which, to my English brain, conveyed the sense that Santa had made an important scientific discovery and/or was falling off a roof.
The Complaint: The bus is always late.
The Silver Lining: Strangers are compelled to share stories.
“You haven’t seen the 51 pass by yet, have you?” I ask the elderly gentleman at the bus stop. “No, no, it’s late,” he confirms. We share a grumble-sigh and a what-can-ya-do shrug.
I then see a man walking down the middle of the road. He’s talking to himself. His clothes and hair are unkempt. He doesn’t glance at any of us on the sidewalk; he appears to be on a time-sensitive, frustrating mission as he shuffles along the asphalt.
Soon after he passes by, the guy I was speaking to earlier comes closer to me and asks, “Did you see that man?” Yes, I admit.
“He was a famous tenor. Incredible voice,” my bus mate shares. “Then, something happened to make him like that. He was staying in a hospital, but he escaped in the night. Now, he sleeps in the garden over there,” he continues, gesturing toward the park across the street. “I try to give him things sometimes, but…” he trails off.
“Great voice,” he says quietly under his breath.
The Complaint: Street harassment, violence against women — ya know, the yoozh
The Silver Lining: I become inspired to attend a self-defense class.
“Che belle tette che hai! / What beautiful tits you have!” the scum sack spews at my friend as we walk past him on the sidewalk. “Vaffanculo!” she quickly responds. He approaches her closely, turning back toward us to scan her body with a greasy smirk. I’m shocked and can only follow up with an awkward screech of “Fuck you!” in English as he struts away from us.
I remember only fragments of our conversation after that because I was seething, but she mentions something about covering herself up and I’m like, “YOU CAN WEAR WHATEVER THE F*CK YOU WANT. No one has any right to talk to you like that!” She has been groped on public transportation several times, she also shares.
Later, a guy who was in our group but walking further back tries to console her, “Hey, that man earlier — he was ill, don’t pay attention to him.” Oh HONEY, the perfectly healthy ones say shit like that, too, I retort.
So, when I arrived at a women’s self-defense course the other day, and the instructor was talking about channeling your rabbia (rage), I was like, YUP.
My friend (a different one) who I recruited to attend with me forgot to bring a change of clothes to her office. “If we get attacked, we probably won’t be in a tracksuit,” I consoled her via text an hour earlier.
During this very serious session, we, seemingly the only two foreigners, couldn’t stop laughing because one of us was running laps and doing sprints (Vai, vai, vai!) in a chic business casual outfit and bare feet. Sure, we expected a few defensive jabs but not a cardio session — was this prep for fleeing an attacker?
I also didn’t understand all of the defense theory dialogue in Italian, which was further fuel to the awkward-laugh fire. The instructor would make eye contact with me and I would nod eagerly or smile slightly so that he would shift his spotlight elsewhere. I may have silently agreed to always be aware of my surroundings, or I may have unwittingly grinned as he described how my classmate escaped a terrifying assailant.
And then the inappropriate laughter continued as we were instructed to put our hands up against the wall and repeatedly swing one leg across our body and then out to the side. Still unclear if this was part of the warm-up or a tactical kicking move.
Then, we had to grab each other by the neck and try to throw the other person off balance. After that ridiculous performance, the instructor had had quite enough of our shenanigans and decided to separate the two of us.
Later in the evening, we did successfully practice escaping wrist/arm grabs and kneeing an attacker — both in class and post-class with our obliging husbands: “Why did you cover your balls?! I wasn’t even aiming for them!”
The Complaint: The rules are rarely clear, followed and/or sensible.
The Silver Lining: I learn that the rules can always (and sometimes should) be bent or ignored.
Example 1: It’s evaluation day at Italian school. “I can tell when you use Google Translate,” our teacher warns. “You must finish your test at 10:35 a.m.” So, this studentessa works diligently, finishes her test at 10:35, hands it to the teacher and leaves the room for the regularly scheduled coffee/bathroom break.
I stroll back into the classroom after 10 or 15 minutes and see that almost everyone else in the class has stayed to keep working. “But — what — I thought — you said we had to turn our exam in!” I complain to the teacher.
She looks at me with amused pity, shakes her head and says, “But this is Italia, Christina…come on…”
Example 2: “Google Maps is too precise,” the woman in our car bursts. She is annoyed that we’re using a navigation system to reach an unfamiliar destination rather than winging it. “Ugh, turn it off! It doesn’t know!” She is irritated that the robotic voice is telling us how and when to turn. “Italians don’t like to be told what to do,” Alberto offers later as a possible explanation. They like to have the freedom to roam and get lost. Or, possibly, they might be afraid of technology or too prideful to accept more efficient directions than the route they’ve been taking since 1975.
Example 3: Any and all encounters with Italian authorities.
I think I’ll make this a regular series to keep my spirits up when I’m ginocchio-deep in culture shock and homesickness. What’s something positive you could glean from a recent annoyance? Inspire me in the comments, amici.
Oh, oh, oh and happy holidays to all!