Ciao from Cortina: Hurry up and wait

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— 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?”

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Courtesy Photo

Sophie Dingle

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.

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 www.sophiedingle.blogspot.com.

Comments

rhys jones 2 years, 1 month ago

Thanks Sophie!! I've lately been trying to adapt a similar philosophy in my life.

Work is a workout. It just keeps coming, and I've spent three years trying to streamline the process and maximize efficiency -- just to keep my nose above water -- because I don't want to keep anybody there any longer than they have to be -- especially my supervisors -- who might get upset, if the pile is too big at the end of the day.

So I've put myself under pressure, to keep up (after I've caught up) and every new dirty arrival was an affront (forgetting that those dishes are what we need to conduct business, and why I am there) any distraction, barely tolerable.

I waited with bated breath until somebody's story was over, so I could get back to work.

Then I had a revelation, or a change of heart. That mess isn't going anywhere. It's my life!!

Actually, I should like the nastiest pots and pans the best, as those make me the most money. On a $/per basis.

It's not the destination -- it's the journey!! The end of the day will get here; it always does.

How you spend between now and then is up to you. You control your frame of mind. That's easy to say right now. Sometimes it's more challenging; people can be frustrating... but they can be great fun, too, and now I have more time for their stories. THAT'S life -- not my stupid pile.

Smell the roses... and thanks again, Sophie!!

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Jeff Kibler 2 years, 1 month ago

I wonder if Sophie would share with us how much driving she does doing errands, or is it mostly walking? Last time I was in Italy they were still using the Lira. Everything was in walking distance, and you didn't go to a City Market for everything. You walked and talked to the butcher, the fish monger, the bank, the wine and cheese shop, etc.
Restaurants and bars were within staggering distance. We had little need for a car for daily chores.

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Sophie Dingle 2 years, 1 month ago

Hi Jeff - I hardly ever drive. If I have to go to the grocery store or do other errands in town I always walk, even though I know I'll have heavy bags coming back the other way (and we live up a hill...). So, while we're not using the Lira anymore, we are still going to 8 different shops to get one dinner on the table!

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Dan Kuechenmeister 2 years, 1 month ago

Sophie, Is the tradition of Passeggiata alive and well in Cortina. In the winter not so much maybe. Nothing beats sitting in the town square at a bar/restaurant with a tumbler of wine, some meat, cheese, olives (some times the owner will provide some of the local snacks gratis) watching the locals out and about - Visiting, running errands. Sometimes if one is lucky you can find locals that speaks a little English and have a pleasant conversation. There appears to be a certain easy rhythm in more European communities than US communities. Rhys, Love your comment "It's not the destination -- it's the journey!!" Amen to that

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Jeff Kibler 2 years, 1 month ago

Perhaps I totally misremember, yet sometime last century, we were staying at a "Camping" ground just south of Pisa. We walked a mile up the road to the first place I ever had wood-fired pizza. They were friendly the first night. Second night we were welcomed with open arms. By the fifth night, we were treated like family.
IMHO, stick to small towns if you really want to savor the flavor of a country or culture.

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rhys jones 2 years, 1 month ago

I haven't made it to Europe yet, but in Japan it was the same way. The locals were much more receptive and accommodating away from the population centers and military bases. So I bought a car -- Ralph -- and got out into the countryside.

I'm amazed how people who can scarcely communicate verbally, still manage to get their point across. I'll never forget the time, I was cruising in the mountains west of Iwakuni, when Ralph broke a clutch cable -- normally an engineering marvel; his 360cc 2-stroke could propel four adults at highway speeds, in cramped style -- so I limped him back to the outskirts of town, where I saw a Suzuki dealer -- Yay!! I pulled in...

There was an old man behind the parts counter -- probably WWII-era -- in the modern era, English is mandatory in school; not so then -- so his English was marginal -- as was my Japanese. After unsuccessfully conveying the nature of the problem verbally ("clutch cable" doesn't work, even how they would say it) or via gesture, fruitlessly pumping my left foot -- I got him to sit in the driver's seat (on the right; they drive on the left) and push the clutch. He immediately realized the problem -- but now we had another one...

I don't remember how he conveyed that he did Suzuki motorcycles only -- and that the dealer who handled cars was on the other side of town -- but he did. Then, scratching his chin, he knelt by the silt at the side of the road by the gutter, picked up a stick, and drew a rough triangle in the silt, lines extending -- meant to represent the three main thoroughfares in Iwakuni -- then drew a spot on one of the extensions and said "koko" ("here") and I said "Hai!! Hai!! Hai!!" real fast (Yes! Yes! Yes!) then he drew a circle at another corner of the triangle, and said "Base" (the base where I was stationed) Hai!! Hai!! Hai!! then by the third corner he drew another circle and said "Train station" Hai!! Hai!! Hai!! then on the third leg, extending back to where we were, but toward the train station end, he drew two small crosshatches across the leg, and, indicating back from the train station corner, said "signal light two" Hai!! Hai!! Hai!! then a small circle at one corner of that intersection, and said "doko" ("there"). Hai!! Hai!! Hai!! Now I had the directions I needed.

With his ingenious little map, six words of English and three of Japanese, he had just conveyed complex directions to the dealer I needed.

People never cease to amaze me.

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Sophie Dingle 2 years, 1 month ago

Great story - I think stories like these are the ones we remember most - sometimes more so than what "must-see" sights we saw...

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Sophie Dingle 2 years, 1 month ago

Passeggiata is alive and well! We have a great walking path here - it can get quite crowded in the late afternoon/early evening as people stroll from their hotels into town. Also the main street in town is pedestrian only which is perfect for passeggiata.

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Tom Black 2 years, 1 month ago

Thank you, Sophie, for starting this conversation. You all are witnesses to the fact that social discourse makes the world a better place. And, Soph, you've got a nice writing style!

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