It has been a trying month here in Rome. I think, at least partially, we have now been here long enough for the novelty factor/ adjustment period/culture shock to have faded and now we are just living Real Life. Granted, it is still real life in Rome, but to be a bit cliched, sometimes real life takes those obscenely large lemons from the Italian coast and hurls them at your head. We were dealt many small annoyances: cable not working (don't worry, we pay for it whether or not it works); heat not working during the coldest days of the year thus far ( don't worry, we pay for it whether or not it works and whether or not we are currently wearing ski jackets and sleeping in hats and gloves); and an incident with a wack-o teacher at John's school (don't worry, she has since moved on to the greener pastures of Calcutta). And a rather large annoyance that may or may not have been caused by gypsies. Or Nicholas Cage and Angelina Jolie in Gone in 60 Seconds. I think had we been in America, we would have been off-the-charts furious with even one of these inconveniences. In Rome we mainly shrug. "What can you do?" say we. It doesn't make bumps in the road less annoying, but it does make our reaction to them less intense. (Even though we may still be annoyed and looking forward to shopping in America in which I can buy organic apples that aren't even in season and a pair of earrings all at the same store. ) The difference is that in America, efficiency is a way of life. If our cable or heat is on the fritz, we expect it to be restored within minutes and to have those cable-free minutes removed from our bill. We have 24 hour service in America and when our small middle class annoyances are not immediately resolved, our blood pressure skyrockets and our tempers flare.
After all, when you live
here, certain expectations are forced to fall away. And that means when you
have scheduled a plumber or an electrician or your landlord is coming to pick
up the rent check, you know not change your dinner plans. Because this is but
an opening bid. No one is going to show up for that first appointment. And they
aren’t arriving for the second one either. But it is possibly that the third time will be the charm if you allow for
two phone calls approximately three hours apart in which the
plumber/electrician/landlord assures you that they will be there in 30 minutes.
Eventually you will either adapt to this way of life or move to another
country. If you have properly adapted, your agitation and annoyance will
eventually give way to surprise
and delight that someone has actually shown up, no matter how much time has
passed and even though chances are good that , unbeknown to you,the plumbing
issue in the kitchen will be resolved by the plumber dismantling the sink in
Or, for instance, you may live here and are currently on day
17 of no television. You will be pretty sure that the cable isn’t working when you
turn on the TV and instead of a Gilmore Girls re-run, the screen instructs you
to text your local Sky cable technician. Which you will and which will result
in nothing. And so you will call instead. But the offices won’t open until 8:30
a.m. (I know, I’m shocked as well. I had no idea anything opened that early in
Rome.) And so you will call again later. And with any luck, a technician will
be scheduled to arrive in three days.
You’ll give the heads-up to Massimo,
your building manager, so that he can provide Fabio the cable guy with access
to the roof. Massimo will say an awful lot of words, the gist of which is:
"No." Per the rules of the condo board, Massimo will have to contact
the cable company and handle the situation as the cable dish for the building is
on the roof. The same roof that the cable guy you have contacted is not allowed
to access. You’ll cancel Fabio. You won’t hear from Massimo. When you track
Massimo down the following day, it turns out that this is not something that he
will be handling after all and you will have to schedule an appointment with a
technician from the cable company. And so you’ll call.
When a technician is finally
reached after three days of texting and calling, you are told not to worry,
they were ignoring your requests because you had cancelled the appointment. “But
I need to reschedule,” said you.
“Oh. Then you have to call again.”
“But can’t you just reschedule the
“ No, no, it is not possible. You
must call again and schedule an appointment.” And so you do. And you will be
assured that someone will get back to you within 72 hours to set up an
appointment. But 72 hours will come and go and so you will have to begin again.
Or perhaps we have locked ourselves out of the house. In America, a locksmith can be there within an hour, no matter what time this lock-out may occur. We do not have to try to break into an apartment with seven locks on the door ( don't worry, only one of them was locked at the time) and make such a racket doing so that our upstairs neighbors appear to see what the hell it going on. And our upstairs neighbors would not be horrified and quickly quash my suggestion of calling the non-emergency police services to help us break-in. And then laugh at our sincere idea to try and break in by shimmying down a drainpipe and climbing onto our balcony from their balcony. And then bring us sweaters and offer us coffee. And then call "uh...a guy I know" who arrived in a cacophony of Italian rap music and backfiring car and looked like Jesse Pinkman and successfully broke into our apartment and then needed to be paid a small fortune in cash. Because when you make your living as a house-breaker-in-er, you can't declare your earnings to the government and give your clients and/or victims a receipt. And in that, what we can take away from that tale is that the job will get done either way, but only one will have an interesting story. And demonstrate what unbelievably kind, generous and good-hearted neighbors you have. And the scenario in which an efficient locksmith arrives will make you much angrier and more annoyed than the one in which Jesse Pinkman arrives, because in one you have certain expectations and in the other you have such low expectations that they are actually less than zero. So you can only be grateful and pleasantly surprised.
And in that, you will still marvel when you see a car bump into a scooter , knocking its driver to the ground. Because the fight that ensues involves the driver of the car getting out and making what can you do? hand gestures while the driver of the scooter replies with his own gestures of what the hell? And then they each shrug and drive away. Because it is Rome. And what can you do?