Archive for the ‘life abroad’ Category
In language school I learned that many Italians would not say, “I love you” as in “Ti amo” outside of a romantic relationship. Even between family members (parent to child or whatever) it is more common to use, “Ti voglio bene” which might be translated, “I want you well.” It seemed really strange and kind of cold to me to avoid saying, “I love you” to your family members, but over time it’s grown on me a bit.
I want what’s best for you. I’m seeking your good. That’s truly what I mean when I say, “I love you” from the heart. In fact, it has a more clear and decidedly others-focused, not self-seeking tone to it.
We recently decided to exercise our right to join the Italian public health system. If we pay a small annual tax, we can get most any available health care for peanuts. It didn’t take much thought to realize our annual fee is less than the cost of two vaccines or a small portion of our private insurance’s deductible for other visits.
After a full morning last week of researching how the process works, we finally found which of the health offices covers our district and how to get there.
10am – photocopies of every imaginable document in hand, trek to health office by bus and foot
11am- helped by (surprisingly) kind and competent young woman on the other side of the glass window who tells us how much to pay at the post office for the annual fee
12pm- after five failed attempts at using ATMs to withdraw said fee and a few miles of extra wear on our shoes, we return home to our neighborhood to go to the most reliable bank we know
1pm- money in hand, stand in line at post office to pay the fee. Stop at home to make extra photocopies just in case, and travel back to the office.
2pm- learn we’re missing a document (a fiscal code — something like a SSN in the US) for Joy
9am- search on internet for office in the boondocks where they issue said fiscal code, print directions and take friends’ borrowed car in search of said office. Our arrival is delayed by a missing link in Google Maps, lots of one-way underpasses and unmarked rural intersections.
11am- find office and receive forms to fill out and three numbers (one for each of us, since we needed to make sure our address was listed correctly anyway)… told office closes at 12:45. Find out we may not have an adequate number of copies of our belly buttons (or whatever they’re asking for), but copier is broken and we’re in the middle of nowhere.
12:40pm- sigh a heavy sigh of relief to see our first number called just in time before closing. Papers processed after satisfying the lady with our pile of photocopies, and we’re on our way.
1pm- return to health office with new fiscal code in hand only to find them closed for the day. Groan.
10am- fourth trip by bus to health office in three days. Submit new fiscal code, only to learn it’s ummm… wrong. The code indicates Joy’s a boy. Sigh. Same kind worker decides to override the system and mark her as a girl anyway.
11am- we’re sent upstairs to room 8 with papers covered in bar codes to get our health cards printed out. Computer system is down. No go.
12pm- after following the worker’s advice and getting a coffee next door, we come back to find a line forming of unhappy people in the same dilemma. Eventually worker advises us to come back another day.
Hopefully we’ll have our cards. Then we can actually go meet the doctors we chose off a list at random to see how the system really works. Thankfully the lady with the broken computer gave us a form to fill out delegating one of us to be the other’s representative so we don’t BOTH have to spend a fourth day on this chase.
Then next week we can wait in line again at the office on the edge of town to get Joy’s code fixed to indicate she’s a girl.
Since in Italian words (and names) rarely end with a consonant, some Italians who speak English will instinctively add a vowel sound to the end of English words.
Evidently Joy’s ears are tuned in to Italian these days, since she couldn’t seem to give a native English pronunciation to the name of a recent visitor. Tom always came out as “Tom-ma”, complete with an Italian double consonant. It was great.
In an effort to heighten awareness about the contributions made by foreign workers to the Italian economy, the promoters of the first strike by immigrants in the country invited workers to stay home and to boycott shopping for one day.
Similar protests took place in other European countries on Monday (the initiative started in France and found supporters in Spain and Greece, as well). A comparable boycott, “A Day Without Immigrants,” championing full rights for immigrants living in the United States, took place in 2006.
But demonstrations Monday had a particular resonance in Italy, where anti-immigrant rhetoric has increased recently in anticipation of regional elections at the end of the month, and where foreign labor makes up nearly 10 percent of the work force.
While introducing one electoral initiative last week, Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi accused the left of “wanting an invasion of immigrants,” only to strengthen the opposition’s electoral basis.
Around Milan, electoral posters for the anti-immigrant Northern League party depicted a Native American Indian chieftain with the slogan: “They put up with immigration, now they live on reserves.”
But various studies suggest that immigrant labor has become a fundamental component of the Italian economy.
“Many Italians are convinced that immigrants are a burden, but in fact they have a very positive effect on our welfare system,” said Maurizio Ambrosini, a professor of the sociology of migration at the University of Milan, pointing out that Italian families have become increasingly dependent on foreign caregivers to look after their children and elderly parents. The construction industry, too, is heavily dependant on foreigners, particularly from East European countries, he added. “If anything, Italy constantly needs new waves of immigrants,” he said.
Statistics published last autumn by the Catholic Caritas Migrants foundation suggested that the 4.5 million legal immigrants in Italy (about 7.2 percent of the population) contribute about 10 percent of the country’s gross domestic product, often in jobs snubbed by Italians.
…And studies suggest that racist sentiments are rising in Italy, especially among the young. Research commissioned by the national and regional governments and presented to the lower house last month found that nearly half of Italians between the ages 18 and 29 express varying degrees of xenophobic or racist sentiments. “Young people themselves say that they perceive racism as increasing,” said Enzo Risso, the director of the SWG research institute that carried out the survey.
from the NY Times
(TCK = third culture kid)
When we landed in the US a few months ago Joy had a rough time adjusting to the “typical” American life in a car. She was used to life in a stroller, walking everywhere, and taking the bus and subway. There’s no doubt Joy is an extrovert, and she copes well with public transport because of the ready availability of strangers to flirt with and entertain.
Eventually she resigned herself to the car seat, and with the help of copious snacks we survived many hours in the car together. So then I was dismayed when returning to Italy she seemed unhappy in the stroller and so very impatient on the bus.
About a week after we returned, Joy and I were heading home from church without Tim. It was past bedtime, she was hungry, and we were dodging scolding looks from all the grandmas who thought it foolish to be out in the cold. The bus stop had been moved, and the signs with this helpful info had somehow disappeared. So after missing a couple of buses and as a result taking a long walk through the city, Joy and I found ourselves waiting at another stop looking for a way home. I was tired, cold, and hungry, and I didn’t have high hopes for how well Joy would cope with the 30 minutes on the bus… whenever it decided to show up.
But that was the night the switch flipped in her brain — “Oh yeah, I remember. This is fun!” She was suddenly back to her old self, smiling, singing, waving and talking to all the people who would listen (pretty much everyone). At that point, I didn’t care if it took three hours to get home. I loved seeing her light up in this way, bringing much-needed smiles to the faces around us and a huge smile to mine as I witnessed Joy use the adaptability so crucial to this weird life between cultures.
Some observations from our re-entry to the US:
We love the diversity of people who live here and are (on the surface, at least) accepted. We saw faces of every shade and shape just among the workers in customs and the airport and were really moved by the breadth and texture of American-ness.
Of course, everything is huge including the serving sizes, the groceries, the cars, the streets, the refrigerators.
Convenience and customer service still reign… and it’s oh so VERY nice and often taken for granted.
It is incredibly easy to come by a wide variety of great foods, anytime and anywhere, but without restraint and intentionality it would be very easy to eat very poorly.
Strangers seem a little too friendly sometimes, and shaking hands is a strange custom. Really, think about it!
Americans are much more reserved in their attentions toward children. We have gotten used to the constant refrain of oohs and ahs over Joy in Italy. Here she walks through a room with her best charming smile and only a fraction of the people notice her.
At the same time, things are much more kid friendly — toys and play places for kids in big stores and malls, special carts with little cars attached to the front, kids menus in restaurants.
One of the things I have come to appreciate about the slower pace of life in this country is the relationships you form with vendors and neighbors by encountering them several times a week when you go to buy your veggies, bread, or whatever. When we go to the neighborhood produce (and meat) market we visit the same booths regularly, and those sellers recognize us and strike up conversation. They address most of their customers by name. While it’s often just casual chatting, I enjoy these interactions and the vocabulary, cultural insights, cooking lessons and occasional personal sharing that come with them.
Some of the “mom and pop” stores around us have a similar feeling. It can feel really exclusive and be hard to break into sometimes, but once you’re “in” — it’s a great place to be. They don’t have any internal sense of “customer service” or professional politeness as a general rule; trust and respect are earned… not given freely. And I’ve come to realize that sometimes getting “in” with a shopkeeper takes persistence and pushing through the often lengthy parade of uncomfortable interactions at the beginning.
By far the most stark example of this phenomenon is with “Grumpy Man”. GM owns a pizza shop just two blocks from us. It’s a small shop with only a couple pizzas available at a time, but it’s cheap and convenient on the way home from the vegetable market. When we first stopped in at his shop, GM was nothing short of cranky, harsh, argumentative (with us and his son who works for him)… and well, grumpy. His shop doesn’t have a name. It just says, “Pizza” outside in neon lettering. So for ease of use we started calling it “Grumpy Man Pizza”. Grumpy man has a grumpy wife and a rather grumpy son. Together they run the place, and the tension level is always high.
But wouldn’t you know it? After we got “over” being put off by his incessant grumpy attitude and went to his shop a few times in a relatively short span of time, he got less grumpy. He and his wife (still working on the son) are now downright sweet to us. They light up when they see us coming, even if we’re not buying pizza but just passing by their place. Sometimes they invite me to stop and visit on the bench outside where they’re trying to avoid the heat of the ovens between customers. They are quick to give Joy a free piece of bread to chew on while they offer us a sample of their latest “homemade” creation. GM bought Tim coffee the other day after encountering him at the cafe next door. And tonight they greeted us by picking Joy up, twirling her around, pinching her cheeks… and then giving us eggs from their own hens to take home. That’s a first!
But GM continues to be downright rude to anyone who enters his store for the first time. So while he’s no longer grumpy to us, he’s keeping the title….
Joy has picked up on one of the more common Italian hand gestures, one to indicate buono (“good”) when talking about food. She doesn’t see us do it very often if at all, but when she’s handed bread at the bakery or someone sees her eating something out and about they’ll often ask if it’s buono and do this sign.
You’re supposed to put a finger to your cheek and twist it around with your thumb pointing out. I know, I know… hard to picture, so check out this online guide to Italian gestures for a diagram. …Only in Joy’s version she goes for her ear instead of touching her cheek.
The post office in Italy has a finger in almost everything. The line at the post office is always out the door and then some as people gather to send packages, buy stamps, pay every kind of bill imaginable, file various kinds of government paperwork, shop the book store in the middle, get a mobile phone, add credit to your phone, or set up bank accounts. Bank accounts, you ask? As an alternative to a traditional bank (which are a whole ‘nother cultural lesson for another time), you can set up a bank account with the postal service — complete with ATM cards, money wire transfers, automatic bill pay, etc. Well… we could set up a bank account… if the paperwork we filed with the post office ever comes through!
I’ve never seen the post office looking like anything less than mass chaos, complete with(out) any semblance of order or customer service and complete with many grumpy, arguing customers. We usually pull a number and go grocery shopping, eat lunch, whatever… and come back 30 minutes to an hour later to see if it’s our turn yet.
But it seems the postal service has found another pie. Tim was there the other day and reports that they’ve started selling motorscooters — no joke.