Furbizia: The Italian Art Of Being Sly

When my in-laws were here last Christmas (some of you remember that insane three week period of my life), Francesco and I took them to Las Vegas for a few days. After our hotel lost our reservation, twice, and gave us a room without pillows (WTF!?) Francesco complained and the hotel gave us a discount. The moment my in-laws heard that we’d complained and therefore been given a discount their eyes all but burst out of their sockets. My God, the possibilities! My father-in-law joked, “We should go to a restaurant and say we’re sick so we get free food! We should tell them that all of their food made us vomit!” The ideas started to flow. How could we get everything for free in the US from that moment forward?

“But how are businesses still in business?” My father-in-law asked, “doesn’t everyone just lie to get everything for free?”

“No.”

“Why?”

“Because complaining about stuff has consequences and people could lose their jobs?” I responded, confused, “I mean, I guess dirtbags do it.”

“This would never work in Italy. The business would go broke!”

“If they had good customer service they’d go broke?” I asked.

“Yes! Everyone would lie to get it for free and nobody would pay for it anymore. It would be stupid for the business” he laughed.

My father-in-law is a man who loves rules, is an upstanding citizen, and a retired detective. This is a man who runs his home like a military camp, and yet he was thrilled that his son had been “furbo,” by getting a discount at the hotel. When I told him that Francesco wasn’t doing anything clever or sneaky, he was simply letting the manager know there were problems, and that in the US it’s normal to do that but not to exploit it, his mind was nearly blown.

I’m not sure that another scenario could better sum up the Italian sub-cultural phenomenon of Furbizia than that conversation. By definition, Furbizia is basically a quality of “achieving goals using ingenious tricks,” according to the Italian dictionary. Clever, cunning, sly, are some other synonyms. One could also call it being a massive douche bag, but often in Italy, within certain groups, it’s considered smart.

A common perception is that the person being sly is a badass whereas the person being screwed over is a moron who deserves it for not paying attention or not exploiting the opportunity themselves. If you think about it, it’s a genius way to be a dick and take zero responsibility for it. Sadly, it contributes to a cultural layer of manipulation and distrust. The sly trick can be as small as making a business agreement with someone then “accidentally” fudging it, feigning ignorance when caught, or it can be as large as Bettino Craxi who famously embezzled taxpayer’s money and then fled to Tunisia. How clever. It’s not necessarily lying or cheating, rather, exploiting possibilities. It is a game of who can cut all the angles or out sneak their opponent and by opponent I mean the rest of the world.

I’ve been overcharged for drinks, screwed in business deals (also recently, note: we bloggers all talk, bad idea to play sneaky with our crowd, asshole businesses), ass-raped by landladies, all in the game of furbizia. It’s not uncommon, especially if you’re foreign and speak Italian like a drunk toddler. It’s a lot more difficult to pull one over on a local because they are so damn prepared for it that they are constantly on guard. Even my eight year old niece is skeptical of the world already. My husband seems to think that everyone is trying to sneak one over on him and unfortunately it’s because people often are. He’s the kind of guy where someone will try to give him a free sample in Costco and he’ll back away nervously wondering what they want in return. When Francesco and I first started dating he wondered if I had ulterior motives, that I was furbo because “nobody is this honest, you’re trying to trick me.” I actually thought he was insane until I noticed that a lot of his friends approached the world with the same doubt. It isn’t to say that everyone in Italy is trying to screw each other, that’s not true at all, for example most of our friends couldn’t be further from this type of behavior, but sometimes it can feel like the whole country is trying to bend you over (without lube).

The “art,” of furbizia is basically the art of pushing all the boundaries and some people are pros. You’ve seen it before in every soccer game where an Italian player will throw themselves to the ground and pretend to be injured to buy time. Francesco’s teammates used to do that during games and the Europeans from the other teams wanted to kill them. “Just play an honest game mate!” they’d yell. The Italians would smile after the match, “Did you see what I did,” proud of their contribution to the win. It’s a bit different in soccer than the other examples but the idea is still the same.

Every country has liars and thieves, assholes, and douchebags. In the US we have it all, probably more of it, but it seems a bit different. In the US these sneaky types are usually either blatant criminals or involved in white collar crime (arguably much worse) but I’ve never worried that a Starbucks employee might over charge me for a coffee so they could pocket the change (not because Americans are better people, but because people would lose their goddamn jobs and their minds. And surveillance cameras of the all-knowing big brother are pervasive in American culture). Until now, I probably just gave everyone an awesome idea. Great. I’m onto you, Starbucks. 

You would think that after so many years i’d be used to it but I’m not sure that’s possible. Not because I’m gullible or naive but because I’m lazy. I don’t have the energy to check, double check, triple check to see if people are pulling one over on me or not. If I do notice, it pisses me off and I’ll end that relationship immediately (especially business relationships) but I can’t seem to get into the mindset of wondering constantly if there’s a loophole to take advantage of or if I’m being screwed. It just seems exhausting, although, if I did hop on the bandwagon of furbizia I might save a lot of euros here or there, and in a culture of the  cunning, with politicians playing the same game, and economies failing, we could all use an extra buck and an extra boost.

Ladies and gentlemen, this is a COSI post! The fun never ends! Check out what my fellow bloggers had to say about the same subject.

Girl In Florence: Why Being Furbo In Italy Is Anything But Cool

Rick Zullo: What Does It Mean To Be Furbo?

Unwilling Expat: Italy’s Cheating Heart

Englishman In Italy: Furbizia

Sex, Lies, And Nutella: Tourists Beware Fighting Furbizia In Italy

Married to Italy: Furbizia- a blessing or a curse

The Florence Diaries: A life lesson in Con-Artistry

Total Tuscany Interviews M.E.: How Many Inappropriate Things Can I Say In One Podcast?

The awesome guys from Total Tuscany asked me to do a podcast and I gladly accepted because I love their stuff and really enjoy embarrassing myself publicly after having a cocktail (or ten) for lunch. I’m pretty sure that I’ll win an award for saying so many captivating things during one interview. You can find the podcast with M.E. on their website Total Tuscany. We cover a lot of ground during this podcast like my favorite things about Italy, what drives me insane, and threatening public masturbation. Let’s make this a drinking game. Take a sip (or a shot) of something every time I swear, say “camel-toe, unicorn, Capybara, or baptism,” or anytime Travis or Pat are audibly regretting their decision to interview me. In all honesty, it was so much fun, I love these guys and their awesome website. They do great podcasts that are fun and informative with expats I absolutely love. If you enjoy the podcast go ahead and share it with your friends (or use it as an opportunity to talk with your kids about the dangerous of drinking).

As with everything on my site, this isn’t kid-friendly so put on some headphones before you give a listen if you have little ones around. And also? Be happy that you’re not me, or not married to me (Francesco will be sainted, I’m pretty sure).

24 Ways That Italy Changed My Life For The Better And Weird

San Donato Val di Comino, Frosinone, Lazio

San Donato Val di Comino, Frosinone, Lazio

It’s impossible to live abroad and not come home forever changed. Living abroad, no matter how prepared for the experience you think you are, is always more difficult than you’ve planned. I thought that since my family is multi-cultural that I could easily blend in and figure shit out. Totally not what happened. However, I did struggle, and as a result I became a stronger person. Now I’m so tough I ride unicorns through flame hoops while playing metal on an air guitar. True story.

1. Bathroom habits. I’m now more like a dog. I am fearless when it comes to peeing in public which is way more useful than you’d think. I’m pretty sure that most Florentines have at least caught a glimpse of my bare ass or hoo-haw at some point. My lady bits are like leprechaun sightings.

2. This might not be a “better thing” but it’s funny. Italy kind of made me a wuss in some areas. “Camping” now requires a tiny cabin, with a shower. I expect a dance club, pool, and cafe to be located in the camping area. However, I am no longer used to heat or air conditioning inside the houses so my ability to withstand extreme temperatures is higher.

3. Dogs are members of the family. In Florence dogs get to go everywhere and they do. I am a much better dog haver since living in Florence. I get annoyed when people don’t treat their dogs like family members. Dogs like Prada, too, bitch! I am confused when high-end stores won’t allow my dog inside in the US. It’s not that I can afford to be in there but I like to walk around on occasion to see what not poor people do in their free time. In Italy, the D & G girls would scoop my muddy puppy up and snuggle him. Why the fuck don’t you want to snuggle my muddy dog? SNUGGLE HIM!

4. Dining. I eat more slowly, restaurants are for people and conversation, food just happens to be there. I am the US’s worst nightmare. I fully expect to sit at a table for at least a few hours. If my food comes too fast I get stressed out. Stop trying to force me out! I’m drinking!

5. I don’t care what people think anymore. I’m so used to being stared at that when I go in public and nobody looks at me I feel shunned. Why isn’t everyone watching me? Look! I’m picking up a can of corn. Sigh.

6. I gesture a lot when I talk now which is probably good exercise. I seem violent from far away. “Ma che cazzo fai!” hand gesture, hand gesture, wave like a maniac.

7. I’ve become a food snob. If something isn’t delicious I just won’t eat it (which is fine because more wine!). But I care about the quality of my food a lot. This is good because I no longer have the tastebuds for processed foods or random chemicals that companies chuck into our diet.

8. Yelling doesn’t bother me, at all. Seriously, yell at me. Couldn’t care less. My skin is a lot thicker which is nice.

9. Eating in front of a t.v. instead of at a table seems somehow wrong. I was pretty much raised eating dinner in front of a television but after years abroad I can see how dinner with family and friends is so much more important and necessary for maintaining that connection. In the US, we’ve really lost a connection with each other over the loss of our family dinners.

10. I’ve learned that holy water is a real thing that you can get from the church. I’m much better prepared for a hostile vampire takeover.

11. I’m more confident. After moving to a foreign country, I kind of feel like I could do anything. It’s like being Jane in the jungle, I’m amazonian now. RAAAAR!

12. I am not really the type, but if I wanted to, I could nag the fuck out of someone. Seriously. It’s a skill.

13. I appreciate slow food, the act of eating rather than getting full. The dining experience is much more important now than it used to be. The idea of plopping into a table, shoveling food in, and leaving immediately totally weirds me out. This is good because I can maintain a healthy weight without killing myself at a gym every day.

14. I’m more family-oriented. My husband has been a very good influence on me in terms of family. If I’m mad at a family member, he’ll remind me that it doesn’t matter if they are a total dipshit because family is all there is in life. It’s really sweet unless I want to kill someone. Then it’s annoying. But mostly sweet. When my brother and I fight (which we do pretty much always), my husband will call him and try to work it out. Because family. FAMILY.

15. My priorities have changed. Both of my parents show affection through “things,” so I used to care a lot about stuff. I don’t care about stuff at all anymore. Italians are much less materialistic than Americans and that’s something that really rubbed off on me. I care about clothes, food, wine, going out and traveling, but I don’t really give a shit about stuff. If I have to choose between an experience or “things,” I’m going to choose the experience. It’s made me a much happier person. I also expect less from others. So, yay to not being a spoiled brat!

16. I kind of already said this but it’s important so I’ll say it again. I care about quality more than ever, especially about the quality of things I’m putting into my body. There is a very noticeable difference between produce quality in the supermarkets here and in Italy. I’m way more attuned to preservatives, chemicals, and crap. I can actually taste it now and it scares the shit out of me. “Mmm, this apple tastes like…death. Delicious!” No.

17. My goals are different. Now, everything that I do is about my family and friends. What job is best for my family? What do my friends need right now? What can I do to make sure we get to spend enough time together now and in a few years? Before I moved to Italy I was kind of a selfish asshole. Everything was about me, my personal success, and more me. I mean, I’m obviously not totally cured because I write a blog entirely about my life, but I also do it so that I can spend more time with my husband, travel more, and eventually hang out with kids more (if I have them, my vagina is still scared).

18. Quality over quantity. In the US it’s all about QUANTITY. In Italy it’s more about quality. Now, every year I’ll spend a lot of money on three pairs of shoes, and a few main items, but they are all very high quality and will last for years. Instead, in the US I would buy one thing that was 10 dollars in every color and replace it every three months as it ruined. This is good, for the environment, to support local businesses (in Italy high quality is usually Italian made), and also better on my checking account in the long run. I spent 300 euros on my last pair of winter boots, they were handmade, and are still in flawless condition after four years of daily wear throughout the winter. Seriously, it’s worth it.

19. I can speak another language. It’s kind of shitty in some ways because it also impacts my English (not awesome when you’re a writer) but it’s fun to have a secret language in the US AND a sort of secret language in Italy (English).

20. I wear less makeup and care less about my hair. The au naturale look is more popular in Italy which I appreciate (cause I’m lazy).

21. About the point above, except for high heels. High heels on cobblestone. I can navigate it like a champ so I’m more than ready for the circus. Bring it on.

22. I feel more a part of the collective than ever before. Yes, Italy is a democratic socialism, but it’s also the mentality that you find within the family. There is an idea that everyone is an extension of each other and individualism just doesn’t make sense. Now, instead of thinking, “I paid for this, if I don’t need it I should sell it and get my money back,” I think, “I paid for this, I’d like my younger siblings to have it because money within the family is money spent well.” It’s nice.

23. Cooking. I’m a much better cook. I’m a 10,000 million times better cook. Before Italy I couldn’t cook worth shit and now I can actually make homemade pastas and sauces and all of that. Kind of awesome.

24. I’m more knowledgable about world news. I’ve always been interested in world news and affairs but in the US you have to search out the information on certain channels or in specific newspapers. In Italy even local papers touch on world issues (except for things owned by that fucktard Berlusconi). I feel much better informed on what is happening on a global level.

Related:

How To Survive Being An Expat 

Why Everyone Should Live In Italy At Least Once

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Francesco Goes To The Pool OR My Italian Husband Is Adorably Weird

Francesco has decided to get in shape which he doesn’t really need a lot of because he’s already a babe. He went out and got a gym membership and has been pretty dedicated, going every night. The gym that he signed up for has a large swimming pool. He’s been dying to get near it so he can splash around and remember his more wonderful days when he was young, single, and banging foreign girls on the slides after closing. In preparation of remaking the childhood classic ‘When Fuzzy Dolphins Mate,’ he went shopping for some swimming gear. So far he’s purchased:

1. Goggles

2. Earplugs

3. A Condom to wear on his head

4. A Speedo

When I told him that people don’t really wear head condoms here unless they are joining an olympic team or trying to have sex with a whale he glared at me and barked that I sounded like “deh stupid American types who cares too much what others think.” He has a point, it is ridiculous to care, he’s right. It’s stupid and doesn’t matter at all what anyone wears, ever. Then again, think about the children. They’re splashing around just having the best time ever when a man cruises by in a speedo that probably has an Italian flag on the butt, and the kid screams because he’s just spotted an Italian stallion (part wild animal) in a banana hammock that leaves none of the man fuzz to the imagination. It’s really about protecting these poor, sheltered, protestant children.

 

Cruising In My Hood: Campo Di Marte

Dramatic Newspaper

Dramatic Newspaper

Chianti. Winning!

Chianti. Winning!

Espresso Cup With The Symbol Of Florence

Espresso Cup With The Symbol Of Florence

The Church Tower By My Apartment. Ding-Dong, You're Going To Hell (the bell is judgy).

The Church Tower By My Apartment. Ding-Dong, You’re Going To Hell (the bell is judgy).

Mini-Aperitivo

Mini-Aperitivo

My Local Bar. They Keep Treats Behind The Bar And Give Them Out Generously To Oliver

My Local Bar. They Keep Treats Behind The Bar And Give Them Out Generously To Oliver

I Shouldn’t Be Allowed Around People Or Google.

Every once in a while my in-laws come from Cassino to Florence to visit us and stay at our apartment for the weekend. This past weekend they came on Saturday and left on Sunday, a short visit, and I have to admit a pleasant visit (for those of you who read M.E. regularly, you’re totally shitting your pants right now. I know.). Usually when they visit I find myself crying hysterically in the bathroom or I spend hours thinking of interesting ways to murder my husband. This time I decided something that I should have decided a long time ago: I do not give a flying fuck. I made my husband clean and prepare the apartment for them, I refused to be bothered or stressed because Misty is tired. When they arrived I said hello and was  polite, but I did minimum hosting which means I only handed out water and made sure my dog didn’t bother anyone t0o much. Everyone was fine and it was mostly not weird until someone had to go and ruin it for everyone.

We were all gathered in the living-room, my in-laws, F and I, drinking coffee when the attention turned to Oliver who was being his usual-self, attacking and enthusiastically humping Mr. Oinky his new stuffed pig, in his bed. Then, as though he was trying to make me look bad, he stopped, panted, lifted his leg and PISSED  on Mr. Oinky. Right on his head like he was all, “take that bitch” after a disappointing exchange. After all my work with this dog I’d still managed  to raise a canine version of R Kelly. Everyone exchanged uncomfortable glances and I leapt up to express clean while I explained that he had never done that before (which is entirely true) but it was too late. Obviously, I had a raised a freak and there was no getting around it.

————————

Later that evening we were invited to dinner at a friend of the family’s house who also lives in Florence. I realized a few things. The first thing being that I love how people do table spreads here. I mean, the entire table is literally overflowing with food. The second thing is that now that I’m married everyone is really interested in my vagina and concerned with how much action she’s potentially getting.

My in-laws, my brother and sister-in-law and the hosting couple, almost at the same time, leaned in and started asking questions. When are you guys going to have a baby? When? WHEN!?? Someone demanded that we have more sex. Have sex every day! Everyone seemed so excited about us having sex that I was kind of waiting for it to be suggested that we make a baby on the dinner table. No really, do it now. NOW. NOW!

I said, “well make one when we can afford it unless you know of a way to make it live off of air. Also, babies pee inside of you. THEY PEE INSIDE OF YOU! Speaking of pee, I should not be a mother. Did I tell you all what Oliver did to his stuffed animal today? Really, you don’t want me to reproduce.” And I think they all agreed so maybe the thing with Oliver was a blessing in disguise. It’s not that I don’t want kids, it’s just that I don’t want kids now. Or soon.

(And  I might reconsider doing it ever after reading this article on fetal masturbation. Seriously? Why babies? Also, I would like to know what the church thinks of this. Kind of puts a damper on the no touchy-touchy argument, doesn’t it?)

The sex talk faded away and I was able to focus more on eating and wine. I had Oliver chained under my chair with his Kong so he couldn’t freak anyone else out. The more I drink the less I can speak Italian, or English, so at some point I was just staring at everyone. I don’t know about any of you guys but bored is bad for me. Usually my imagination kicks in and it’s all downhill from there.

Lara, our nine month old niece was sitting on my mother-in-laws lap, poking her with little bread sticks that are about the width of a pretzal but longer. Then she started feeding my mother-in-law the bread-pretzal. And I leaned over to F and was all, “I want to feed your mom a breadstick !” And F was all, “DO NOT DO THAT.” I tried to stop myself but she was sitting next to me so at some  point I was waving one in front of her face making an airplane noise and then trying to poke it into her mouth. She wouldn’t eat it. Unaware of how to repair the awkward thing I’d already done, I bonked her on the head with it instead and said, “dooopidooopidooo.” Francesco was horrified. She shot me a mean look and somehow I felt an odd sense of satisfaction that is really inexplainable.

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On Sunday everyone returned to Cassino. The weather was shit in Florence so F and I decided to stay home and  watch Underworld because, you know, werewolves and vampires!

F: What if I was a Lycan and you were a vampire?

ME: Clearly, we’d get married and have a half-breed baby. I don’t see the issue.

F: What would your Vampire name be?

ME: Something gothic and ridiculous like Seraphyn.

F: What would my name be?

ME: PUPPY!

F: My name would NOT BE PUPPY! It would be Rocko!

ME: No. Your name would be puppy. That’s a good name!

F: I hate you. [Gets up and adjusts sound]

ME: Good puppy! [pat, pat, pat].

F: UUUUGH!

Royalty, Dragons, Wine And Fire: Getting All Romantic In Chianti

As a wedding gift one of my oldest, dearest friends gifted us a free night at a really cute little Inn, Castello Di Tornano, in Chianti. F and I decided to finally go last weekend. It’s a beautiful drive from Florence through Chianti. Everyone should do it at least once in their life, preferably in the summer.

When we arrived we took a stroll through the hills. I found wild boar shit which I was kind of excited about.  I felt like a super-tracker, if there is ever a Zombie takeover I’ll survive because I can hunt things. Like a cheetah. I ran up the hill following the boar doodie and hoof tracks , thinking about that sad movie where the dog is attacked by wild boars and then gets rabies. Where The Red Fern Grows? Is that it? or Old Yeller? I don’t know. Something depressing. At the top of the hill F told me to stop stalking the animals  because “it is weird,” and I was all, “you won’t think it’s so weird when you’re starving and I have like three hundred wild boars.” Then he said I can’t watch The Walking Dead anymore. I pouted for a minute and then we were romantic under an olive tree because, ya know, the wild.

Our cute little Inn

Our cute little Inn

We went to a little village nearby for dinner. The village was a ghost town, like post-apocalyptic empty. I don’t know if anyone really lives there. The  city consisted of one empty street lined on both sides with small business’ on the ground floor for wine, paintings, and other tourist things and apartments above. There were no lights or people talking inside the apartments, only darkness and an old man having an inappropriately long conversation with his labrador under the only lamp at the end of the street. It seemed like a movie set. We popped into the only bar for coffee and learned that we didn’t need to search any further because it was also the town bakery and  restaurant, so we stayed for dinner and dined outside.  The highlight of our dinner was our waitress, a cute woman from Morocco, who spent a lot of time making fun an Italian woman behind her back, calling her “electric” with an eye roll. I liked the insult and noted that I should use it in the future. We laughed so she liked us and subsequently fed us 300 bags of chips.

After dinner I convinced F to start a fire. In our room. In the fireplace. I did not have him ignite a nearby forest. At least, not this time. It took him an hour of intensive laboring and forty rolls of toilet paper to get the fire going and for a moment I’d given up on the idea and crawled into bed. Then he scared the shit out of me when he jumped and screamed while banging on his chest, “FIRE! I created FIRE! My a babe wanted deh fire AND I GAVE AIR DUH FIRE!” So, he was super proud of himself and all “one with his caveman”. Then I convinced him to put the bed in front of the fire place, “so it would be like camping” And we did. And it was awesome.

The next morning we visited castle Ricasoli, where the family who invented Chianti Classico still lives today. Or as I like to call them, rivalry. While F and I wandered the gardens in the back he spoke in an old English accent (or tried to, not easy with his Italian accent) and pretended to be aristocratic and I was all, seriously, you have to stop before everyone looks outside and wonders why I married a peasant and I’ll have to go into a lengthy explanation of how you’re down-to-earth and how I wanted someone new and different.” As we walked around the front I noticed some odd decisions regarding the fortification of the castle wall. Off with his head! And the drapes? All will suffer my wrath! 

F: This is awesome huh babe? I mean, could you imagine living here?

ME: Yes. I can. I finally feel at home. If given the opportunity I would totally reclaim this place. Fix the drapes, and kill whoever decided that this wall was adequate defense. I mean seriously!? Do you know how easy it would be to breach the front wall?! An army of humans, or trolls, nobody is safe!

F: You know, the scary thing is that you used the word, reclaim, and that you really believe everything that you’re saying right now.

ME:  I would ride on the back of a dragon. All would love me.

F: Oookay. Could I live in your castle?

ME: No. No you can’t. Wait, actually, could I FINALLY have a Capybara?

F: Dio mio! Yes. FINE. If you own a castle and you let me live in it you can finally have that stupid giant rat you want.

ME: You know what? He’s not stupid and I’d watch my mouth if I were you. The Queen is easily angered. You can have that tower over there. But you can’t live in the main part, that’s for me and Dwayne.

F: Sigh. Whatever. So you belong here with this family, huh? Are you like the long-lost daughter or something?

ME: This family? Fuck no! These guys have been living here for like thirty generations. Do you think that they have Chianti royalty meet-and-greets or use FB? No. They don’t. So basically everyone inside is super inbred. In fact, I’m sure it’s super exciting at this point if someone is born without tentacles. The octopus clan. No thanks. Though I’m sure it makes them worthy adversaries being able to hold like eight swords at a time.

F: Right.

ME: This kingdom is as good as mine. Follow me or perish.

F: Sigh.

Am I right?

Am I right?

Note: The Chianti Classico by Ricasoli is incredibly good wine. Come and drink it.