Wednesday, July 23, 2008

adjusting

We've been back a whole week now, and it feels more like a month.

More good American things I'd forgotten about:

1. customer service--everyone is so friendly here. I went to the bank to have something notarized, and when I learned that the notary guy wasn't in, the bank lady called a nearby branch to make sure the notary was in, then she Yahoo-ed directions to that branch and printed it out, along with the other branch's phone number. And that's not the only example--I could go on. And on.

Italians are friendly, too, just not in shops (unless they know you). I once went to buy a measly pair of tights for my daughter at a shop in Italy. I had my three kids in tow, the youngest of whom was whiny (to put it mildly). I must have waited 5 minutes (which is more like 10 when you factor in the cranky toddler) while the shop keeper blabbed with her friend. During their conversation, I said things to my toddler like: "I'm sure our turn will be soon, honey" in a loud voice, but to no avail. She never once looked my way, or said anything like: I'll be right with you.

Italians are many wonderful things, but public servants they are not.

2. lines--everyone waits in line here. In orderly lines. Patiently. The lines in Italy aren't linear--they're blob-shaped. Waiting in an Italian line is not for the faint-hearted. You need to be quick. You need to pay attention. You need your elbows at the ready. The worst line cutters are the grandmothers. They look innocent, but I am here to tell you they are not. Their grandmotherly (apparent) innocence is their secret weapon. They pretend not to see you (picture a "Who, me?" expression) and while you're off guard, they shout out their coffee order ahead of you.

In a U.S. line, I could be reading a book, and the guy behind me would say, "Excuse me, but aren't you next?" In Italy, I could read War and Peace from cover to cover and still have the line cutters silently stream around me.

And now for some not-so-great things:
1. The Fuzz--not that I'm a fugitive of the law, or anything, but it's a little disconcerting to see policemen everywhere. I don't know about you, but whenever I see a police car while I'm driving, I automatically hit the brakes, even if I'm obeying the speed limit. The other day I was driving during morning rush hour, and there was a cop by the side of the road pointing a big 'ol radar gun my way, his feet planted shoulder-width apart, looking like the sheriff of his own little median strip.

Sure, I used to see Italian policemen, but I've never seen an Italian speed trap. Probably because the policemen are afraid they'd trap their own mothers, since everyone speeds in Italy.

2. Lockdowns--Have you ever heard of those? If you aren't a kid in this post 9-11 era, you probably haven't heard this term in regards to an elementary school. I'm a teacher who will be teaching in a year-round school that starts soon. (I know, it's not even August yet. Tell me about it). We had our first staff meeting the other day, and the principal was going over safety procedures. So we cover fire drills. Fine. Then tornado drills. Okay. Then we cover the procedures to follow if:
a.) there's a threat outside the school (if someone has robbed a home in the neighborhood and is on the loose),
b.) if there's a bio-chemical hazard outside the school, and finally
c.) the lockdown, if there's a threat in the school building. If this happens, we have to lock our classroom doors, draw the blinds, tape paper over the window in the door that leads from the classroom to the hallway, and have the class huddle in the corner furthest from the door.

I don't even know what to say to this. Maybe all of this is necessary in Italy, too, but they don't know it yet? I hate to think of my daughters practicing these drills come September, and asking "Why?".

Suddenly, those Italian grandmothers in the blob-shaped lines don't seem so bad...

13 comments:

Julie_c said...

They do lock-downs at Cam's pre-school too. I have been there twice when we have had to all huddle in the bathroom. FUN!

Is it necessary? Who knows. I think it's safe to say that America is a country ruled by fear right now. It's like the news - Five Deadly Ingredients in Everyone's House - tune in at 11:00 to find out what they are. And you tune in because you're scared.

I think kids get used to such things and after asking once or twice - they just accept it as something you occasionally do in school.

Glad they were so nice to you at the bank.

Barbara Y said...

When I was in grade school during the Cold War, we had air raid drills, huddling in the hallway by our lockers (no bomb shelter in our school). Even in second grade I was smart enough to know that if the Russians bombed us, it would be on the first Tuesday of the month at 10:30 am, the time when Chicago tested their air raid sirens and no one expected a real attack.

Becca said...

I TOTALLY remember the blob-shaped lines when I visited Italy. Trying to get to the front was definitely not a What-Would-Jesus-Do event.

And I couldn't agree with you more about our over-zealous police force in America. I have no problem with them catching burglars and child molesters, but so much of the ticket-writing is not necessary, imo. I mean, why on earth would a cop want to set up a speed trap during rush hour? All it does is slow things down even more. GRRRR! So annoying ;).

Jean said...

Natalie,
Welcome home. I never realized you weren't in Italy full time. When we got home from Italy last spring and when my son got home this summer, we tried to recreate so many things Italian in our home -- especially, of course, the food.

I hope the transition is a nice one.
Jean

Laurie Woodward said...

I'm a teacher too and have had the joy of experiencing three lockdowns. One for a supposed stranger on campus, another for a hive of bees on the playground, (no joke) and the third and most terrifying when policing were chasing a robbery suspect in the houses adjacent to our school with sirens, bullhorns, and helicopters.
Welcome home!
What do I miss most about Italy. Walking everywhere. Taking it slower. In California our cars are an extra appendage so all that walking was lovely.

Mary Witzl said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Mary Witzl said...

I really connected with this post! The first time I went back to the States after a year in Japan, I was overwhelmed by the breadth of the roads, the incredible diversity of Americans, the loudness of everyone's speech and the completely different ways of behavior. It takes time to readjust and you are constantly registering what you like about your own country and how it compares -- favorably or unfavorably -- with the one you have left. The Japanese are even more service oriented than we are, but in different ways. But the British, bless them, could give Italy serious competition. People here are fantastic about not breaking in line, but try getting someone to come fix your stove on time. My husband will never forget how great Americans were in restaurants, or how generally friendly and open they were.

Those lock-ups would scare me no end. I went through the whole missile crisis thing too as a child and remember wondering if a hydrogen bomb couldn't blow my little desk to smithereens.

The Snow Cone said...

Just found a link to your blog and have enjoyed doing a little back reading. My husband grew up in Italy and thinks he's Italian (he's not). He's always saying everything is so easy there, but when I've been and wandered about (on my own, while he's working) I've had the same trouble getting a clerk's attention you describe. I think having a perfect Italian accent solves all problems.

Your lockdown comments resonated with me as with other commenters. I believe they began post-Columbine, unfortunately, or fortunately depending on how you look at it. My kids have been locked down several times now, usually for benign, precautionary reasons, but it still scared them. I have one old enough to carry a cellphone for safety and he called me during a bomb scare that turned out to be a false alarm. These things are very scary, and sometimes I do think they take it too far. On the other hand I remember listening to a British children's author who came of age in the WWII era talking about air-raids, blackouts and being sent to the country to live with relatives she barely knew. How terrifying must that have been? I watch the news and think about what it must be like to raise a child in Iraq or Darfur. If I feel powerless during a bomb scare, how powerless would I feel during a bombing? I think the best thing we can do is stay informed and stay involved.

Kim Kasch said...

Never been to Italy - maybe one day.

Anonymous said...

HAPPY BIRTHDAY, NATALIE!! NOT SURE OF YOUR CONTACT DETAILS SO I'M SENDING YOU VERY HAPPY BIRTHDAY WISHES THROUGH YOUR BLOG. WE ALL HOPE YOU HAVE A REALLY WONDERFUL DAY. HOPE YOU ARE ALL SETTLING IN FINE. WE MISS YOU HERE! LOOK FORWARD TO HEARING FROM YOU WHEN YOU GET A SPARE MINUTE. HA!HA!

LOVE TESS

raffaella said...

Hi Natalie,

here is Raffaella, Vicky mother.

Great to read your blog! Being Italian, I can confirm every single word you wrote.

Here in Trieste we already miss you so much and we would like to keep in contact with you.

My e-mail is raffa.geo@libero.it

Waiting for hearing from you soon,

a big Italian hug,

Raffaella

Natalie said...

Sorry it's taken me so long to respond to all of your comments! Here goes...

Julie--I can't believe you were at the school during the lock-down. I can't imagine doing that with preschoolers! Luckily (or not) they don't understand what it's all about yet. Sheesh.

Barbara--I guess other generations of kids have been through this and have still come out okay! There's hope...

Becca--I laughed at the "what-would-Jesus-do" description! Especially considering that Italy is home of the Pope. Hmmm.

Thanks for your good wishes, Jean. Yes, we went to Italy knowing we'd be back in the U.S. one day. We'll go back in the summers, but that seems so far away from now!

Laurie, I also miss the slower pace of life. I'm hoping that once we get into a routine with school starting, etc. we'll find our niche. And about the hive of bees--yikes!

Mary--I'm so looking forward to your posts once you move to the Middle East! Can't wait for more of your insight into life and culture fromyet another corner of the world.

Snowcone, you're so right about everything being relative--even though things are getting scarier here by the minute, I know it's nothing compared with other parts of the world. Thanks for reminding me that I still have so much to be thankful for here!

Kim, Yes, you need to come one day! Let me know when/if you do...

Ciao Tess, and thanks so much for your birthday wishes! I MISS you guys and think of you often. Kisses for Luca and the boys from all of us.

Ciao Rafaella!
How lovely to hear from you! I will email you soon to catch up on everything. Bacini a Leonardo e i bambini! :-)

Natalie said...

Sorry it's taken me so long to respond to all of your comments! Here goes...

Julie--I can't believe you were at the school during the lock-down. I can't imagine doing that with preschoolers! Luckily (or not) they don't understand what it's all about yet. Sheesh.

Barbara--I guess other generations of kids have been through this and have still come out okay! There's hope...

Becca--I laughed at the "what-would-Jesus-do" description! Especially considering that Italy is home of the Pope. Hmmm.

Thanks for your good wishes, Jean. Yes, we went to Italy knowing we'd be back in the U.S. one day. We'll go back in the summers, but that seems so far away from now!

Laurie, I also miss the slower pace of life. I'm hoping that once we get into a routine with school starting, etc. we'll find our niche. And about the hive of bees--yikes!

Mary--I'm so looking forward to your posts once you move to the Middle East! Can't wait for more of your insight into life and culture fromyet another corner of the world.

Snowcone, you're so right about everything being relative--even though things are getting scarier here by the minute, I know it's nothing compared with other parts of the world. Thanks for reminding me that I still have so much to be thankful for here!

Kim, Yes, you need to come one day! Let me know when/if you do...

Ciao Tess, and thanks so much for your birthday wishes! I MISS you guys and think of you often. Kisses for Luca and the boys from all of us.

Ciao Rafaella!
How lovely to hear from you! I will email you soon to catch up on everything. Bacini a Leonardo e i bambini! :-)