Almost five years ago, my then boyfriend and I moved from Sydney, Australia, to his little home town (pop. 9000) in the province of Reggio Emilia.
- I had never seen the town before, nor had I ever lived in a municipality of less than 1 million inhabitants.
- I was not fully notified of the proximity of his parents to his apartment (across the street).
- And I did not speak Italian.
These were all things that I think I dealt with quite well, considering. The second week after arriving, as I was knee deep in my attempt to nest in my boyfriend’s bachelor pad, our toilet broke… it was a Friday morning. And I mean like seriously broke… not like jiggle the handle and it will be fine. It was one of those ones where the tank had been hidden inside the wall of the bathroom, so there’s no possible way to fix it without taking apart the entire wall.
I found this to be a pretty serious event… as the toilet happens to be an appliance that I use on a fairly regular basis.
So I turned to my boyfriend… my rock… my independent fix-anything man, who had pushed up his sleeves and handled all kinds of problems with our apartment back in Sydney, and I said…
“Honey, the toilet is broken and looks like we’ll need a plumber. Can you please call someone to get out here before the end of the day?”
He mumbled some muffled response under his breath…
What was that? What did you say about your mom? Huh? After asking him to speak up, he replied that he would go ask his mamma what we should do.
I was baffled. What on earth did he need to ask his mother for? What should we do? We should call a plumber. How hard is that? I would have done it myself, but I couldn’t speak Italian. What on earth did we need his mamma for?
I expressed my confusion, and he insisted that we should ask his mamma because they might have a plumber in La Famiglia or a plumber friend of La Famiglia who would appreciate the work.
Ok, whatever. That’s reasonable, I suppose.
So he headed off across the street to talk to his mamma about the broken potty. After a few minutes my phone rang. It seemed that preliminary results had indicated that there may, indeed, be a plumber in La Famiglia, but that we were now obliged to come over for lunch to discuss it over some pasta.
Sure, of course. That makes sense.
Toilet is broken. Let’s eat.
FOUR HOURS LATER… as we were wrapping up the light, three-course lunch that included at least 4 different preparation methods of pork, I heard the first mention of the “vater” (yes, they call the toilet bowl the ‘water’ with a German accent). It was then followed by a twenty minute discussion of how the plumber in question is related to the family (he was apparently the son of the cousin of the aunt of my boyfriend’s father… got that?).
A name and phone number were written down on a piece of paper. Coffee was served, baci were given, and we were on our way for the long journey back across the street (after using their ‘vater’, of course).
We got back inside our apartment, and my boyfriend put the slip of paper down on the table and went to pick up the newspaper. I stood in the doorway, staring at the piece of paper and wondering how amazingly different pace of life can be from one place to another. I waited a few seconds. When it seemed clear to me that he wasn’t going to make the move without some prompting, I said nicely, “Sweetie… do you think maybe we could call the plumber now? It is Friday afternoon… he might have a schedule to keep.”
He looked at me like I was some kind of savage and replied, “Baby, it’s only 3 o’clock. He’s probably still at lunch. I’ll call at 4.”
For a big city American girl, this whole concept of 2-3 hour lunch breaks was really a difficult thing for me to grasp. But I bit my tongue… after all, I was new here. I was sure he knew what he was doing.
At 4:01 I was placing the telephone in my boyfriend’s hand.
At 4:02 he was dialing.
And at 4:03 he hung up.
No one picked up. He said he’d try again in half an hour or so.
At 4:30, I placed the phone back in his hand, and smiled expectantly. He sighed and dialed. There was a brief conversation. Then he hung up.
“Well? What did he say; when can he come?”
“Oh, that was his son. They are on vacation this week and won’t be able to come until next week.” And with that, my boyfriend turned back to his reading material.
Ok, so at this point, the Type A me came out to play. Let’s get shit done. The questions started rolling out uncontrollably:
“Well, where can we find the number for a different plumber?”
– “It’s Friday afternoon, they’ve probably all finished for the week.”
“What about a weekend/24-hour plumber?”
– “A what?”
“A 24-hour plumber!”
– swear to god, he said “What’s that?”
I nearly died.
“Honey!! What do you do if your plumbing breaks in the middle of the night?!”
… “you wait.”
After a side discussion about the probability of the existence of such a thing as a 24-hour plumber (where questions included, “but when do they eat and sleep?”), we arrived back at another fundamental problem. Even if we were to somehow miraculously find another plumber to come out over the weekend… what would happen when the son of the cousin of the aunt of the father of my boyfriend found out that we used a different plumber?
He would be highly offended and there would be massive family drama, obviously.
So what happened next, you ask?
For 1 week …. ONE WHOLE WEEK… every time I had to pee or crap, night or day, I had to get dressed (because you can’t go outside in pajamas in Italy – a whole other post required for that one), and scurry across the road to La Famiglia’s ‘vater’.
26 thoughts on “è così: Potty humor and pace of life in a small Italian town.”
Of course that is the way it is. I will never get used to the way things work…or don’t…here. It is a completely different way of thinking.
LOVE this post. For me “è così” is right up there with “pazienza” as regularly employed expressions to justify baffling Italian customs and habitual annoying occurrences.
yes! “pazienza” is another one that drives me totally nuts. Every time someone says “è così”, I ask “perchè?” And they look at me like I’m nuts. Or worse… they say, “perchè siamo in Italia!”… Excuse me, but how is that an excuse for your absurd behavior right now in this moment?
🙂 ah well
Totally loved reading this post, because I had a somewhat similar plumbing situation pretty quickly after I moved to Rome (both toilets simultaneously overflowing for no reason whatsoever – if that’s not an absolutely terrifying mental image then I don’t know what is). I did the “independent Canadian” thing and called a “fast response” plumber from the phone book… And got scammed. Horribly, horribly scammed. And the toilet was broken again the next day. I now have the number of a trusted plumber – a family member of a friend of a friend – saved into my phone and will not consider using anyone else!
yep, that’s going to be my next post… the time I rebelled against the system. I went out and bought a washing machine without help from La Famiglia.
Unfortunately there’s a reason è così.
Si, è proprio così. And unless you live it, you’d never believe it. The “we don’t want to offend him by calling someone else and therefore we remain inconvenienced in the meantime” phenomenon is baffling and really tough to adjust to. Good luck and thanks for sharing!!
It’s so true! Thanks for reading and commenting. It’s so nice to commiserate with people every once in a while. Most of the time my husband looks at me like I’m nuts. 🙂
I have to remind him – not nuts… just American… which is close.
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Tell you, if something breaks in my (very Florentine) father-in-law’s house, someone’s there to fix it within hours, regardless of the day of the week. And no discussions about potential relatives who might do the fixing. We take a little longer because we’re out in the country, but do the same.
Kyle, how? How? And, more importantly, how?! -M
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Too funny, I thought of “Malavita” straightaway!
I haven’t seen it! Is it good?
I liked it, but it may give you flashbacks 😉 It was the exact scenario.
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il tuo blog l’é troppo bello… cosí si dice a firenze.
🙂 grazie Daniela!
I have such similar memories like this! My Italian ex’s family would insist on using the same plumber, who not only sucked, one time told his mother we were up to ‘naughty business’ when he ‘accidentally’ opened our bedroom door.
Um, perhaps I shouldn’t ask, but… what were you guys up to while the plumber was there?! (I’m pretty sure there’s a joke about checking your pipes in there somewhere, but I’m tired…)
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Whoa going to the “suoceri” every time you need the toilet… for one whole week! Sounds like a nightmare! By the way I find pretty curious that the family’s plumber can’t understand that you HAVE to call someone else!
We’re still in trouble with one of the pizza guys in town because we got a pizza from a different place on his day off.
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Lovely post. Of course you can get a 24-hour plumber (or any 24h service) in Milan or Turin, but in provincia… forget it! É proprio così.