Today marks 6… that’s right, SIX… whole years since I stepped off the airplane from Sydney and began my residency here in rural Emilia.
You would think that in six years (5 of which have been spent working in the architectural design and construction industry)… you would think that in all this time, the mind-blowing scenario which I am about to describe to you would have already happened.
It took six years (to the day) to glean this little pearl of cultural wisdom… just one of many in the long pearl necklace that alternately chokes and adorns my neck.
As you may know, I recently returned from a 5-week trip to North America where I was able to recharge my expatteries and feel a little normal for a minute or two (only a minute or two… then the reverse culture shock set in, but that’s a story for another time). On this trip I re-acquainted myself with a little American habit, and one that I didn’t even realize that I have missed over these years…
Big-ass, huge, cold, ice coffees. Best served in the jar from whence it was stored in the fridge.
I mean, don’t get me wrong, I really do love those little tiny, sock-ya-in-the-gut espressi; and they have served me well over the past 6 years. But some summer mornings, there is just nothing better than sipping on a long, milky, and highly caffeinated beverage all morning long. Yeah, you know what I’m talkin’ bout.
So since I got back from my trip, I have made it a point to put a jar of coffee in the fridge in the evenings, in order to have a cool treat waiting for me the next morning.
This morning was one such morning.
I awoke from a troubled slumber in desperate need of caffeine before our early morning site visit to one of our construction sites. My marito and I were rushing around the house to get out the door, and I grabbed my jar-o-caffè in the final moments before leaving.
He stopped me in the doorway.
“Are you kidding? You can’t come like that.”
… (looking at myself in the mirror to see what of the many usual faux-pas items of clothing he was referring to)…
“Honey, they all know that I’m American and I dress more casually than Italian ladies. It’s ok.”
“No, not that. That thing in your hand.”
… (checking the inventory of 20 things in my hand)…
“The iPad? I’ll make sure it doesn’t get dirty. We need it to show them the detail and the muratore doesn’t have email.”
“No, daaaaiiiiii, M, basta. The caffè. You can’t bring that; leave it in the kitchen.”
Now, I am willing to table a lot of arguments that I would sometimes prefer to pursue because, at the end of the day, I am the guest in this country, and my dear marito probably does know what’s best to avoid the dreaded brutta figura.
- I understand that I get weird looks because I don’t dress like it’s Milan Fashion Week every time I walk out the door.
- I understand that other professionals find me troppo diretta when I tell them that everything we just spent 4 hours discussing could have happened in one 3-line email.
I get these things, and I’m willing to meet half-way in a compromise.
- I’ll throw on a nice shirt, but I’m still wearing jeans to a construction site. Sorry, but I’m not climbing up scaffolding in a skirt or pantsuit just to have all the sleazy muratori stare at my ass. If they’re gonna stare at my ass, it will be covered in denim, thank you very much.
- I’ll let these crazy Italians talk all they want in their long-ass meetings, but I always follow up with a 3-line email showing how it could have been done more speedily. Who knows, maybe I’ll convert one of them every once in a while.
But I am sorry. WHAT?!!! I can’t take a coffee to the site with me? We’re going to a construction site where, I am certain, I will be able to see at least 4 butt cracks in plain view. And I’m the one risking inappropriateness?!
My husband then went on to describe how rude it appears to show up at the site with a to-go coffee in hand. It’s as if I don’t care enough about the work to give it my full attention. Eating or drinking in someone’s presence outside of designated eating and drinking times would just appear cocky and too relaxed. It would offend.
Mother flooper. You have GOT to be kidding me.
I was indignant.
I insisted on bringing my refreshing morning treat with me.
He yelled and seemed genuinely embarrassed to know me.
I pushed more, thinking, “there is no possible way this can matter to ANYONE. In fact, I can’t think of an architect in the United States who DOESN’T show up at the site with a coffee in hand! Usually you show up with like 6 to-go cups in a little Starbucks tray and pass them around! He’s just being overly sensitive because he hasn’t had HIS coffee yet… which he COULD take to the site with him, but nooooooooo…”
He started to break down into that defeated ‘why-the-hell-did-I-marry-an-American’ mode, and I started to take pity on him. We were late anyway, so I left it in the kitchen.
But I’ll be damned if I didn’t insist on discussing the cultural origins of this oddity the entire way to the site. By the time we got there, he was wishing he’d just let me bring the dang jar-o-caffè. I had broken down the local cultural significance of food and drink, evaluating the Italian tradition of spending eating time together at the table and nowhere else. I ran through out loud the number of times I had seen an Italian snacking in the work place (one time. I could think of one time). I stopped at least 3 people to ask them if they found it weird for someone to bring a large cup of coffee to a meeting (they didn’t even understand the question… “why would you bring coffee to a meeting? You go to get the coffee together after the meeting!”). And I texted all my Italian girlfriends, seeking someone… anyone… to back me up.
I got nothin’.
They all think I’m the weird one.
Happy 6 Year Anniversary to me.