Pursuing the expatriate life in Italy–“Day after day”–thank you, Badfinger

Well, I think I screwed up on the phone/internet thing. I have been unable to figure out how I can go through two gigabytes of data every two days. Even with the video streaming, I never used up data that rapidly at home.

I eventually found out from my cousin, that I need to get a different type of internet. He pays $30/month for what is apparently excellent broadband coverage in Turin. His cell phone is company-owned so he’s unaware of what is best for mobile phone internet. All I know is that I have to do something if I’m going to avoid bankruptcy. Today I was sitting in MY cafe, Cafe Duca, and using their internet. They don’t mind. Indeed, one of the things I love about Italy is how proprietors welcome people to sit and stay–and they don’t badger you to keep spending money.

Once again I am gradually getting things done. Today, the rep from the post office will arrive to give me a new mailbox lock and key (finalmente!). Now I know why I haven’t received my international insurance card. So, that’s another item to add to my “To Do” list–get my insurance card. Today I learned the bus system and the geography a bit more after my chiropractor appointment. I also learned when NOT to schedule an appointment with my chiro because I will miss the last bus and be reduced to my own devices to get home.

I also got a key to the gate that will take me downstairs so I can dump my garbage and access the garage. I still have to set up an appointment with the gas company to fix my temperature gauge in the apartment so I don’t spend a fortune on heat. Frankly, I don’t know how often I’m going to need it. I’ve barely used it and it’s late November. Weather has been in the sixties and sunny almost every day. I walk along the waterfront and there is NO breeze (remind you of anything, Barry Miles?).

As a matter of fact, I kind of marvel at the Italians. Everyone is walking around bundled up in huge coats with scarves. i’m walking around in a shirt, sometimes just a t-shirt. One gentleman called out to me and asked me if I wasn’t cold. I told him no, that my home in Oregon is much colder and this was balmy. He laughed and waved back at me.

Sometimes a day can be kinda overwhelming. I am enjoying the process of learning, but it can get to a person after awhile. Virtually everything is a learning experience and there are times when I want to shout, “Can’t something be easy?!” Every conversation, every search, every thought must be done in Italian. This is to be expected. But the actuality can be a bit jarring. When everything you do during the day, no matter how mundane requires your brain to be uber-caffeinated, it wears you out. I have to really think about everything so I can communicate properly.

I find that I have to “think like an Italian”. OK, I know I’m Italian and most people are thinking that it should be easy for me. But it’s not. I’m American by nationality and we Yanks have our own way of doing things and expressing ourselves. Italians have their own way of expressing themselves when they speak and, in many ways, it’s different than Americans. The literal translation of some words is completely different than that of Americans and can make it difficult to understand. I find that when I speak, it can be difficult for them to understand me.

For instance, today at Cafe Duca, I gave my usual order. The woman behind the counter wanted to know if I would be eating at a table. Starbucks doesn’t don’t do that. At Sbux it’s “order, pay, move out of the way.” If you want to eat or drink in Sbux, do it. They don’t care.

At Cafe Duca, and most cafes, the employee will bring your order to your table in a porcelain cup on a porcelain saucer with a small, free pastry on the side and a shot of water. Oh yeah, with flatware–a spoon along with a napkin. No throwaway plasticware. You pay when you finish eating and want to leave the establishment. Like a sit-down restaurant.

When I went to pay for my order after finishing, I told the proprietor “Due caffe e’ due dolce”. Now the literal translation is “Two coffees and two sweets”. The guy behind the counter furrowed his brow and queried, “Paste?” And I realized my mistake. I hadn’t eaten what we could call “paste” (pasta), but I had what was considered a pasta-type dessert. I had mistakenly thought “dolce” also meant “pastries”. It’s going to be hard for my mind to accommodate “paste” for “pastries”. By the way, “paste” is plural for “pasta”.

Are you taking notes? There will be a test afterwards.

And this is the crux of the problem. Or one of the problems, anyway. And I guess it’s not really a problem. It’s more of a learning curve. But, like I said, something this simple requires yet more learning. At the end of the day, I just want to fire up the MacBook Pro and watch reruns of “Three’s Company.”

Right now I’m sitting in what could pass for an English pub right here in Alba. I was starving from eating very little today. I finally learned, after eleven days, that restaurants for the most part don’t open until 8:00 p.m. Well, it was 6:00 p.m. and I was famished. I ordered rigatoni Bolognese and olive di Ascolana (which sucked, only Ascoli has great olive di Ascolana). My aunt’s nephew then phoned me; he wanted to have pizza with me tonight. I hadn’t hear any more from him, so I went ahead with my plans.

He told me, “Bob, in Italia we don’t eat until eight o’clock.” I told him I had just realized this, nevertheless, I was starving. He’s arriving in an hour to join me. Learning curve.

I should mention that my aunt’s nephew, Guido (I kid you not), seemed to be somewhat interested in perhaps utilizing my writing skills for his company. He sells and rents real estate in Italy and commented he would like someone to help him break into the English-speaking market. If I was understanding him right, I think I might have planted a seed. Wouldn’t that be great?

Last night I made some new friends. Acquaintances, actually. I had learned that Mondays apparently are not a night for socializing or eating out. I found a bistro that served only alcohol, coffee drinks and appetizers. I placed an order for appetizers that ultimately included mini paninis, proscuitto, salami, cheese (incredible), TWO small plates of mini desserts, a glass of wine and a bottle of acqua minerale (water with “gas” or “fizz”). Facebook friends who are reading this have already seen the photo of the elaborate spread given to me. My eyes fairly fell out of my head.


The waitress was very gregarious and realized I was American. She asked why I am in Alba. Since it’s winter, the tourists are gone. I told her briefly about my nascent writing career and she was intensely interested. She insisted on having an autograph along with the URL for my website and blog. Her friends joined us in conversation and we chatted amiably for quite awhile.

It would seem that meeting people here is as simple as breathing air. Everyone is so accommodating and friendly. I think it helps that my situation is so unique. If I were merely a tourist, I would probably not be seen as the curiosity that I am. People are so friendly, primarily in the restaurants and cafes where they seem to have all the time in the world to engage.

To be honest, I don’t know how anyone earns a living here! Food in the restaurants is so cheap that I’m amazed every time I get the bill. How can a huge plate of spaghetti-to-die-for, bread, a glass of wine and bottled water be only ten euros? How can a fantastic medium-sized pizza be five euros?

And the proprietors oftentimes will give more than you ordered. If you establish a relationship or connect with the owner, you become family and are treated as such. With this generosity, I don’t know how they make a profit. It’s a life I could embrace. Perhaps I should sharpen my culinary skills.

No matter what I decide to do, day after day, I learn more and love this place more.


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