Cultural differences, aside from creating consternation, can be amusing, Thank goodness.
A wedding! People on wedding days seem to be filled with excitement and pleasure, jockeying in their cars, honking loudly up and down the main street, dressed to the nines, smiling and laughing… Of course! But did you know that these people prepared themselves mentally for this day thinking, “Oh god, another expensive gift to buy, another day lost in an excruciating marathon of eating, seven hours or more at a huge table with people who are mostly strangers, milling around aimlessly in the parking lot…How many minutes until we can leave?” It is the dark side of Italian weddings. The day the invitation arrives is when the dread begins.
There is a chain of supermarkets which are called “Conad.”
Italians eat healthy, slow food! But there are entire stores dedicated to huge bins of frozen things, where you can buy bargain amounts of things like frozen pasta and breaded anonymous fish products, industrial crepes, frozen chopped onion, eggrolls, and kebab filling.
A guarantee for a new hot water heater, loudly proclaimed on a huge orange sticker, offers service during the warranty period. It is called the “Pass Gas.”
An instant cappuccino-type coffee drink which used to be available in most markets in the U.S. was called “Cappio.” This is the Italian word for a hangman’s noose. No wonder it failed!
When you stop for a fill-up, you might find yourself in the cryptic “Self Area.” Sometimes you may even end up in the the “Hyper Self Area,” a mysterious zone which conjures images of egotistical types milling about, frenetically gesticulating while mumbling their existential motives for using gasoline…
Shopping in a department store in the U.S. with my husband, at the escalator we discuss where to go next. People look askance at us hearing the words “die” and “jew” over and over. “Dai, andiamo giu’!” (C’mon, let’s go down!”)
Why do people have little dangling red pepper clusters on their rear view mirrors, I wonder… Do peppers bring good luck? No, these are supposed to be horns of the bull, red I suppose is a masculine color… and they represent protection from generic evil forces, not membership in a mysterious vegetable sect.
My sister, who doesn’t speak Italian, often laughs at our conversations. She hears the words “fart” and “fat” over and over, and wonders what on earth we are talking about! (“Farti,” to make you something, or make you do something, and “fatto” which is the past tense of the same verb “to make or do.”)
Once a year here in Metaponto, the folks who consider themselves religious follow a strange ceremony. They send a saint out to sea and back. But a standing saint could never balance on a choppy sea, which is the reason, I assume, that they send out half a saint, the upper half, and wave him off, gently bobbing toward the horizon. After a short time he returns safely to shore after a bargain cruise of half an hour. The seashore is once again a safe and blessed place.
It took years for my relatives to relax around my family here. They were convinced that we were fighting almost constantly, and would huddle in corners waiting for the storm to subside. They have since realized that no, loud vocals and gesticulation are simply what constitutes normal conversation.
A new addition to the traffic flow: roundabouts! Unfortunately, however, the rule is that one always gives way to the car coming from the right, so folks here cannot grasp that in the roundabout they must yield to the car coming on the left. Beware a roundabout in Italy!
There are dumpsters all over for garbage, as there is no residential garbage collection. So why, if you have placed your precious garbage in a nice tidy sack, tied and compact, do people carry it in their car for a few blocks and throw it out the window? Did it suddenly become an unbearable burden, a concept so overwhelmingly unacceptable, that a few more yards became impossible to bear?
A famous maker of automatic gates and doors is called “Faak.” Given that the soft “A” has a phonetic sound similar to the sound in the word “luck,” this commercial where the gate squeaks the product’s name over and over has given me many solid moments of hilarity. Say it!
If you live outside of town, your electricity and phone service arrives via lines on wooden poles. Your service will be regularly interrupted however, due to two causes: 1) The roving groups of Romanian opportunists have taken all the copper wire again during the night or 2) some farmer has burned his wheat stubble, and also the bottom halves of the poles. It is a common sight, a line sagging to the ground with a foot or two of wooden pole hanging at intervals from it, like a necklace of blackened toothpicks.
“Wheat Field on Fire” oil on canvas
Keep an eye on teenage parties. There is always beer, and there often are plenty of hard alcoholic products. That is simply how it is done here. You can fight but you can’t win.
Everybody loves gelato! It is good. My husband makes gelato in his beach establishment. And it is excellent. But I know that the “fresh” ingredients of the stuff come in big white bags and industrial steel canisters. The milk does arrive fresh daily, however.
Why do women, so exceptionally stylish and composed, the height of world-famous fashion sense in the winter, dress like hinterland prostitutes in the summer?
It is not a good place to be a snake, any kind of snake. Snake equals bad. Hide!
You will have to study hard and pass the exams to get yourself a gun. It will have to be kept in a locked, dedicated safe in your home. Once bought it can be kept with no problems, as long as you don’t use it. But if you buy any bullets, each one will have to be accounted for, and the authorities will come down hard on you if they discover that one of them is missing.
“Bernalda,” an unfortunate name. Every time we have business dealings with other parts of Italy we have to explain: “No, not BernaRda, BernaLda, with an “L.” You can almost hear the smirk over the phone line. You see, “Bernarda” is the slang name for the female genitalia.
“Benevolent Dysfunction,” mixed media on paper