When the shoes left outside your front door cause personal offence to the lady living two floors above you and you just don't know if you have to step in when a couple is yelling and hitting and then kissing each other passionately in front of the supermarket, all in the time span of three minutes.
Don’t be naïve like me and think you can simply get things done in Italy. There is no such thing as simply posting your letter, making a money transfer or declaring your residency. “Simply” only comes to mind when my money runs low and I have to do my shopping at the cheap supermarket chain called ... Simply.
Maybe because things aren’t simple, or because of the famous southern temperament, or because of their genetically conditioned loud voices, situations can get heated here.
Dramatic outbursts, a colorful choice of words, enthusiastic hand gestures – the more you apply these, the more likely you will get what you came for. This is what Cristiano Ronaldo must have thought after he was punished with the red card and decided to flip his shit like an Italian, probably because he recently switched from Real Madrid to Juventus Turin. He failed, but none the less, take a lesson from him here:
If all of this seems absurd to you, don’t worry, because only minutes after you behave like a crossbreed between an enraged rhino and a crying pony, no one will even remember it. E. once had a fight with a traffic policeman who apparently shooed him across the street in a "disrespectful way". Both ended up getting so upset they started shoving and yelling and threatening to throw each other into the Tiber, not unlike two ancient Roman goat herders arguing over a piece of grazing land. It seemed quite serious and I quickly led my visiting Swiss friends away from the critical scene, and it was a bit like steering a feeble herd to safety (yes I’m making an awful lot of animal kingdom analogies here).
How surprised I was when after a few minutes of this bravado, the policeman and E. slapped each other’s shoulders like two old drinking buddies and talked about Neapolitan buffalo mozzarella.
It’s difficult when your northern mind, so good at understanding all things reasonable, just can't differentiate when Italians are angry or when they just think they are angry and are really only being dramatic.
Like that time when I was being a typical Swiss person and accepted taking cold showers for three months because I was scared to annoy the landlord (who I am positive had some mafia business going on, and who I will be calling “Vito” for further reference) with yet another call about the boiler not working. E. of course got very angry as soon as I had the courage to complain about having brain freezes whenever I was washing my hair and had such a huge fight with Vito over the phone that I was positive he was going to evict me within the next hour. The situation made me terribly anxious because, well, I assumed the neighbourly peace was broken and I had to live in a constant state of paranoia, because, who knows, I could find a dead horse’s head in my bed at any moment or worse, Vito could decide to call me and confront me about E.’s rudeness. But time passed, my boiler got fixed and when the day I was moving out finally arrived and I stood in front of Vito with shaking legs to hand over the keys, his mustache twitched into a smile and he said I was the best tenant he ever had. No hard feelings there.
It can happen that you truly run into crazy people in this country, but how could you ever tell? Is it crazy behavior? Is it Italian behavior? It all confusingly blends into the same thing and gets even more confusing when you yourself start acting crazy (and being Swiss, acting crazy has occurred as little in my daily routine as dancing the Samba).
Imagine my perplexity when out of nowhere, hard rage boiled up in me when the lady at the post office said I couldn't open a savings account with my Swiss ID (and I had already opened one in exactly this post office, with exactly the same Swiss ID, just a year before). Before I knew it I yelled and hand-gestured at her in a mad frenzy. And in the end did not only get what I wanted, but left with her wishing me a pleasant day.