Saturday, June 17, 2006

We Have Much to Learn

Abbiamo molto imparare; we have much to learn.

We frequently feel like stupid children. Not only do we have difficulty in communicating at a juvenile level, but basic tasks bring challenges, too. How to work the washing machine, for example. Why are there 13 numbers on the dial? Why does the machine stop for a long rest after number 3? Into which of the four compartments do we place the soap powder? Where do we buy soap powder, forget trying to find the unscented soap I use at home, I don’t know where to find any at all. Then there is the task of hanging the clothes out to dry. Simple enough, one would think, but for us electric dryer-dependent Americans it is an art that defies us. I don’t know how to maximize space on the lines to get the all clothes to fit. Then, I forgot to bring the clothes in one evening so when we awoke the morning dew had wetted them anew. Dew? We didn’t have such a thing in arid New Mexico! Another day of drying was required, and I felt like a complete idiota.

I found a broom and swept all the tile floors, then discovered a bottle of lavipavimento (the label so simple even I knew it was for cleaning the floors), so went in search of a mop. I found an electric vacuum, a couple of long-handled, short-bristled brushes, and another broom. Bryan went to the hardware store down the street to buy a mop. What he was presented with was a long-handled, short-bristled brush like we saw at home. Hmmm. How does one mop with a stiff brush without flooding the floor? Is this like the Fuller Brush days? I just don’t know these things and my hosts are immensely amused when I inquire of them. What do I know? Mops are sponge-like, I say, but I became completely devoted to my steam cleaner, the likes of which Francesca tells me she uses in their house in Roma, but not here. Drat. Tomorrow I will attempt to mop the floor with a brush. Here’s hoping I don’t get every piece of furniture completely soaked in the process. (As it turns out, you fill the bucket with water, add the lavipavimento, which smells vile, and then toss in a special mopping rag which you wring out, throw on the floor and place the bristled brush on top of, then commence the mopping action. Wouldn’t a mop be easier?)

I had better success cleaning the bathrooms. That was easy enough to figure out in terms of cleaning products, but again, the smell is rather noxious to me and I must find where one goes to buy nontoxic cleaning supplies, if such a place exists.

How do I light the oven? I can do the burners, and even more proudly, I figured out how to ignite the broiler. The oven defeated us both, though. And in the nearby market, I can’t figure out the difference between a panino, a tramezzino and a piadina. All mean “sandwich” in my dizionario. When I dared to touch the head of lettuce, I felt like a wanton hussy as a woman rushed over and snatched it out of my hand to bag it for me, asking what else I would like to have. No fondling the veggies, apparently.

Swimsuit shopping proved an exercise in humiliation as I didn’t know the proper size in European numbers, to the consternation of one store clerk. She looked me over and handed me what she said would fit. Into the dressing room I ventured, only to be met by the less-than-beautiful reflection of my derriere hanging out below the equator. I told her they were troppo piccolo (too little). Nonsense, she said; impossibile! She commenced a conversation with the other clerk, both shrugging and eye-rolling their assent that I must be drunk or stupid but no way could those bottoms not fit properly. I left them to their superiority. In another store the whole affair was more self-service, so the humiliation was my own in the privacy of the dressing room. I came out empty-handed but with the knowledge that swimsuit sizes are universally set arbitrarily to deflate one’s ego.

Bryan makes trips to the ferramenta (hardware store). He writes little phrases or words on a scrap of paper to request the items he needs. Despite not speaking Italian he seems to come home with a bag of things each time; apparently hardware is a male lingua franca.

These are the little things that we didn’t know about and which, in addition to learning a new language, we must discover through sometimes painful (to the ego, at least) trial and error.

So we will continue to feel very much like deviant, unschooled children for a while. Luckily, most Italians are extremely patient with us and allow us to make stupid missteps and slaughter their language, all the while telling us that we are molto bravo and parli bene. Yeah, right. But it is encouraging nonetheless.

Abbiamo molto a imparare.


Anonymous said...

I would be too nervous and afraid to succeed there but you and Brian serve as an inspiration to me.....I just love reading your blog and how you have tackled every new situation you have come up on.....Please keep sharing your adventures....they are so fun and interesting...

Take Care,

"You measure the size of the accomplishment by the obstacles you had to overcome to reach your goals."
-Booker T. Washington

Geek girl said...

I would have to agree--if you use a rag with the brush, a mop be easier...

Molly said...

I'm an American living in Budapest, but we have an Italian washing machine, complete with an instruction manual in Italian (which I don't speak). Needless to say, I feel your pain on the washing machine! Another question: why do you have to wait for two minutes before opening the door once the washing is complete? We tried to force the "eject" button, broke it, and wound up waiting for 3 weeks for the part to come in; meanwhile, the clothes festered away in there.

Valerie said...

Hi Molly!
Oh, my...3 weeks of languishing laundry! Ick. I feel for ya. I don't know why there is the "2 minute rule", but the door won't open right away. We must wait for it to think about it, then after 2 minutes, it will let us open the door. Weird. I still don't know what are the cycles are for!

Thanks for trolling the archives!