Sunday, December 25, 2016

Smoke, Speed and Drink Wine

I feel hung over. After an eight day trip to Italy, visiting four airports in 22 hours while fighting a gnarly head cold, I woke up back in America on Christmas not knowing what day it was. Oh, that's right. This is the day Jesus was born. It's called Christmas. Wait, where am I?
Even though my head is three feet thick on the most important day of the year, it was worth it. Italy was amazing--like an outdoor museum. Every building, statue, fountain, staircase and lamp-post seemed to be 2000 years old and designed by a famous artist. The country is full of majestic rivers and ruins, beautiful fountains and flora and people who smoke, drive like maniacs and park on sidewalks.
I am not kidding.
I made the mistake of sitting at the front of the tour bus a few times and was absolutely shocked at how often we came millimeters from sending a brunette on a motor-scooter to her death or vaulting a pedestrian into a fountain. Smart cars, fiats, scooters and motorcycles weaved around us and criss-crossed in front of us like angry bees. We drove winding, narrow, ancient roads where our bus driver had to honk as he approached a curve to ensure that pedestrians, drivers, birds, WHOEVER, would not end up on the windshield. On one trip up a hill to a Tuscan restaurant, I don't think I breathed the entire trip. I gasped, but didn't breathe. My tour guide actually warned me not to sit in the front because of the craziness I would witness. I should have listened. She also told me when I used crosswalks in Rome to just "step out and smile." I tried it and made it home to talk about it, but there were a few times I almost ended up a hood ornament. At least I would have been a smiling hood ornament.

Here are a few others things I learned that I think you should know if you plan to travel to Italy:

  1. Order wine. Italians drink wine at every meal. OK, maybe not breakfast, but they don't really eat breakfast so that doesn't count. (I felt like a PIG eating anything more than a postage stamp sized pastry and a drop of espresso.) At lunch, they will offer you soda just to be nice, but if you order it, you will look like a crazy American.
  2. Whatever you do, if you DO order a soda, do not drink it straight out of the bottle or can. Evidently, Italians think that is gross (i.e. American). One time in Amalfi after ordering a slice of pizza, I asked for a can of Italian orange soda (wine was not an option since this was a fast-food like place) and was asked if I wanted a plastic cup to go with my soda. I said no. I was promptly handed a straw. It became clear to me that OBVIOUSLY, if I wasn't going to POUR my drink into a cup, then I was going to sip it with a STRAW because I would NEVER drink it straight out of the can like a barbarian (i.e. American). I learned my lesson.
  3. Put down your money. Want to hand that bill to your cashier? Don't. Put it down my friend. Right there on the counter. Let her pick it up. And when your change comes back, do not stick out your hand like a peasant. Just wait for her to plop (or slam) it down in front of you, then meekly pick it up one Euro coin at a time while the Italian behind you pushes you out of the way.
  4. Take up smoking. You might as well. You are going to smell smoke everywhere you go--sidewalks, restaurants, cafes, museums, parks--it doesn't matter. I think I even smelled smoke inside the Vatican at one point, but that may have been money burning in the tourist's pockets when they caught site of the bottled holy water in the gift shop. If you want fresh air, you'll have to leave the country. Let me put it this way--I had to come back to Los Angeles to breathe clean air. Does that tell you something?
  5. Do not drive, but if you must, drive like you are being chased or you are late for your wedding. Do not wait behind other cars or large tour buses, simply zip around them like they are children on tricycles. Speed on the wrong side of the road. Flash your lights to tell other drivers to get out of you way. Honk profusely. If you are on the freeway, flash your lights and honk profusely at the same time. Back up into oncoming traffic on a narrow street and cuss people out in your best Italian as they gesture at you with disgust. One thing though, wear a helmet. Yes, even if you are driving a car.
  6. Park wherever you'd like. Anywhere really. In America, you get a ticket if you park in a handicapped spot or on a one lane road, and you'd get towed if you dared to park on the curb in front of a store with your bumper 6 inches from display window. But not in Italy where parking is a free for all! If someone beats you to a spot, act like you are at the Hollywood Bowl and stack park behind them.
  7. Stop smiling, talking loudly and laughing. What is it about being American that makes us so dang happy all the time? I think Italians find this very annoying, bordering on obnoxious. My tour group was constantly "shushing" each other every where we went because no matter whether we were in a restaurant or a museum, no one else was talking loudly, or laughing, or smiling. I pretty much walked around Italy for eight days trying to hold in my laugh and talk like I was a nun in a library.
  8.  Learn a language other than English. Everyone I met in Italy spoke at least three languages, usually Italian, English and French. Our tour guide spoke Italian, Spanish, English and French and was learning Portuguese. I speak English and intermediate Spanish. I felt like an uneducated moron. I learned four Italian phrases (three were greetings) and that was all my brain could hold. The good news is if you speak only English, you will have no problem in Italy since nearly everyone speaks English and a lot of signs are in English, but you will feel like you should have paid more attention in your high school language classes or at least ordered Rosetta Stone for Christmas.
  9. Do not wear white tennis shoes. Or baseball hats. PLEASE. No one in Italy wears these except the American tourists. Italians dress like every day is business casual Friday or they are headed to a fashion show. If they wear jeans, they are form fitting (bordering on "painted-on" if you are under 30) and a nice collared shirt or sweater with a puffy jacket and a scarf if it is cold. The men wear brown leather dress shoes or boots. White sneakers and baseball hats look tacky inside the Pantheon or other places of importance. It just doesn't seem right to be standing next to two thousand year old ruins in the Forum with a Dodgers logo on your head.
  10. Watch your step. Americans are used to smooth paved roads, hand railings on stairs and flashing signs that say "Watch Your Step."  Italians are not. You either watch your step or fall head first into the burial site of an ancient pope or off of a sheer cliff into the Mediterranean. So for goodness sake, put down your phone unless you want a selfie of your last few seconds on the planet.
That's about it. I hope you find this helpful if you decide to travel to Italy. Now, if you'll excuse me, I am going to have some wine, a smoke, and head to bed.
Buon Natale!

-Hope A. Horner, 2016
Contact author on gmail at hopeh1122
or follow on Twitter @HopeNote

No comments:

Post a Comment