I’ve been friends with Florence for ten years now and I finally got the courage to face life as a resident here four years ago. The first six years of our friendship, its people and places treated me well and kind, so I didn’t think for a second that I was in for a surprise by becoming one of its residents. Well I sure got my trick instead of the treat.
I remember as a tourist, coming here twice a year and spending almost a month at each visit, I felt so comfortable and inspired just to walk the streets and venture into the imaginary stories of the Medici family; but after a while I always missed being back home with my friends, my “tortured” life and shitty streets. The funny thing was that when I was home I always talked about Florence and all its splendors. In one of those moments in life when it’s safer to go to sleep instead of thinking, me and my better half decided to completely change our path and start a new life here. Easier said than done, although the moving was not the hard part but the getting used to everything else was.
The first day I spent here I felt so confident and cocky because I thought I knew everything there is to know about this city and nothing could surprise me. In reality I came to realize that I only knew my way around and the language and that was about it.
The first impact was when I had to go shopping in a supermarket. Before I begin humiliating myself in writing I have to say in my defense that I come from a country and a European capital where people are in a constant marathon. I think we are thought from the womb to be inpatient and mock the people who are incompetent. We don’t tolerate stupidity and we don’t turn our heads away when someone just as much as glance at us in an inappropriate way (of course this is a generalization). I always judged my kind for their reactions and considered myself as being different and much more tolerant.
But let’s get back to the supermarket. I stepped in, confident and excited to browse around and try new things. I think I spent almost an hour buying everything I didn’t need and very few things on the list. Everything seemed perfect, even the music that filled the aisles made me hum and smile; but then I got to the checkout. There were four people in front of me with half empty baskets so I wasn’t worried about waiting, until the cashier girl just walked away saying she’ll be right back. I have to mention I had no place to go and nobody was waiting for me, thus it shouldn’t have bothered me so much.
Five minutes had passed and I was about to taste the Italian way to shop. She came over, sat at the counter and slowly started or better said as slowly as a cute little snail, to mark the products of the first man. Another ten minutes and she got to the second. I was starting to feel my nerves jumping up and down in my feet, but I kept calm and started to fake smiling. After half an hour (I am not exaggerating at all) she was still counting the change for the person in front of me and I started to doubt her Math skills because she gave him the same exact change three times already. Well by this time, my feet were uncontrollable and my face was silently saying all the wrong things to her. I was so angry and most of all I was angry with the people behind me and before me who never said a word, just kept smiling and chat with her as if they were all on Prozac or something.
When I got my turn I couldn’t even look at her and just shoved my things as quickly as I could into the bag, hoping that she won’t provoke me into having a word explosion right there. Of course she gave me the wrong change and of course she counted for 3 minutes all the cents just to be sure. When I got home my head was spinning with furry and if I were a cartoon my eyes would have popped and my ears would have blown steam. D asked me about my day and I started yelling that this would never happen back home and that girl was to be replaced in the next minute and of course the people would have said something to her, anything just to speed her up. I remember him saying “Hey, this is the Italian way. People are calm here and have nothing to worry about. There’s no rush, everything is done when it’s done.” I just sat there with a stupid look on my face and realized that back home I wasn’t calmer or patient; I was just hiding my reactions better than others because there was always someone else to react instead of me.
So, even if it sounds stupid, when you come to Italy from a different place, with different rules and different behavior patterns, even shopping for the first time in a supermarket can seem like a huge change that you have to adapt to.