15 years in Italy and I’m beginning to understand why Italians make me furious at times.
And why my Italian wife thinks I’m a boor.
Say “Ciao” to the man, darling!
We’re sitting at the reception desk of a language school in Italy, chatting with the pre-schoolers arriving for their English courses.
Some kids are just three years old. Cute, but reluctant to interact with an adult stranger with a beard and a funny accent.
Thousands of generations of evolution have made little kids like that.
You’d worry about a child who was incautious with strangers, right?
Survival of the shyest.
Anyway, I’m big enough not to take offense when a thigh-high female ignores me.
I’ll still say “Ciao”, knowing that, as the school year progresses, she’ll likely gain some confidence and maybe, one day, start talking back.
That’s the way little kids are.
The problem is the mothers.
The shy little girl not replying to my “Ciao” triggers a humiliated frenzy of “Say ‘Ciao’ to the man, darling”, “Say, ‘Ciao’…”, “Say ‘Ciao’ NOW”, “Oh, I’m so, so, so sorry… She must learn to say ‘Ciao'”.
Apologetic looks. Red face. General awkwardness.
I’m not getting what the big issue is.
I’m going, “Oh don’t worry… It’s normal, Signora…. Don’t worry. It’s the age. All children behave like this.”
(Meaning please, stop breaking the poor kid’s balls about this trivial crap on my account).
You didn’t say “Hello” (again!)
My wife and I are walking down the street, deep in conversation.
Someone on the other side of the street, who I have NEVER SEEN BEFORE IN MY LIFE, says “Hello”, possibly in our direction.
My wife breaks off what she was saying to me, turns and begins to wave, and shout cheerful things in rapid Italian.
I’m rather offended that our conversation apparently meant so little. Surely a cheerful wave would have done?
But obviously not. Never mind. We walk on.
Now the atmosphere is frosty, though.
What’s the matter? Nothing. No, really. What’s up? Why do you have to be SO RUDE? Me? Rude? Whaddidido?
I didn’t say “Hello”, apparently.
Again. And it’s not the first time. I HAVE been told.
I’m gratuitously rude. Always. It’s a wonder I have any friends at all…
Salutations: perfunctory but obligatory
You arrive at a party in Italy. You hug your host, kiss him or her on both cheeks (Personally I try to avoid it).
Get yourself a drink. Thanks, I will. Chat to you later. Yes later.
You wander into the living room, which is filling up with people. You find yourself a glass of something, wait a few moments to adjust to your surroundings, then maybe join a conversation, or perhaps introduce yourself to someone standing nearby. Without intruding, of course.
You bloody rude foreigner you.
No, what you ought to have done is to go around the room (clockwise, anti-clockwise, your choice) saying “Piacere” + your name, to each and every person there.
“Piacere, Daniel”. “Piacere, Mario.”
“Piacere, Daniel”. “Piacere, Maria.”
“Piacere, Daniel”. “Piacere, Mona.”
“Piacere, Daniel”. “Piacere, Monia.”
“Piacere, Daniel”. “Piacere, Massimo.”
“Piacere, Daniel”. “Piacere, Massimiliano.”
and so on.
Look them in the eye. Look confident, you’re being weighed up. Don’t forget to shake hands.
When you’ve done the whole damn room (don’t forget the woman changing a nappy whose hands are covered in poo), THEN you can get a drink. Not before.
By the way, you won’t be expected to remember anyone’s name. And they won’t remember yours.
The whole thing is a formality. Talking of which…
Salute! (Good health!)
But please don’t just wave your glass vaguely around at the other guests like that.
Non va bene.
No, you have to click everyone’s glass individually.
Even if it means getting up and stretching across the person next to you, or walking around the table.
Each person present must be individually toasted, or you’ll be toast, socially that is.
I could go on…
People are the same all over the world. But also different.
A lot of the differences are very obvious, so easy to handle.
But the ones you don’t immediately recognise can really get under your skin.
Offending others without meaning to can be damaging (better to wait until you really want to be rude).
So watch out for these insidious cultural differences, or your wife will think you’re a boor too.
Anyone got any examples of cultural differences to add? There must be lots, lots more…
Leave a comment!
(P.S. If you liked this article, please share it on Facebook, or your favored social network.)