Monday, July 2, 2012

I'm not in Minnesota anymore: Manners

Every once in awhile something happens that reminds me that I'm living in a very different place.

Stop rolling your eyes. What I mean is I've been living here long enough to become accustomed to the obvious differences that exist here. The trees, the buildings, the cars, the people. Different stores and humongous historical buildings. Coffee in itty bitty cups. Those visible differences hardly register with me anymore, unless it's something very unusual or newly discovered. Like I will never get used to seeing frozen octopus in the freezer section or the unfrozen variety in the fish section. The days I forget to avert my eyes I am suddenly and profoundly reminded of where I am, and where I'm not.

It''s the subtle differences that kind of sneak up on you. Like when I realized that if I held the door open for someone I may as well settle in, because taking turns isn't part of the Italian psyche. If I'm foolish enough to hold the door open they're going to walk through it. So I stopped holding doors open for anyone who appeared younger than me. I can't shake the habit completely, but I can adjust it.

I had another one of those moments yesterday. Typically when we eat with others it's at their home or at a nice restaurant. These experiences couldn't possibly prepare me for the free for all that is dining "family style" at an Italian restaurant at a tourist attraction. Servers race past tables carrying big serving bowls and platters. They are careful to give everyone a good portion, but then just as quickly disappear back into the kitchen.

One of the woman at our table ate so quickly she finished her first pasta (vegetarian) and get a second helping (meat sauce) the only one at our table who ate fast enough for seconds. Then she and her husband used half the grated parmesan on their dishes without waiting for everyone to get some first, a big cardinal rule at our house growing up.

We don't need to talk about the second dish or the french fries. You can relax, they got their share and more.

One woman on our end of the table ordered the salad. She offered it to me and Leif to share because it was so large. Leif said he would like some, but he had to finish his meat first. (side note: each dish is given it's own moment. You will never see a plate in Italy that is filled with pasta and meat and salad. Unless you're at happy hour.) The couple from the other end of the table grabbed the bowl and filled their plates leaving two lettuce leaves clinging to the bottom.

Without offering the dish to anyone else at the table first. I know I used to complain about all the manners my mom pounded into my head, but I'm grateful now. I wouldn't want to appear like they do. Even if most of the rest of the country is like that. Because it is

I have to take my lifetime of standing in lines and taking turns and sharing and adjust it to the rules here. Which appear to be absent, but in fact do exist. Now to be fair, not everyone acts like they were raised in a barn, but those with manners accept the behavior of others unless it's totally outrageous. My favorite is at the grocery store. It is acceptable to leave your cart or basket in the checkout  line at the grocery store and run back for "just one more thing" till you've finished your shopping and never had to stand in line. Everyone does it at some time but there are those who do it every time. In their mind they're just being smart because they have things to do and can't wait in line like everyone else.

It's like they all have rich people syndrome without being rich. I think I'd rather be rich without the syndrome.

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