You! Shut It!

My apartment is located outside of the center in a little gated community near Campo Di Marte. We moved here because it’s “nice and quiet.” Bullshit!

We’re sandwiched right between crazy and some opera-singing-asshole upstairs. Our landlord downstairs is going through a divorce and the dude upstairs is going to music school. Doesn’t sound that bad, you say? Imagine someone screaming out of tune for six hours straight every.fucking.day, no, wait, better yet, jam a sharpened pencil in your ear while listening to the soundtrack from Mamma Mia. There you go. Now, mix in the sound of breaking furniture and a broken-record replaying hardcore music, or the scratchy obnoxious screaming clip from one of The Used’s songs. Who I have met by the way, and  yes, Jeff is actually very cute in real life. And little. He’s pocket-sized.

I need earplugs damnit, or I need the fat lady to sing. Or, in this case, I need the large Japanese man to stop singing and I need the other dude to go to therapy, asap. I got shit to do people! Okay, not really, but I could theoretically have something to do one day. And for that day I’ll need peace and quiet.

Coffee Culture Differences Between The US And Italy

When size matters: Coffee Culture In Italy is a column I wrote a while back for a newspaper in Florence. This piece covers the difference in coffee consumption in the US versus Italy. Since I love covering cultural differences it was a lot of fun to examine something as simple as coffee and note how vastly different the two countries are even in this one area. Super interesting. Anyhow, check it out below! Let me know what you think in the comments!

Coffee and Culture. My recent article in The Florence Newspaper.

The Difference Between Coffee Culture In The US And Italy

Things Have To Be Destroyed Before They Can Be Rebuilt

I’m a firm believer in establishing boundaries. It’s a necessary evil since most people aren’t as altruistic as we’d all like them to be.  In order to have healthy relationships with ones partner, friends, or family it’s often required to lay down the mother-fuckin-law. I know that sometimes it can be more difficult than we’d like it to be but it has to be done especially when you’re dealing with archaic people. I love tradition, culture, customs, and the beauty of the different, the old, and it’s great when you’re only observing. It’s way less fun when you’re participating in someone’s 1855 throwback fantasy. Unfortunately, when you’re dealing with humans who are stuck in the “old ways” there isn’t anything you can do except for throwing a fucking monkey fit. Some people ignore logic, avoid communication, and intense arguing becomes the only way to break down stubborn ideas. It’s like Rooster fighting.

I’m pretty good at setting boundaries because I learned pretty early how to do it and that it had to be done. My father, a born and bred Iranian man, has a last name longer than this blog post, and lives by the ideas that anything before the eighteenth century was the very best ever. Some people assume that because he’s been living in the US for 35 years most of his “Iranian” went away but those people are mistaken. Culture is not an easy thing to change, it doesn’t usually melt away. My father, even after decades in the US, doesn’t like for us wear tank tops, or allow us to talk about dating, or talk with male employees in the mall. When I called home and said, “I have an Italian boyfriend. I love him and want you to meet him,” My father hung up on me and didn’t talk with me for a few months. I was 28 years old. I might be American but I’m used to old-school people who think that they’re always right and that you should dump tea in your eyes when they’re dry. If I learned one thing from my dad is how to set boundaries and check your answering machine in private. Otherwise all of your friends will hear a crazy man screaming in broken English that , “You are a god-damn Misty!” It wasn’t easy to go against his old-school tide, however, eventually, after many fights and a lot of making up, things are decent. We’re not perfect, and in fact I think he’s certifiably insane, but we have a relationship of mutual respect. This did not magically happen when I was born, but rather it came after 29 years of trying, failing, fighting, and trying.

My husbands parents have a strong case of, “I grew up in a tiny fucking village and everything that I say, believe, or have done is right and everyone else in the giant world are vile or mentally handicap.” They’re not easy to deal with as a foreign person, as a daughter-in-law, as a non-catholic, actually, their just not easy. We’ve fought with them countless times, they’ve made every step of our relationship difficult, and things escalated to a point where a few weeks ago, I did the unthinkable: I emailed the mom. This started a long dialogue of denial and absolutely nothing was resolved. Finally, this past weekend, I agreed to go with my husband to his hometown (because he begged me to go) to make some final preparations for the wedding in Cassino. For those of you who are new to my blog, we were married in the United States in September 2012 but we’re having an Italian wedding here in May.

The first day was okay but awkward. We walked in and I said hello to everyone, then I grabbed a towel and ran to our room to set down the bags I was holding and dry off my soaking wet, dirty dog who was dripping water all over the floor. This was apparently rude and Francesco spent the rest of the night ignoring me. The mom and dad spent the evening watching a movie in a small office room, Francesco took the dog to pee, and I went to our room to read. This was also rude apparently and so he yelled at me. We went to bed with him mad at me. We woke up the next day and he seemed in a better mood. Though, I was already sad from the previous night. At first things seemed okay, nobody was at home, I made some coffee and started to get ready for the day. Then the mom came home and shit got crazy.

It all started when Francesco came into the room while I was getting dressed and asked me if we could show his mom the invitations we made. “Sure, they’re right over there, go ahead and show her babe.” He gave me a dirty look and grabbed them saying, “You should come too.” I thought they were pretty cute, and I was pretty sure she would like them. He took them into the kitchen and started showing his mom. I walked in and glanced at them, and her, to see if she approved and she seemed to like them. I was still drinking my coffee and getting ready so I walked out of the kitchen to finish doing things. Francesco came running into the room after me to tell me that I was being horribly rude. And that I had to stand next to him while he showed her the invitations. I didn’t understand why, but I said okay and walked in the kitchen. I leaned against the counter about a foot away from them drinking my coffee and listening to them discuss where to buy ribbon and envelopes. Oliver, my dog, jumped up on my leg, I smiled down at him and started to ruffle his head. Out of nowhere Francesco stepped forward, grabbed Oliver and tossed him away from me, glaring at me with this look on his face like he hated me. I’d pretty much had it at that point. I burst into tears and ran to the bathroom.  Yeah, I know, me running into a bathroom with mascara running down my face over something so little is fucking crazy, but it’s been three years of doing everything wrong, of being yelled at constantly, and of Francesco being frustrated with everything I say and do in front of his friends and family. It’s a lot to deal with, people, so stop judging me.

Apparently when I ran off crying, in a fit of anger Francesco told his mom he wanted to cancel the wedding. No, I don’t understand why either, I think he was just fed up and frustrated too. This sent her into crazy-land and she came running into the bathroom after me screaming that I have to learn to “smack Oliver in the mouth like people smack their children”. The fuck, lady? I didn’t understand what she was talking about. I told her, “I’m upset because Francesco is being mean to me, this has nothing to do with Oliver.” She screamed something about my mental problems and slammed the door closed. Then, things escalated from “shit” to “holy fucking shit”.

I went into the room and started packing my stuff because clearly I’d made the wrong decision. I needed to get out as soon as possible. I heard the front door open and close and heard Francesco’s dad. The mom ran and told him that Francesco cancelled the wedding. I still didn’t know what had happened or what was happening. Francesco came in the bedroom and told me that he was sorry for being mean to me but I have to learn how to behave differently and when he explains things I need to stand next to him and explain things at the same time. This makes absolutely no sense to anyone raised in England, Canada, the US or South Africa. “Why?” He took a huge breathe, “Because if you don’t explain things the same time as me everyone things you don’t like the wedding!” I shook my head, “But I made the invitations, also, you didn’t stand next to me when I explained wedding stuff to MY parents in September. Why would I feel compelled to simultaneously explain something the same time as you. I think you’re competent in doing it yourself.” This pissed him off even further. “That is NOT how WE do things HERE.”

It was about this point that I heard his dad screaming that, “She is worse than the Africans. Even African people have more manners than her.” referring to me. I was thinking both, “Wow, that is fucking rascist.” He was screaming so loud his voice was straining and cracking, then I heard banging. Francesco ran out of the room into the kitchen and it was like Clash Of The Titans shit. They were screaming, the mom was crying, and it sounded like they were breaking the furniture. I packed faster. This was the first argument that Francesco had ever had with his dad, ever. Take 28 years of pent up rage, and you can imagine the amount of hostility exploding in the small apartment.  Tables were flipped over, blood was all over the wall (from Francesco punching it), and I heard his dad scream something about me having “no manners”. I was thinking, “You, sir, are an asshole.” Suddenly Francesco appeared in the bedroom and tells me we’re leaving. We grab our stuff and run out the door with his dad yelling behind us to, “Never come back,” and his mom crying hysterically telling us not to leave and trying to block the door. Yes people, my life is EXACTLY like a shitty lifetime movie. Thank you for noticing.

We jumped in the car, it was raining so hard we could barely see out of the windshield. He drove fast and I tried to talk with him.

“Honey, what is going on?”

“I’m sorry but I don’t want to talk to you right now.”

“Oh…okay.”

Then we drove for one hour towards Florence. I felt like I was sinking because I was causing all of it, that everything was fine before we started dating and now he’d abandoned his family. Way to go, Misty, you fucking suck! His sister started calling over and over but he refused to answer. I finally answered for him. I told her I don’t know what happened, maybe everyone is mad because I didn’t say “hello” loud enough? I apologize to her for not saying hello loud enough. She tells me that Francesco cancelled the wedding and I told her that he didn’t. Finally after trying to figure things out for thirty minutes I convinced him to take the phone and talk with her because she’s very worried about him. He did. Then he told her he never wants to see his parents again, and that he is done with them entirely. I’ve never heard him talk like that and I was getting worried for him. He loves his family a lot and no matter what they’ve done he’s always stayed polite, nice, and done what they’ve wanted. And now this?

How confusing. I want Francesco to be happy. That has always been my priority. Often though his happiness is in direct conflict with mine. We’re literally opposites so most of the time we don’t want the same thing. It’s very difficult, and confusing, but I try to make him my priority. I’m not trying to make myself sound like a saint. I’m not easy with my concessions, I make it known that I’m not happy with things and sometimes I’m an asshole. “No, I do not want to raise my children Catholic, No, I do not want get married in the church, no I don’t want to spend time with your friends who keep telling me how many girls you used to fuck, or your parents who tell me that I’m a horrible person with no manners.” In the end I do what is best for him but it doesn’t mean that I fucking like it. I do not like it. The point of this long paragraph is that my life would be awesome without his parents. However, it’s not good for him so regardless of how much they suck, I had to fix it.

I had to be sneaky. Now, he always reads this blog so he is going to see this and think, “You sneaky bastard.” And I’d just like to say, “Suck it, I did it for you.” So, the first thing I did was call his sister when he went to the bathroom. I told her that he didn’t know I was calling so please don’t mention it and I told her to call his parents and start fixing things with them. While she did that I would work on calming him down and hopefully get him to turn around. I hung up and erased the call. She agreed and started making the necessary phone calls to calm down the parents. Now, Francesco is stubborn. Incredibly stubborn so I knew I couldn’t tell him to do anything because he would do exactly what he wanted anyways. So, all I could do was help him see that it wasn’t that big of a deal, that fighting with your parents is normal, that I’ve done it many times, and that it had to happen at one point in his life. I teased him and made him laugh, and reminded him that old men can be like animals so while his father loved him maybe he didn’t know how to express it in a productive way. “In his frustration he acted in anger” I said. I reminded him that if things were turned around and it were me he’d tell me the same things, and he’d want me to go back and fix things. One hour of this, of story telling of the millions of times I’d been “disowned” and us laughing about his Hulk temper, he decided to turn around. He went pee again and I called his sister to say, “We’re heading back.” And she said, “Okay, I’ve talked with them and they’ve calmed down. Things should be fine.” Then I deleted the call. You’re welcome, Francesco.

We headed back to Cassino and I’d like to add that it takes a lot of character and strength to return to your parents house after you’ve had a fight where your dad tells you to never come back again. I’m a much, much more stubborn and I wouldn’t have returned for at least six months. It really takes a lot to swallow ones pride, and go back and try to talk only a few hours later. I have a lot of respect for him for being that kind of person who can humble himself for the greater good.

When we returned the mother opened the door with swollen red eyes. The dad was on the phone in the office. We walked slowly in the dark apartment-no, I’m not making this shit up to make it sound more dramatic, seriously, all of the fucking lights were off and the house was dark as shit-and sat in the living room in a little triangle. They stared at each other for ten minutes before they both started speaking at the same time. The mom screaming, “You cancelled the wedding!” And Francesco responding, “I was just mad for a minute, I didn’t mean it.” Then the focus almost instantly shifted to me. The mom, tears in her eyes, “I don’t have any problems with you. Yes, in the beginning I did, but now I don’t.” I nodded and said, “Yes, okay, but when you are not welcoming to someone it is very difficult for them to feel comfortable in your home. I don’t feel comfortable here. That’s not my doing.” Then she said she wasn’t trying to be mean because she introduced me as Francesco’s girlfriend instead of his wife. “I didn’t see a point in telling people you were already married when we’re planning a wedding.”  I nodded. “That’s fine, but you can’t do whatever you want without an explaination. I think it’s normal for me to be offended for that, especially given your protest of our marriage in the first place.” Then she shook her head frantically and told me that I’m offended by stupid things. The dad at this point had stumbled into the living room and was watching us argue. Then he finally jumped in, “We don’t have a problem with you! You just sit there like a timid animal and you never talk! You can’t act like that in THIS FAMILY. You have obvious self-esteem issues and problems with yourself” Francesco jumped in at this point and told them that I am not Italian and that my culture is more reserved. I don’t scream when I talk, I’m not passionate, and my rules of conduct are different. They ignored this entirely. Then they did that Italian thing where all of them started yelling at the same time. The parents both yelling at me about how I have to act like a different person and learn how to be Italian in their home, and Franceso yelling over the top of them about how I can’t “be Italian” because I’m not Italian. Just like he can’t be American and it’s not possible to ask that of someone. This went on for about five minutes. Then the parents both addressed me again about how I have to change who I am and learn how to act like a different person. At this point I saw that I had no option but to say, “Okay.” And apologize for being rude and difficult. Ouch, my pride.

We went out that night with his friends and I drank too much and then barfed my guts out because I’m awesome and that’s how I deal with stress. The next day we woke up and Francesco voted NOT for Berlusconi, and then we drove home. When we left everyone seemed happy, content, better. The dad, who hasn’t really called Francesco since our marriage in the US has been calling and chatting about wine. Things do seem better, Francesco is really happy and seems to feel like everything is fixed, fine, the boundaries have been set and life is good.

I’m feeling very confused and very heavy. All of this “happiness” is my responsibility now and it depends on my ability to change who I am and become someone else. Rationally, it’s not even possible for me to change the core of who I am. And, I’ve always liked who I am, I’ve always remained true to myself, and prided myself on my strong character in the past. Asking me to change who I am is crossing many of my personal boundaries, and forcing me to question who I am. But sometimes things have to be destroyed before they can get be rebuilt.

 

***************

To Be Continued On: Finding Common Ground With Italian In-Laws

Things People Always Ask Me About Italy: What To Wear?

I don’t need to say this because everyone already knows that fashion is incredibly important in Italy. I’ve noticed that Italian Fashion gives a lot of tourists noticable anxiety and whenever my friends or family come to visit they always send me at least one email asking, “What should I wear!?”

Your approach to fashion here will obviously depend on whether or not you want to outwardly display your nationality, or you want to blend in. Almost always, style is what tells everyone that you’re American (or foreign in general). It’s not the blonde hair or the blue eyes, it’s the patterned, purple floral dress that you’re rocking in April with your flip flops. Seriously.

Italian style varies depending on where you are, and a person’s particular style, though there are always some similarities. We’ll start with Florence because that’s where I live. First thing, get rid of all of your bright, bright colors. Don’t bring your floral dresses, your bright pink tank tops, or your bright purple sweaters unless your goals is to stand out immediately. Muted colors, natural colors, win in Florence. In the summer you’ll see a lot of Olive green, gray, and tan mixed with skinny jeans, and in the winter you won’t see anything but black, brown and gray (more or less). There is not a huge difference in age, people both twenty-five and fifty wear similar things. For example, my husbands mom is almost sixty and when she goes out she often wears skinny black slacks, high heeled ankle boots, a blouse, scarf, and peacoat. All black. In the night she’ll often wear a skin-tight cleavage showing, knee-length dress, high heels, and a little jacket to cover her arms.

Also, hugely in style is anything that is, “un po’ particolare,” which means a little particular. A sweater with buttons running up the side, an asymetrical shirt, anything that is “particular” or “a little strange” is often good. Badly fitting jeans, a t-shirt, and running shoes are never stylish, not even if you’re sixty.

And remember, layers, layers, layers, even in the summer, and make sure your bag matches your shoes. Yes, I’m serious. Yes, people do pay attention to that. I don’t know why. Stop yelling at me!

A  casual summer outfit for a woman in 20’s and 30’s might look like this: 

Day:

Short shorts, slouchy boots, oversized blouse, sweater, scarf, big sunglasses.

OR

Light denim skinny jeans, white sneakers (or leather sandals), long, flowy shirt, scarf, huge sunglasses.

Notice how no skin is showing, I'm not wearing any bright colors, and I appear to be high.

Notice how no skin is showing, I’m not wearing any bright colors, and I appear to be high.

People do not wear flip flops unless they are at a pool. They do not go bare armed or legged until June/July (wear tights under your shorts and with dresses). You also won’t see women wearing tight tank tops and booty shorts. Even in the middle of summer, people often cover their arms (including men), with a cardigan, or light jacket.

Night:

Tight skinny jeans, high heels (always, ALWAYS bring a pair of ballet flats with you in your purse), stylish blouse. If you hate heels you can wear a stylish flat shoe that is not a running shoe. I know that we Americans love our comfortable running shoes but leave them at home next to your treadmill.

Summer For Men:

Leave your basketball attire at home, you don’t need to be “prepared” for sports here. Leave your jerseys and your basketball shorts, and basketball shoes, actually, you know what? Burn that shit. Go shopping, and buy yourself something that says, “sexy 007 agent,” then, pack some fitted t-shirts, a cardigan, a scarf, and jeans that do not fall off of your ass. Bring some loafers and converse which are always fashionable here in the summer, or any other stylish sneaker that is not a running shoe. p.s. I fucking hate white running shoes on everyone. Even on old people.  They make your feet look massive and for some reason remind me of moon excursions or dentistry.

Winter For Men:

Bring a shirt with a collar, a v-neck sweater to go over it, and slacks for dinner. In the day, fitted jeans that do not fall off of your ass, a sweater (not a sweatshirt), scarf, and a black coat. Suede shoes, black boots, or dress shoes are worn both day and night. Yes, I’m serious.

If you are a visual person and you want more ideas you can visit some examples here: Awesome clothes I pinned on pinterest. 

Mental Illness

After the excitement of living in a new country wears off, after my friends moved away, when I finished studying, I realized just how lonely it can feel to live in a foreign country far from old friends and family. A strange feeling for someone who isn’t insanely close with their family who goes months without talking to their parents, and who enjoys being alone. I never anticipated depression or a constant feeling of isolation and let me tell you guys, it sucks! Some days I feel like ME and other days I feel so crazy that I think I should check myself into a crazy house. Sometimes I talk to myself so loud that Oliver will come into the room and cock his head to the side wondering who the fuck I’m chatting with. Just when I pick up the phone to dial the nut-house, I remember that the mental institution in Florence has been empty ever since they decided to open the doors and flood the streets with lunatics. Sometimes I think I can’t get by without finding someone to put me on Prozac and other days all I need is a glass of wine, or five.

Maybe I’m just not drinking enough.

I don’t think that most of the other expats feel this bananas. I think my circumstances might be a little particular due to the freakish amount of rejection and disappointment I’ve dealt with here. I’ll be honest, being “the weird one,” has damaged my self esteem a lot. I used to be resilient but I think I’ve been bent too far and I snapped before I could spring back.

It’s not Italy’s fault. Italy is beautiful. Maybe I’m just not cut out to sit amongst pretty things.

Hiding.

Hiding.

Conditioning

I notice the root of my way of thinking, my way of acting, my way in dealing with problems the longer I live here. Now, I have something to compare it to. I’m getting ready to apply for my husbands Greencard and the way that I approach the situation is so different from the way he approaches it. Maybe it’s cultural, maybe it has more to do with upbringing, or personality type, but whatever the culprit, the differences are there.

According To Francesco, All Workers Are Incompetent.

I hopped online and found the needed forms, filled them out on my computer in Adobe, and saved them to my desktop. Then I called the Embassy and asked them where I take the papers, etc. They told me just take them in during business hours in Naples. As far as I was concerned we are good to go.

Francesco does not think we are good to go. In fact, he’s asked me every other day to call the embassy again. “In case they don’t know what they are talking about, in case they are confused, or in case the website was wrong. ”

“The website is a government website dude, it’s not wrong.” I said.

“But how do you know?”

“I know.”

“BUT HOW?”

“Because I know.”

He’s very suspicious of people’s ability to do their jobs. To be fair, it’s nearly impossible to fire someone in Italy (everyone is on long-term contracts, often LIFE contracts), so there are a good amount of incompetent people in every field. In the US, where you are fired for breathing funny,  I assume that if someone has the job they are probably doing it right because otherwise they would be fired. Yes, I know the US is full of idiots too, but more often than not idiots get fired.

After trying to convince Francesco that we had all of the information he sends me this email:

“I called the consulate in Naples and they told me to write an email to this address

IVNaples@state.gov

For information on the green card.

Will you write the email? You can write in English of course 😉

Love you,

F”

I laugh and reply with something like: Okay honey, but can you tell me what information you want? We already have the forms, we just have to go down, pay the $500 bucks, and hand them our stuff.

And he replies:

“I want to ask:

–        Again which forms (you never know, italians are very bad with papers)

–        If we can send everything by mail or we have to schedule an appointment and if so, how you schedule an appointment.

–        Which documents I need and if I need to have vaccinations.

–        Which is the procedure: if I understood you apply and then they invite you for the interview

I am sorry, I just want to make sure 100 % that everything is alrite.

Love you ,

F”

Vaccinations? Is he trying to get citizenship in the Congo? And I laugh. I mean, I’m glad that he is thorough and covers all the bases. I find all of the cross-checking funny, because I assumed that vaccinations were needed it would “clearly” be stated. Right? Not according to him. According to him all workers are lazy and stupid which means they would forget to add important information to a government website. For me, that seems highly unlikely. Although, it makes sense for a country that still hasn’t caught on to the internet. Hardly any business’ have a website here, and if they do they don’t often put any information on it. Usually it’s just their name and contact hours (totally defeating the purpose). Though, why would they? Everyone here does everything important, in person. For an American that is not only inefficient, it’s obnoxious. Who has time to meet with every human being you need information from or want to purchase from? We don’t have time, and frankly, we enjoy our bubbles and faceless distance supported by the internet. Italians, no. People have to see each other to adequately judge each other. They have to analyze and sum each other up before buying a fruit roll-up, a tea set, or purchasing car insurance. Plus, people will obviously “lie online.” This is something Francesco says often. “But you can’t trust them to be honest without meeting them.” Well, if you lie you’re probably breaking some law, or, sooner or later you’ll lose credibility therefore you’ll go out of business. This makes him study my face, lower his brows, and eventually shrug and walk away. It’s something that he cannot understand, just as I cannot understand why he’s so suspicious of everyone. In my mind, if someone is an idiot, they’re going to get their asses handed to them. In his, all situations must be eased into, well thought out, studied to avoid making a mistake.

Of course, it helps to mention that his father is a retired police officer, his mother a bible teacher, while I was raised by monkeys, so, culture or upbringing, whatever, we’ve both been brain-washed to view the world in completely opposite ways. I approach it head-on, aggressively, he takes his time, slowly, calculating, thinking. I am fine with making mistakes, and I’ll do something wrong fifty times just to see what works. He is terrified of making a mistake and will weigh his options for hours, days, weeks, months before taking any chances. How will it ever work? Hopefully we’ll just balance eachother, or I make him dead. It could go either way.

ImageAlixanne Loosle Photography