Receiving your University Degree in Padova...
Italians have a fun way to celebrate fellow students completing their university degree in Padova...(not a Doctorate)
The 'target' is forced to dress up in a silly costume, which often includes a humiliating walk through the 'centro' of the city while surrounded by fellow students, and then must read from a prepared statement to the assembled group of family, friends and total strangers, while standing on a raised platform drinking from a bottle of wine. If a mistake is made while reading, objects are tossed at him/her, and is struck by soft objects like sponge bats or dildos, and must start all over.
This poor, but newly graduated student is expected to perform feats as dared by spectators, and if he/she forfeits, then more additional abuse is directed their way. This continues for hours and hours. Once the readings are successfully completed, the grad is crowned with a wreath of laurels, and cheered with cries of 'dottore, dottore'.
I have no idea what the 'readings' contain, but judging from the laughter, I assume it is a humorous collection of the targets life while attending University. Great fun, and enjoyed by all passersby.
This is a special Paduan tradition which is held in the square in front of the Palazzo at various times of the year. I don't believe this celebration occurs in other cities, certainly not in the same fashion anyway.
Lewd posters are attached to walls throughout the centro, with life like caricatures drawn of the target and his/her physical attributes. I will includes photos of some of my favourites (if VT allows, that is).
- Study Abroad
Italy's good manners...
In Italy, good manners rule. This is practised everywhere you go, and is a bit of a shock to a Canadian, and I feel Canadians are generally well mannered.
For example, when a person walks into a store or bar, it is important to acknowledge the shop keeper by saying "Buon giorno" if during the day, or "Buona sera" if after 4pm. Customers walking into a shop will greet other patrons in the same manner.
I haven't quite figured everything out yet, but my rule of thumb is, if eye contact is made, it is safer to greet.
In a gathering of people, other than a commercial setting, it is also customary to shake hands with everyone, or do the 'cheek thing' which is usually reserved for close friends. I still feel most uncomfortable with this practice..
Remember, as important as greetings are, it is just as necessary to say goodbye. It is considered to be a slight otherwise.
Remember, when in Rome...
- Business Travel
- Work Abroad
Move buddy...un-huh, doesn't happen.
Italians in general, upon meeting someone on the street, will often stop exactly where they met, and begin chatting. There is no attempt to move off to the side so as not to impede other pedestrian traffic. This is especially annoying if bicycles are involved. People are expected to walk around them, even if it means they might have to step into the gutter.
The same thing goes when you have two or three people walking side by side, coming towards you. They do not budge, or even make an attempt to separate or 'lean in' so as to allow you to pass. The space they occupy is 'their' space.
None of this is done in a malicious or mean spirited way. This is just the way it is. Why is it done, I have no idea, but if any Italian readers can advise, I would love to hear from you.
In Canada, and once again I'm generalizing, every attempt is made as to avoid confrontation. We would step off the sidewalk in order to chat, and would part when walking together in order to allow others easy passage.
Different cultures, different ideas. You have to know this particular trait is quite common so don't take it personally.
Election time in Italy is very interesting. A few weeks ago we noticed many portable billboards being erected around small piazzas and empty lots. At first we assumed construction was about to begin behind these long walls of galvanized metal, and got rather excited about a new business or shop coming to our neighbourhood.
We quickly realized that these were the 'walls' on which election posters were to be pasted. In Canada, election signs are stapled to any wooden fixture, planted on peoples' lawns, and propped up against window panes in places of business.
Everywhere we go in Padova, signs are lying in shreds beneath the 'walls', and are replaced immediately, only to be torn down in the dead of night by the opposing political parties. I'm tempted to roll up a few of these discarded posters as remembrances, but with my luck, someone will accuse me of removing it from the 'wall'.
Ma Kettle and I had just left our favourite pasticceria after church this morning, and while waiting for our light to change, got involved in a conversation with a 'local' who was on his way to a political luncheon/meeting. He was quite excited about the opportunity to share his political views with us, and was anxious to be very vocal with others at the luncheon.
At dinner this evening, we sat next to a table with four gentlemen wearing suit and tie, and
throughout dinner all they did was argue. Politics, politics, politics. The argument was good natured, but quite animated and loud.
The Italians love to argue, and complain. Complaints about politics is a favourite past time. So very different from Canada, where the odd person may be outspoken, but generally politics remains a personal choice, and even the spouse is unaware of your favourite candidate.
We have no idea who is running, nor do we care. Politics is NOT for outsiders to meddle in.
Please note...the picture was taken from a 'spoof' site. I have no idea what it means. If it is offensive, please advise and I will remove immediately. If it is funny, tell others.
- Arts and Culture
Learn to adjust...
In Italy, but Padova specifically, store hours are much different than they are in North America. We are used to going out at any time of day or night, and shopping for food, clothing, toiletries, or music and books etc.
Not so in Italy.
In Padova, generally speaking, stores will close either from 12:30 until 15:30, 'or' from 13:00 until 16:00 hours for lunch. Note that military time is used throughout Italy.
Each community has its own days to close, and in order to simplify things, consider most shops will not open until 4 pm on Monday. The same thing applys to Sunday.
Many stores will remain closed 'after' lunch on Wednesdays as well.
I just use the above as a rule of thumb only.
In the centre, shops are a little more flexible, so a stroll through this historical part of Padova during lunch will be photo op time, and you will find the occasional shop open.
Bars, restaurants, and gelaterias will be operating of course, so keep your wallet handy.
Summer time is a different story, as many, many shops and restaurants close for the month of August, some starting the last week of July. This does make providing for daily consumption rather difficult.
Happy shopping. SPEND. Please do your bit to help my adopted community live a more prosperous life.
Learn to adjust, after all, we are the visitors, and the Italian people would think we are just as odd if they come to North America.
Hotel rates drop a little bit, but not excessively. Last week of August you will find rates of Four Stars dropping to 35 euro. Every region is different. Florence doesn't seem to drop...ever.
Grande Fratello...Italy's Big Brother
Excuse me while I attempt to explain this very popular television show. It is a take-off on the North American version of Big Brother, but very different. It has no real competitions for food stuffs, or to see who will get the private bedroom.
It is all about looking good, with a great deal of conversation, no action, but little stage plays, skits, and song. Somehow, it all works. I love the clothes the women wear. It provides me many hours of merriment, asking myself 'why' they would choose such garments.
Grande Fratello is vastly popular, and the results of the evenings vote to oust a house member, is a subject of the network news the following day. This series started with two married couples, one member of whom has already joined the 'departed'.
There isn't the back stabbing, the division of the house like there is in North America. The players really develop a love for one another, and real tears are shed when an eviction takes place (Italians are very emotional people). However, I must say, I am seeing snippets of hushed conversations which may indicate a touch of collusion. Remember, I don't speak Italian, so I'm guessing.
Every member of the house is a winner in the end, due to spot appearances on various shows, ceremonies of all sorts, and the tremendous public exposure makes them instant cult icons. Every household will know the names of each player, and will hold each favourite close to their hearts.
If I was to mention Patrick, every female Italian VTer would instantly be able to picture his dirty blond hair, and his charming manner. Patrick was in Grande Fratello 4 last season, and now is a regular on another famous show.
Grande Fratello 5 premiered this month (Oct) Ma Kettle and I tuned in, because to not do so, would hurt National Pride. If Ma misses an episode, she just tunes in to fellow passangers on the bus the following morning.
Italian TV was, at first, very campy to me. However, I have learned to enjoy the shows which start 'whenever' they start. Camp is fun.
- Arts and Culture
Cell phones...color co-ordinated of course.
Italians have a love of telephones. They use then everywhere, anytime, and for long, long chats.
It is not unusual to see and hear passangers on the bus talking in normal or slightly elevated voices on the telephone to their loved ones, for the entire duration of your trip. Nothing is sacred or too personal to share with others.
I was especially concerned during my first month in Italy, to see all these supposedly normal, well dressed people wandering about talking to themselves, throwing a bit of hand movement in occasionally in order to punctuate their comments. I couldn't believe the number of strange people about. Eventually I caught on to the fact these people were in fact, talking on the telephone through use of tiny ear phones and hands-free microphones.
Telephones are a status symbol. The better a unit you have, the more successful you will appear. I had a very difficult time explaining to the saleslady at 'TIM' that I didn't want, nor need, a unit that you could send pictures on, or that I didn't care for an optional extra to allow FM music to be received over my headphones...also an optional extra.
I wanted a plain Jane telephone, that wouldn't break if dropped (too often), and a unit small enough it wouldn't require too much space in my day pack.
Ma Kettle and I only call one another, and our normal conversation lasts for approximately 30 seconds. We still get embarrased if we have to receive a call in public...
An update on Ma Kettle's usage of her phone. She has grown to love it, and she often calls me from the bus stop, or from the bus itself (gasp !!), and becomes Miss Chatty Cathy. Another observation, her use of hand movement while on the phone to others has increased dramatically. Odd.
When posting parcels overseas, a declaration of parcel contents must be completed. Bring your 'own' pen (none are provided), and a level surface on which to complete this form. Fill it in the best way possible, and hopefully the clerk will help finish the parts you didn't understand. The form is available from the postal clerk.
Post offices have security procedures much like a bank does. You will be directed to a glass door, which looks very much like a telephone booth, but you are 'NOT' to enter, you are only to place your parcels inside, close the door, at which point the clerk will activate a locking mechanism, sealing your side of the booth, and unlocking their side. The parcel is removed, weighed, and priced, and you will then be asked for your declaration of contents.
I found it cheaper to send Christmas parcels through Mail Boxes Etc., rather than Italian Post. However, I have been told that the price I was quoted by the clerk was incorrect, or, and I believe this to be very possible, I misunderstood what the amount was. Not speaking the language does have its disadvantages.
I found the clerk to be very helpful, very courteous, and very understanding. She saw I was a foreigner, and brought me to the front of the line, and served me while serving other customers. It was extremely busy, but she took the time...the Italian people are so genteel.
Where did it go...?
I am so used to finding my way about a city by noting certain stores in my head, and counting the number of turns after that. I never use street names because..., heck, I don't know why, but I just don't.
When I arrived in Padova, I continued on doing it my way, and got hopelessly lost. I looked for certain stores, but, I could never find them again. This was especially difficult for me in the centre, where the streets twist and turn, and I couldn't pronounce the street names anyway.
You see, throughout Italy, it is common practice to roll down the shutters of businesses at closing time, obscuring the contents of stores, as well as the names of shops. A 'shuttered' store front looks very bleak and uninviting, and blends with all the other 'shuttered' shops.
Therefore, if you're looking for your favourite fabric store for example, with brightly coloured bolts of cloth in the window, and displaying wonderful gold embroidered throw cushions that you've been eyeing for your sofa, forget it... if they are closed for lunch.
Learn to make note of the shop addresses, or better still, mark an 'X' on your map. After a while you will begin to notice the closed shutters are different colours of grey, some more faded than others, and some even use different brands of locks. Look for distinguishing scratches or dents, anything to give you an edge. Don't fret, you'll catch on. Give it time.
Would you like a bag.....?
Every purchase made in Italy generally requires a bag to carry it in, but be warned, most stores such as hardware stores, grocery stores, discount chains require you to pay approx. .05 euro per bag. So, expect a request from the clerk just as he/she starts to put your purchases through the til, the request asking if you need bags.
The bags are normally located just at the front of the til, underneath the conveyor belt. Pick up what you need, and be prepared to hand them over to the clerk when you are asked. Saves time and any hesitation if you don't speak Italian. If you wave the bags and the clerk has just commented on the weather, big deal, at least you broke the ice.
The whole point of visiting a foreign country is for the experiences. Enjoy your every little mistake. That makes for fine story telling back home.
As an odd contrast, very often purchases are beautifully wrapped for you by the store clerk, with ribbons and bows, and placed in wonderful little bags. We have even had cheap purchases from the dollar store (under a euro) wrapped.
Need a quick but 'TASTEFUL' gift......?
If you have been invited to someone's home, and you want to take a little something for the host/hostess, then I suggest you make a stop at a pastry shop (pasticceria). These little shops are plentiful in Italy, and are well stocked, full of delicious goodies not often seen in Canada or USA.
Just make your choices, and they are placed on a tray, lined with a paper doily, and are then wrapped like a birthday present, complete with a lovely bow/ribbon.
They make a fine present, and are enjoyed by everyone.
If the occasion calls for a bottle of wine instead, and this is a last minute deal, don't get excited, there are countless places to stop, little bars, small food shops, every one seems to stock wine. Just explain you would like to make a good impression (bella figura) on your host/hostess, and let the clerk make your choice for you (unless you know your wines).
The clerk will wrap the bottle up, complete with ribbon, or place it in a carry box. Expect to pay between 7 euro to 10 euro for a 'very good' everyday wine, and 18 euro to 24 euro for a much better 'bella figura' wine, which will bring you compliments from your host/hostess. You could pay a lot more, but that is going into territory I understand nothing about. I do suggest you purchase a wine that has been bottled from grapes grown within the region you are visiting. Civic pride comes into play, after all.
Visiting a 'locals home' ......
Maria and I have, on a number of occasions now, gone visiting, and upon entering a persons home, removed our shoes, and the host/hostess immediately offers us a pair of slippers to wear. This, I suppose, is due to the common use of marble or ceramic flooring, and thus, is rather cool on your tootsies. Typically in Italy, visitors are not expected to remove their shoes. I still feel odd not doing so.
Now, I admit, I am not fussy about wearing footwear which has previously adorned someone elses size 10, so, we now carry our own slim, compact slippers in my backpack, ready for instant removal.
These are not mandatory, and normally backpackers wouldn't dream of carrying these, but our life style and age allows us more leeway than perhaps others enjoy. Maybe its because I'll be d#%*#@* if I'll wear someone elses slippers.
Just a tip...
So, you don't speak Italian....
My wife speaks Italian fluently, albeit with a southern dialect, and people often comment how well she speaks Italian (for a Canadian).
On the other hand, I've been married to an Italian for 37 years, ate Sunday dinner in an Italian household every weekend for as long as I can remember, listened to countless arguments (discussions), but can't remember phrases when unexpectedly asked. I understand lots, but butcher this beautiful language horribly.
I smile a lot, nod a lot, look dumb a lot and hope a lot, but get by. However, the important thing is, I try, and besides getting a laugh, I get respect. The Italian people appreciate your attempts at communicating in 'their' language, in 'their' country.
If all else fails, shrug, look goofy, then point. Works for me. Oh yes, I carry a language book with me at all times with pictures of food, animals, and other necessary things. It looks impressive sitting beside your plate in a restaurant, and you are automatically forgiven for screw-ups.
Italian fresh meats...
I don't wish to criticize, but have found, in general at least, fresh meats to be of poorer quality. I find beef to be tough, and poultry often to be the same. I was disappointed in the Florentine beef also, having tried it three times at different restaurants.
Sausages however, in whatever form, are excellent, whether dried, or fresh. Hams, no doubt... as are smoked pork chops which taste just like Canadian Ham steak, but more flavourful.
From questioning our Italian friends, they also believe that Beef is of a poorer quality, and blame it on the fact that cattle live their life tied up in a stationary manner, and never freely roam the fields. I am unable to confirm or deny these beliefs.
- Food and Dining
You're a vistor...give respect
We believe that if you always remember that you are a visitor, and treat the country the same way you would respect a persons home, then you will be well received. BLEND IN, don't try and dominate, be pleasant, polite, and respectful. Try and remember some of the tourists you have seen at home, and don't mirror their actions.
Keep your voices down, and your opinions to yourself. If you don't like something, wait until you are back in the security of your hotel room before making disparaging remarks which could hurt or annoy the people whose country you are visiting.
Attempt to speak some Italian, even if you mess up, you have tried. It is amazing how people will respond to your actions, just try.