Thursday, December 14, 2006

Ten Things I'll Never Understand About Rome

If you've been reading my blog for a little while, then you've probably noticed that my observations often tend to be of the curious, "why?" type. I can't help it. When I see certain things here, I am always asking myself this question and trying to uncover the answer.

Nine times out of ten, with a little detective work, I manage to get it all figured out. But for that inevitable 10th time, I decided to hammer out a list of ten Ask Yourself Why's: things about Rome I'm not sure I'll ever truly get to the bottom of. There are lots of possible answers to these ponderings, but so far, nothing I'd call definitive.

So without further ado, I invite you to join me on my quest to answer the following questions. All this demanding to know why might come across as just a tad bit militant, but you know that in the end, I really do love the quirkiness of it all.

Here we go then:

1. Why does my bank open at 8:30 am, close at 1:50 pm, reopen at 2:35 pm and close again after just 40 minutes at 3:15 pm?

2. Why do the transport workers almost always strike on Fridays? And what are they really striking for? And why do they warn us in advance? And why do they generally stop striking for an hour or two in the morning and the evening to let the workers commute?

3. Why does the pharmacy have to wrap up all my purchases in tissue paper, as if they were Christmas gifts? I mean, it's just a box of Bandaids, for God's sake, and there's all these old women staring at me! And while we're on the topic, why do I have to ask a pharmacist for a box of Bandaids? Why can't they just put them out on the shelf? Are they afraid people will steal them? Do they think that purchasing Bandaids requires a pharmaceutical consultation? (And why on Earth do they not teach you the word for Bandaid in your Italian classes??) Yes, I know that the supermarkets here have Bandaids now. But I'll never forget this episode, because it was my first encounter with an Italian pharmacy nearly six years ago. Bless their hearts.

3a (because I like the #3 so much I accidentally put it in twice...thanks for spotting it, Gracie!). Why, when I'm crossing the road and a car comes dangerously close to hitting me, do I put out my hand? Do I think that my hand has superhuman powers that will stop the oncoming Roman driver from obliterating me? And why do they always manage to stop, even when it seems like it isn't humanly possible? (Facciamo le corna.)

4. Why is it that at nearly every intersection in the city, there's a small sign with an arrow telling me how to get to the Auditorium? In trying to research this one, I found this blog post in Italian asking the same question, insightfully pointing out that some of the absurd number of these signs are located nearly 20 kilometers from the Auditorium, which is quite a stretch, and they always have their trademark random little arrow. They don't really delineate any specific path, mind you. They just kind of say: "Hey! You there! Just wanted to remind you, the Auditorium is here in Rome, somewhere in the vicinity of right" (or left, or straight, as the case may be). The only thing is, the closer you get to the neighborhood where the Auditorium is actually located, the number of signs drastically decreases, while the distance between them drastically increases, effectively sending you into a panic wondering where to go if you truly wanted to get there in the first place. People, I'm telling you. If you come to Rome, make note of this. It's both hilarious and surreal.

5. Why do Italians insist on having so much food at a wedding, or at the traditional New Year's Eve dinner known as cenone (literally: the big dinner, where I once was glued to my seat for nearly 6 hours), or at a first communion lunch, and then complain, I mean really complain in a woe-is-me kind of way, that it's too much? And why is it though, that if you don't offer this much food, they criticize you behind your back for being cheap?

6. Why, OH WHY, do people ride around on their scooters with helmets on without the chin straps fastened? If you've already gone to the trouble of putting the thing on your head...I it that much of an inconvenience to just fasten the thing? Or do these people think that the protection factor of the helmet is found in simply placing it on their head, not in actually securing it so that it stays there should their head unexpectedly make contact with the pavement? I know they're just trying to avoid a ticket from the mandatory helmet law, but still...seems like a petty little act of defiance, IMHO (thanks for that acronym and the geeky tip, Finny!).

7. Why is it that when I'm waiting for a bus and it doesn't come for like a half hour or more, when it finally arrives, another one of the exact same number is driving right behind it? Thank you, Bruno Bozzetto, for feeling my pain on this one.

8. Why are public employees allowed to sleep on the job and no one says anything? Yes, yes, I am aware of the Italian phenomenon of "I can't ever be fired, so I'll proceed in doing whatever I want." But still...have we no personal dignity? When I went to get my Italian ID card, the man at the information desk snoozed the entire two HOURS I was there. ("Um, excuse me, don't want to interrupt your dream there or anything, but I was just wondering where to deposit this form?") I've also heard a few tales of employees sleeping under their desks in government offices, although I can't say I've seen it with my own eyes. Are these people staying up all night so they can catch up on their sleep once they get to work?

9. Why are Romans obsessed with exact change? Why do they get so mad when I use a €50 bill? Do they never go to the bank? Is there a national change shortage? Why do I have to go make change for them when I want to buy something? Why did a shopkeeper once refuse to sell me a €1 loaf of bread because all I had was a €20? Is it that hard to keep €19 of change in the register?

10. Why, when Roman tap water is considered perhaps the best in all of Italy, do they never serve it in restaurants? And why isn't there ever any ice?

Don't get me wrong, folks--I'm not complaining. In fact, like I said before, I do love these Roman mysteries. For me it's all part of the unique "charm" of my adopted city.

Are there things about where you live that make you wonder "why"?


Donna said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Donna said...

Living in Alaska, I wonder two things so far....

-Why the Christmas tree I bought is from Oregon.

-Why people speed and tailgate on icy roads.

nyc/caribbean ragazza said...

LOL. these are all very good questions.I thnk Mr. Epstein had a paragraph or two on the exact change thing. It has something to do with merchants not going to the bank every morning and having a till full with change, like we do in the U.S.

p.s. I added your link to my blog.

FinnyKnits said...

Oh my god, can of worms.

I won't get into all my whys now, but I am covering off the whole, "Why are people so obsessed with Christmas lights?" conundrum right now in detail.

Oh, and of course, "Why do some (American) men feel like it's acceptable to wear spandex and halvsey tops at the gym?" which is getting special attention.

Here's one for Italy - "Why no to-go coffee? Ever?" Just curious.

RichardAB said...

I have one, I was in Rome a few weeks ago and one night I walked to Trastevere. I can't remember the name of the big open square but there were a lot of street performers there doing their stuff.

An elderly lady, who I believe may be slightly famous, takes out a boom box, puts on some disco and does a little dance. The cops come by and tell her to stop.

Meanwhile they walk right by the man selling fake Gucci and Prada bags.....

gracie said...

I have a "why" for each new day, so my list is much longer than yours (and when I can get an answer it's a very good day!). Did you realize you put two numbers three on your list?

Shelley - At Home in Rome said...

Donna: That's funny about the tree. Things that make you go Hmmmm....

NYC: Well, see now? Mr. Epstein's book DID serve a purpose after all! Ha ha. I shouldn't rag on the guy, it's not like I've written a book or anything...

Finny: Your posts on these are always good for a laugh!!

Richard: I've seen that woman! I've only seen her once, it was probably around the same time you saw her. You know it just made me feel really bad. People didn't know how to react to her--it really was an awkward thing. But you gotta laugh about the cops not doing anything about counterfeit stuff. They probably figure there's no use.

Gracie: I am awarding you the prize for "Most Observant Reader." Thanks to you, the 2nd 3 is now becoming 3a. Because Top 11 just doesn't have the same ring...

Ebony and Ivory said...

I have one!

Why do people in North Dakota insist on saying "Oh for cute!" instead "Oh how cute"???!! Oh for this and oh for that...It's oh how!!!

dick said...

I tell you that your comment about the buses is also true here in Queens. The Q60 bus is supposed to run every 10 minutes. It comes about every 40 minutes and there are usually at least 3 of them in a row - and they are always full!!

Shelley - At Home in Rome said...

Ebony: I had no idea---that's funny.

Dick: Must be a universal thing then. A universal bus-driver conspiracy. They must teach this tecnique in bus-driver training school.

tracie b said...

why do these women who are so obsessed with cleaning think it's ok to leave leftovers out of the fridge overnight and eat them the next day?

Shelley - At Home in Rome said...

Tracie: That's a great one... I was so perplexed the first time I saw food left out overnight and then eaten the next day... you know what I've been told by way of explanation? "The food here is fresher so we don't have to worry so much about it spoiling." Gotta love it! But I have to say, I've never seen anyone get sick from it... hmmmm...

littlekittie said...

It's exactly the same thing here about the change.
They will refuse to sell you a 7 rubles bread when you only have 50 rubles with you.Or anything else that requires change.
Don't they prepare change for their business everyday??
What kind of "business" do they call themselves doing??
But anyway, i'm used to it now.

and yes, not only the pharmacist, mini markets called "produkti" also don't put their products on the shelves. You must ask for everything you want....
thank goodness i can still point when i don't know what it's called.

Michael said...

I can answer one for you:
They will not give you ice because ice will make the drink too cold, and you will get a 'cold in your stomach', from which you apparently might die. For some starnge reason, Gelato and Granita are ok, though.

gianandrea said...

shelley, this is a great post. i laugh a lot. i'm living in rome since six years now and there are still o lot of things that i simply do not understand:
- why motorcycles pass you over on the right
- why they do not talk but screams

ok it is a long list. forget about: the city is soooo beautiful