Posts tagged ‘cultural differences’

November 13, 2012

Italian leave-taking rituals

20.10.12 journal while in Morgex

I can think of only two aspects of living in Italy that I find intolerable: Italian TV, and Italian leave-taking rituals, which take between 20-30 minutes during which everyone seems to talk to each another more than they have done all evening. Objectively this is quite a sweet ritual, left over from the days when Northern Italians were care-free individuals who took siestas and weren’t slaves to schedules like the rest of Northern Europe. In practice, I get horrifically bored and it’s just not that practical in Milan in winter to stand around nattering for twenty minutes in the freezing cold outside the nice warm restaurant you’ve just vacated. Me I’m all for god’s sake, you’ve just spent ALL EVENING with these people, let’s GO, for fuck’s sake!

Fabrizio made me laugh the other day when we were talking about national communication styles, and said that whenever Lucia had to tell him something she “began in the Paleolithic era,” confirming that Italians like to give exhaustive amounts of detail when exchanging information. English communication is much more about “need to know,” which I’ve always felt I was on the wrong end of, deemed “not necessary to tell,” “Not required to know.”

November 6, 2012

non-verbal communication breakdown

20.10.12 – journal in Morgex

Is my frustration with being talked at for hours another symptom of my misanthropy/ undiagnosed Asperger’s or is M.’s family really annoying? I assume that if I’m sitting there reading, or typing on my computer that this will be taken as a strong signal that I don’t want to be disturbed. This is obviously one of my remaining British pre-conceptions, as reading is considered vaguely anti-social over here, and of course you’d prefer real human interaction to that.  Still, I have not yet worked out how to extricate myself from my mother-in-law’s hour-long monologues about stuff she must remember she’s told me before. Sometimes I see it as a kind of payment for the hospitality and affection she has always extended towards me.

Two carpenters are staying here to do various jobs around the house. The two of them on Friday had been up since 4.00 am, and were only released from company at 10.30 p.m. Yesterday we had dinner downstairs, and G. & L. were holding forth until nearly 11.00. The older guy didn’t seem to mind, the younger guy, like me, seemed desperate for some peace and quiet. Finally, I put my jacket on and started giving very hard-to-miss leaving signals, and ended up waiting for 10 minutes outside for the others to come up and let me in. The younger guy, kept disappearing for a smoke and to make phonecalls. The older guy excused his rude behavior, saying he’s a bit “rozzo” – uncouth. God, what does that make me?

October 18, 2012

how to horrify Italians

Journal 21.02.12

At lunch today, one of my students asked if it was true that when the English do the washing up, they wash the dishes, cutlery, glasses, pans in the same bowl of soapy, greasy water, and then don’t rinse them. I said it was. I explained that for Brits, ecology is more important than hygiene, which is what Italians are obsessed with, and that the Italian way of washing up would seem disgustingly wasteful to a Brit. Interesting what different connotations “disgusting” acquires in different languages. Another student recalled his ex German girlfriend getting very upset when he did the washing up and rinsed things. Apparently, the Germans wash the dishes with a soapy sponge under running water, but then don’t rinse. I think I probably do the washing up the German way. Rinsing on top of that seems like overkill.

Lucia also told us that she wears rubber gloves to load the machine. This is not wasteful, just ridiculous. She explained that that way she doesn’t have to touch the bits of food she has to scrape off the plates – with a piece of kitchen roll. I said that using kitchen roll to scrape food off the plates would be seen as appalingly decadent by Brits. She retorted that she wouldn’t be using a fresh piece, but a used piece. Stefano teased her saying that she would use a snotty used kleenex to clean the plates. I said that Brits probably wouldn’t think twice about doing that.

I remember the last time I went to Luxembourg – 4 or 5 years ago, when we stayed with Ann and Colin who would get terribly upset if you filled the kettle with more than what was required for the cup of tea you were making. In fact, if you weren’t making tea for more than one person, you probably shouldn’t bother. T. puts surplus boiled water from her kettle into a flask.

October 18, 2012

international begging strategies


On the metro this morning, there is a little old man in a padded waistcoat and trilby playing the recorder – if it can be called playing. It’s the same a-tonal sequence over and over again, the kind of sound that brings to mind Albanian goatherds, when they have finally lost their minds through the isolation. The sound is literally blocking my thought processes (he’s stopped now, so I can write this). He’s probably a gypsy, rather than an Albanian goatherd. I’m suspicious of Gypsies, not for the usual reasons, but because they are natural manipulators and hypnotists. Here in Italy when they play music as a pretext for begging, they don’t even attempt to play well or even tunefully. When you hand over money you are paying them to stop, move on, leave you alone. Gypsies don’t seem to have cottoned on to this strategy in France or the UK, where they play much more competently while begging on public transport.

For the last two days, there has been a spectacularly mutilated Gypsy doing the rounds on the metro, who walks on all fours, because his legs are hinged like a dog’s, with the knees facing the back. This looks like deliberate, Bombay-style mutilation, and I shan’t encourage it by giving them any money.