Ciao from Cortina: Hurry up and wait
February 9, 2015
Cortina, Italy — The other day I got an email from LinkedIn. It said "Peter Smith asked to connect with you two days ago! Do you wish to connect?"
Two days, I thought, “they're asking me about something that only happened two days ago?
In Italy, nothing gets done in two days. In Italy, we wait.
My husband's paycheck is supposed to arrive on the last day of the month but usually appears sometime around the 10th day of the next month. When I started a new job teaching English, I signed a contract that said I would begin on Dec. 3. Now it's February, and I still haven't started. Last year, my permit of stay, which I had applied for in November, arrived in the mail two weeks before we were leaving for Colorado for the summer.
If you ask other American ex-pats, their most common grievance with Italy is that nothing ever gets done in a timely manner. Bills arrive two days after they were due, the cable company shows up a month after you've called them and you can sit for 30 minutes in a restaurant before a waiter strolls over to your table.
In Italy, they take laid back to a new level.
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Living in a different country means learning about different cultural norms though — even if you don't agree with them. It drives me crazy when there is a backed-up checkout line at the grocery store and the cashier spends five extra minutes cooing over someone's baby while the rest of us stand there looking on. Or when you go to the bank and have to wait 25 minutes for the next available teller because everyone is chatting with each other.
The thing is though — it's nice.
In America, an errand is a chore. Something that gets finished before you can do something else that's more fun. We keep our heads down and cross things off our to-do lists: the grocery store, the drive-through ATM, the gas station.
In Italy, errands are more like events to be enjoyed. If you're out doing an errand, you might run into someone you know and get to chat with them. And hear about their lives. And their children. And their dogs. You might run into a friend and have a "quick coffee" together, which of course would then turn into three more.
I often find it easy to understand why people say that nothing gets done in Italy. The thing is though, things are getting done.
And while it might not be at the pace that an American would approve of, Italians are actually multitasking. Because they're going to the grocery store and the bank and the dry cleaners, and at the same time, they're making connections. With other human beings. And not in a fake "how's-your-day-going-today" kind of way. In a real, ask-about-your-children-husband-dog-vacation-house kind of way.
And if that means we have to wait in line at the grocery store, well I guess that's okay.
Sophie Dingle is a freelance writer living in Cortina, Italy, where her husband and Steamboat native, Ryan, plays professional ice hockey. While in Italy, she loves to eat, cook, explore and drink red wine. You can follow her adventures online at http://www.sophiedingle.blogspot.com.
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