Etiquette and Adjustment

We really freak people out when we carry our own cappuccino cups and water glasses from the table to the bar. The baristas and bartenders rush to take them from us, smiling in forced gratitude and telling us it’s not necessary. The other patrons frown at us, not afraid to stare. They are never afraid to stare at these bizarre Americans.

This is Italy. You do not bus your own table in a bar even if it seems like the polite thing to do.

Nor do you take a shower without flooding your entire bathroom. The slippers I never leave home without went floating across the floor like lost ships in distress after my first shower here. My sister has managed to create some kind of barrier with the shower curtain and my collection of shower gels and hair products to minimize the flooding. Not that it matters. The shower isn’t producing hot water any longer, so I’m now bathing in the tub in the other bathroom like I’m five years old.

This is the adjustment period, and it will probably last for another week or two. I’ve lived in Italy before; you don’t just unpack and settle in. You have to suffer a little bit and you have to curse all things Italian before you can appreciate where you are and what you’re doing. It’s easy to agree to the trade-offs. The mountain views I wake up to every morning are astonishing. The coffee I drink is strong and served by locals who won’t let me practice my Italian because they want to practice their English. The gorgeous, gorgeous people are kind and accommodating, even when they are chastising me for doing things the wrong way. The Napoli pizza with capers and anchovies is my best friend.

Our town is Barga: a geological miracle of a village tucked into the Apennine mountains. We’ve been here for a couple of weeks now and Amelia, my nine-year-old, knows more people than me. We walked into a bar earlier this week to watch the World Cup and two of her tennis coaches greeted her warmly, introducing her to their friends and making a fuss. Since she has started camp, Amelia is plugged into the social circuit, unlike her strange mother who lurks in bars and piazzas, wanting to be both noticed and avoided at the same time.

But I am working on improving my social graces. I introduced myself to Matteo, the guy behind the bar who makes my cappuccino and selects the perfect pastry for my breakfast. He seems friendly and happy to chat.

Until I clean up my own mess from the table.

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