Every once in awhile, someone will ask me about the differences between Italy and the US….other than that language thing I’m always talking about. Today I thought I’d mention 3: kleenex, hours and bugs.
I might not be a huge fan of Italian peanut butter or their cling wrap, but I LOVE their kleenex. (And for those nitpickers who insist that not all kleenex are Kleenex, I say: if you really care about this, it means you have too much time on your hands!) My favorite brand of Italian kleenex is Tempo, and unlike ours, you do not have to use 4 at a time in order to keep it from falling apart while you’re merely thinking about blowing your nose. Someone told me there’s a bit of cotton in it. I have no idea if that’s true, but it holds together during the strongest of sneezes and drippiest of head colds. To make them even more perfect, they’re soft. If you must have a cold, you definitely want these on your bedside table.
As for other Italian paper products – there are pluses and minuses. I remember way, way back, when Italy had a reputation for toilet paper with the same comfort level as sand paper. Today I would say that Italy and the US are absolutely equal – both good.
Where they fall behind is with their paper towels. They’re thin to the point of almost being transparent. One is never enough. They’re the paper towel equivalent of our flimsy kleenex, while our paper towels are the equivalent of their hearty kleenex.
The second difference is that there’s no such thing as zipping out at 10:00 at night because you realized there’s no milk in the house. The big supermarkets, which are in the towns below us, close around 7 at night except for Sundays, when the time is 1:00 in the afternoon. Up here in Orvieto, our one supermarket is closed all day Sundays, and between 1:30 – 5:00 Monday through Saturday. Seven-11’s are unheard-of. As you know, I have some procrastinating tendencies and have therefore learned to live with a lot of disappointing, coffeeless mornings.
My third difference is bugs….or perhaps I should say my reaction to them. In the US, I am totally unreasonable about bugs in the house. I always have my exterminator’s phone number handy….just in case.
In Italy? I believe I’ve mentioned before that our apartment was built in the 1300’s, and has huge windows. At no time in the past 700 years did anyone think screens were necessary. We could always install them, but — apart from the cost — where would we hang our wash, since our clotheslines are outside the windows. (Yes — our clothes, sheets and towels have the sweet smell of sunshine in them rather than the sweet smell of Bounce like they do in the US. Hmmmm…..I guess this would qualify as a peripheral 4th difference, wouldn’t it….) Screens just wouldn’t work here.
Hence, bugs……..for now, I’m going to forget the the random bat! I think I have handled this situation remarkably well — in fact, I have displayed a level of maturity that would certainly have surprised anyone who knew me BI (Before Italy). Fortunately, most of our bugs are flying ones, and with them I am what I will generously call “less judgmental”. My main point of contention is: how many legs? Six is OK, and one of the scientific definitions for the word “insect” boils down to: “having 6 legs”. At least at this point, I haven’t seen something with wings that has more than 6. Although spiders don’t officially fall into this category, I have become a bit more mellow with them, too, as long as they’re not those enormous ones that my favorite author Dave Barry describes as “looking like they’re wearing the pelts of small mammals.” Anything with more legs than 8, however, requires a flame-thrower, as far as I’m concerned.
Anyway – OUR flying insects come in an incredible array of sizes and body types. I’ve included some photos of them so you can see how interesting they are. Needless to say I haven’t included the uninteresting bugs like flies, mosquitoes and the things that send Alan home early each year – papadacci; I believe these are the same things we call “no-see-ums”. They arrive in late Spring, forcing him to flee on the next plane out of Fiumicino airport. This was the first year they bothered with me – I think because he wasn’t around – and I have to admit that I had newfound respect for his decision to get out of town.
My favorite insect is like something designed by the team that brought you Star Wars, and unfortunately, I don’t have a picture. It looks like someone has taken a very fine pencil and drawn 6, 1-1/2″ long legs with very little body and invisible wings. Rather than looking like it flies, it seems to get from 1 place to another by bouncing and dancing off the surface of the walls. It is both ungainly and elegant all at the same time.
I’m now unfortunately (for you) at the age when I vividly remember vignettes from the past, so I will leave you with the bug story that was my turning point. Back in 1996, I was on a bike trip in Umbria with my favorite bike trip company, Backroads. Our first hotel was a castle in Cenerente — just outside of Perugia (and you wonder why I loved Backroads?!!). It, too, had windows hundreds of years old WITHOUT screens, and I was sitting in one of the gorgeous public rooms when a huge, green flying insect the size of my first car droned through the window. It was so heavy that its wings had to do double or triple time just to keep it airborne. For the first time in my life, something THAT large failed to send me screaming from the room. I found it “intriguing”. Anyone who knew me in the US would have thought that I had been possessed by some 6-legged spirit……and they could be right. I should have seen it for what it was: a sign that this country had a totally unnatural hold on me. And obviously, I’m happy to say that it still does.