Thursday, January 16, 2014

neither here nor there

This Christmas ---apologies in advance as I will now insert a song that will play in your head all day, but writing that makes me think of George Michael singing: Last Christmas, I gave you my heart, but the very next day, you gave it away…This year, to save me from tears, I'll give it to someone special--For whatever reason, the two back-to-back flights I took on Aer Lingus both played that little gem and it is now the gift that keeps on giving. You're welcome.

And so, this Christmas I found that I have mentally shifted from being an American who lives in Italy to an unidentified Other. Surrounded by a language not my own, immersed in a culture that is still as often as not foreign, I feel American in a way I never did in America. And so even though I am puzzled when people make guesses as to my nationality and American doesn't even make the long-list(Spanish? Greek? English? Canadian? Italian?), it is how I identify myself.

And yet, for the first time, I felt distinctly out-of-step while in America. If there was a Venn Diagram of Italian, American and Neither/Nor, I was hovering in the Neither/Nor category.

The very same little things that had made Italy seem strange now made America feel not quite right: the way waitstaff dropped your bill on the table before you had finished eating in their eagerness to hustle you out ; the uncomfortable need to hurry; the anger at waiting; the scowls directed at noisy children;the drivers who obeyed traffic rules; the salespeople who called for next in line and the customers who waited their turn; the cashiers who didn't bat an eye at making change, no matter how large the denomination they were handed.  These were all no longer my normal and yet the very lack of these things had made me crazy when I moved here.

At the grocery store in America, my son automatically began bagging items as they were scanned, only to stop, puzzled when the cashier smiled and began bagging them herself. "Oh! I forgot that cashiers can bag groceries here!" To be fair, I'm certain that cashiers in Italy can bag groceries, they just don't. Ever. Probably in the history of grocery stores, there has never been a cashier who bagged groceries.

In another instance, I was told I owed five dollars and I handed the bored teenager clerk five quarters. She waited impatiently, holding out her hand. I waited patiently for her to count my five euros so that I could move on with my day. But that didn't happen because although euros and quarters are the same size, they do not equal the same amount. And so I looked a little really dumb, even after my friend came to my rescue and explained that I was used to euros.

At one point I sat in a long line of cars at a stoplight, all of us waiting to go straight. The turning lane was wide open and yet not one car was utilizing it. Fools, all of them. So I used the turning lane to pull parallel to the first car in line at the stoplight. When the light turned red we would, of course, messily merge so that we could both go straight. Except I recognized at the last minute that I was not in Rome and I was going to cause an accident and so I quickly turned and took the long way to my destination.

None of this is to say that I am any more adept at social norms in Rome. I continue to get anxious and sweaty every time I do not have exact change and I have yet to remember not to greet friends with hugs and instead to air kiss both cheeks. I haven't taken to soccer any more than I ever took to football. I sometimes wish the waitstaff would just give us the check and not assume that of course we wanted to sit and digest our meal and enjoy each other's company.

And so I find myself neither here nor there and out of step in both. It is more "huh" than bad, but it is also all questions and no answers.

1 comment:

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