Wednesday, August 28, 2013


And I'm back, back in the beautiful land of the beautiful people. As soon as we reached our gate,  waiting for the flight to Rome, I began to play Italian or American? It is just like the license plate game, except not really.   I am proud to announce that I did not miss a single question in the Italian or American game, not even during the lightening bonus round where people were so well-dressed that to an untrained eye they could have passed for Italian; but someone as studied as I could surmise that they were American because their clothing did not fit in that seemingly careless but perfectly tailored Italian way. But for the most part, the differences were obvious.

The middle-aged  clearly-much-older-than-me gentleman wearing a crisp pink shirt under a blazer with well-cut jeans and cool shoes? Sure, that was one was plain as day even before I saw the not-a-baseball-hat hat in his hand.  The college kids looking like an ad for Abercrombie and Fitch? Again, easy-peasy.

Although I don't really know what Abercrombie and Fitch clothes look like because the one time that I went in the store it was so dark and the music was so loud that I thought I was going to have a seizure and I had to leave before the bored salesperson could even finish her greeting. So the whole concept of that store is lost on me. How can you try on clothes that you can't see? What is the appeal of shopping in the dark? And is there an extremely high employee turnover due to tinnitus?

I once spotted an Abercrombie and Fitch in Italy and of course I had to go in because I quite enjoy going into American stores in foreign countries. Don't ask me why. It's probably the same reason why my husband has eaten in a McDonalds in China. And while it was fun to see the bored but slightly more glamorous salesperson welcome me in an Italian accented surfer drawl, the store was still too dark and loud for my delicate middle-aged 40s-are-the-new-black self.

In anticipation of our return to Italy, I had stepped up my summer uniform of sloppiness. I wore long pants, despite the 90 degree temperature; make-up, even though I was travelling overnight on an airplane; and a shirt in which my fashion bra straps were clearly visible--even though in America I feel it just looks like you didn't know that for every style shirt there is a bra that can be concealed.

And of course I felt smug that I was so accustomed to travelling between countries that I was practically jaded and I felt sure that I finally could not be spotted as an outsider and would be viewed instead as practically a native. After all,  I knew to have 2 euro on hand to rent a luggage trolley. And of course I had my special card in addition to my passport because I lived there, I was no longer just visiting. And obviously I had mastered the careless Italian glamour. Well, almost. Okay, not really.

But when the passport stamper person frowned at my son's passport because it is just about 5 years old and he no longer resembles his picture and then asked me in Italian if he was my child and I knew what she was saying and was able to answer her and then she asked my son in Italian if I was his mother and he turned a jet-lagged face to me and I was able to translate for him? Oh how superior I felt to my year-ago-self who would have panicked at being questioned by the passport person in a language I didn't understand!

 Except then, because I had confidently behaved with foolish pride as though I knew what was what,  the passport person was smiling and speaking to me in a friendly fashion. So of course my blank, non-comprehending face gave me away and she nodded sympathetically and said something in Italian along the lines of Oh okay! You were just acting like you knew what was going on and in reality you don't understand Italian even though you have lived here for a year and taken two intensive courses and private lessons with an instructor who could teach Italian to a tree and  I had to sadly admit that I was not really in the know more than anyone who was visiting Italy for the first time.

So, I am not really as worldly and multi-cultural as I had fancied myself.

But still, when we arrived home, it was felt like home. And Mike had purchased an amazing breakfast cake-ish treat that we had never before eaten and it was really really good.  And the dogs couldn't find enough places to kiss us to convey their joy and our apartment looked much better than I remembered.

And so our Italian re-entry was fairly painless, even after a summer in America with central air and stores that never closed and garbage disposals and toasters and dishwashers and microwaves and ice makers and M&Ms in new flavors and phones and lights and motor cars and every luxury. There was no culture shock this go-round. I know that Italy is Italy and America is America and there are trade-offs and positives and negatives no matter where I live.

And there is one American convenience I will no longer miss. Having hung our laundry to dry for a year, through months of rain and days of cold, I thought I would pass out from the sheer ease of throwing everything into a clothes dryer.  But I did not. It would seem I have turned the Italian corner on this one as I said "Bah!" to the electric clothes dryer and continued to use a stendino even in America. Stendini forever! Clothes dryers never!

it's coming

For Italians the re-entry is undoubtedly weeks away. For me the reentry is approaching like a souped-up Honda in The Fast and The Furious Part 42.

America is apparently conspiring with my adopted country in order to make the re-entry as seamless as possible.

My slack-jawed fascination with television has all but disappeared ( in fact I am pretty sure I am missing The Real Housewives of NJ as I write this--but no worries, it will be on again at 10:00. Whew.); I have eaten my fill of all my well-missed American food, both real and junk; I once again know Target's inventory like the back of my hand and the novelty of running errands and being able to find the items for which I am looking has lost its novelty.

 The four songs on the radio vying for title of Summer Anthem 2013 make my head ache and the one tune that I can almost tolerate is loathed by my son.

And I found the throw pillows for which I have been searching and now I need to reunite with my couch in order to complete the picture. Unfortunately I do not have room in our suitcases for said throw pillows ( I have bought every extra-soft toothbrush, lone type of vitamins that don't make me nauseous,  and my favorite brand of eye make-up remover in the tri-state area), so I packed a box and prepared to ship it overseas.

"Would you like a price quote?" asked the woman behind the counter.

"No," said I, "I just want to ship it."

"You probably want a price quote," another woman chimed in.

"No, I just want to ship it."

She punched some buttons. And then some more. She asked if I was shipping to a business and I said I was shipping to a residence. More buttons were pushed.

"It will cost $500.00 to ship this box to Rome," the woman said hesitantly.

"Okay," I replied, absently searching through my bag. "Wait, 500 dollars?!?"

And the moral of this lesson is that while I may be satisfied that I enjoyed every minute of my summer vacation, I have to remember to leave behind not only the American things with which I am sated, but also any expectations of American ease and efficiency. Because it's Italy or bust, baby.