When you start talking about moving to Italy there is a single word you will hear over and over again: Patience. You hear it a lot, and it has many connotations. For example, you hear people use the word and it’s their polite way of saying that things can be painfully bureaucratic here. And that’s a fair point. But I am up this morning banging away at the keys to tell you that patience in Italy is a two-way street. And I’ve got examples to share.
First, the rental car parking garage in Rome. We get to the car, perform our inspection with the guy, sign our lives away with a finger on a tablet and are given the key in exchange. Fresh off a 12-hour flight with no sleep and we’re at each other’s throats about the best way to get out of this garage when we arrive at the gate to exit into Fiumicino. There are two cars in front of us and the guy at the gate is trying to plug his paper ticket into every orifice on the machine. That doesn’t work so he leans out the window and inspects the ticket in his hand. All this goes on for at least five minutes. (I want to say 10, but I also want to be accurate and not exaggerate. So, seriously, at least five minutes.)
Allora (we’re going to get to allora someday), I’m trying to be ‘on vacation’, but I’m also tired, hungry and eager to get to the restaurant that was recommended to us before the Italian world closes on Sunday afternoon and we have nothing to eat until the following morning. But I notice that the guy in the car in front of us is not losing his mind. There’s no honking, no cursing, no Italian hand gestures explaining that the guy in front of him is a hopeless moron defeated by a piece of paper the size of a credit card. None of that. Instead, he rolls down his window, lights a cigarette and takes a deep breath. Now, wherever you’re from, ask yourself if that’s how this situation would’ve played itself out there.
Second anecdote, we’re sticking with automobiles here. On our way back from the football game in Pescara we find ourselves on a narrow two-lane highway running through some town in a small line of cars. As we’re driving that line slows and then stops. We’re there for a minute or so and I’m wondering what’s going on. Eventually I see that the guy at the front of the line wants to back into a driveway, but he has to wait until cars travelling in the opposite direction pass before he can do so. So we waited, the cars passed and he carefully backed his car into his driveway. No honking. No Cursing. No one incredulously waving their hand out the window. No one even goes into the other lane to go around him. This guy is afforded the opportunity to park his car in peace before we all set off again.Third anecdote: The other afternoon here in Citta Sant’Angelo we’d missed our chance to have lunch at a restaurant and eagerly waited for the grocery stores to open at 4pm so we could get something to eat. So we made the short drive down the hill to a small supermarket we’d found online and headed straight for the cured meats and cheeses. We got there and inspected the goods while a guy finished ordering a little of this and a little of that and had it all vacuum sealed. By the time it was our turn there were two more people in line behind us. We asked for panini, and in our bad Italian stumbled through choosing breads, explaining that my wife doesn’t eat pork so we need one with bresaola, despite the guy’s sincere recommendation of one of the 11 types of prosciutto, and finally asked for cheese recommendations to go with our meats.
Now, through all this the other two people waiting might have been cursing us inside, but if they were, they never let it show. It was our turn, and they waited. I can tell you that we were more concerned with taking too long than they were with us. When we finished they smiled, bid us a good afternoon and that was it. No hurry, no frustration.
Allora, I guess this is my GPS-rebooting, muddy-dirt-rack-road between Citta Sant’Angelo and Atri way of saying that you have to take the bad with the good. Patience isn’t just something demanded of you to exist successfully in Italy, it is afforded to you as well. And it should be appreciated and honored, the same way that food or a sunset is in this beautiful country.