May 6, 2015
So I’m at the fruttivendolo, greengrocer’s, a charming hole-in-the wall.
I’m cooling my heels waiting my turn while the vendor and a customer with a nest of snow-white hair lament Italy’s problemi. Every so often the snow-white customer points to a cucumber or a pile of chicory, which the vendor oh-so-carefully picks up and weighs. Ten minutes pass. The two men are pretty riled up–hands flail all over the place–about the fact that Prime Minister Renzi got his electoral reform law (Italicum) passed. Will the right to strike be affected, they fret? Because Italy is a striking culture: teachers & pilots & baggage handlers & bus drivers & train operators & truck drivers & museum workers & taxi drivers walk off the job on a regular basis. You cannot take that away from the Italian 99%-ers, can you???
Anyway, the snow-white man finally shouts a hearty parting to one and all (Buona giornata e buon pranzo! Good day and good lunch!) and steps out the door, trailing a bag chock-full of chicory.I’m up next. Lemons, please! We engage in an animated conversation about how the mayor is spoiling the village with his vulgar signage. The vendor pulls me onto the street and points out an ugly sign that has gone up on the corner, right next to an ancient stone fountain. Back inside I point out some big bright oranges. And then we’re onto the next topic: the vendor’s recent malady. This is how a transaction goes in small Sicilian markets.
I’m still being served when in waltz two americani. They do not say buongiorno. No greeting at all! Strike 1. Then they head for the tomatoes, and–horror of horrors!!–fondle the juicy red orbs with their own filthy fingers, scooping up the ones they want themselves! I suppress a gasp. Strike 2. And, yes, it gets worse: they march up to the cash register, pull out their euro bills and push them at the vendor. AND I’M STILL IN THE MIDDLE OF MY TURN!!!! Strike 3. The vendor is gracious, as am I. But the episode makes me see how easy it is for innocents abroad to commit faux pas, and in these innocents, I see myself. And yes, there is a strike 4. They waltz out the door with nary a word, wishing us neither a good day nor a good lunch.