I’m currently sitting in my WiFi-less apartment in the middle of Siena, Italy. I’m here, in the heart of this tiny and remarkable Tuscan city, studying art history and practicing studio art with eleven of my classmates and two of my professors for Winter Study, a month-long term between our fall and spring semesters when we have the opportunity to do virtually whatever we want… take a bizarre elective like stonemasonry, do an internship, teach little kids, or, in my case, study abroad.
While I’ve been charmed enough to travel to Europe quite a bit in my nineteen years, the week I’ve spent in Siena has, so far, been unlike any other that I’ve had in Italy, France, or Spain, likely because this is the first time I’ve ‘lived’ in Europe as a [young] adult. Unsurprisingly, my very particular, decidedly—and, I assure you, this pains me to admit, considering that I’m kind of a douchebag and fancy myself rather *European* in many respects—‘American’ cultural practices and expectations have never been more apparent.
Basically, Siena has its sh*t figured out. This whole country does. The people are patient and kind (though not to say, necessarily, mild-mannered), the streets are clean, and the city itself—in all its ancient glory—is a work of art. It’s lovely, really. Everything about it. Naturally, though, the highlights for me involve food and drink. Meals—even the cheap ones—are long and delicious (the waiters don’t hustle you out the door the moment you’ve put down your fork) and the drinking culture—along with the men and women—is gorgeous (there’s no enforced legal drinking age, which means that very, very few people prefer ripping shots to enjoying a glass of vino).
It’s quiet, and while I don’t normally *do* quiet, I love it here – I do. There’s just one issue: the Italian standard of customer service, from what I’ve gathered/experienced, is very different from ours. Sh*t takes longer. Salespeople don’t coddle you when you storm through the door demanding your money back. You can’t return a sweater with a ‘lost’ price tag nor can you easily dispute a bill of any kind. And we were warned about this whole customer service thing; like a teacher at the school here ‘joked’ when we first arrived, “If an Italian tells you something will be ready tomorrow, don’t expect it until next week. And when it’s ready, don’t expect it to be perfect.” In a certain setting, it works for me; some Americans are itching for the waiter to JUST BRING [THEM] THE F*CKING CHECK ALREADY, but like I said, I appreciate the subtle suggestion I should take my time. But my first conflict with this sometimes-inconvenient cultural distinction happened where so many sh*tty thing do: at a cell phone store.
We figured we’d need cheap phones to use during our few weeks here, so a few of us found our way to the TIM store (Italy’s AT&T, maybe?) to pick up some throwaways. Speaking in some [surely eloquent] variation of Englitalian, we managed to explain our technological intentions to a salesperson who, after letting us butcher the few Italian words we knew, alerted us to the fact that he, indeed, spoke English.
“No, no need for a cheap phone! You two have the new iPhone,” he said excitedly and with many a hand gesture to my friend and me, “You can just put in one of our SIM cards. The iPhone 5 comes unlocked, capire?” According to TIM guy, you see, the new generation of iPhones was made to be compatible with any SIM card, which is true, apparently, of iPhones purchased in Europe, but patently untrue of those purchased in America. I don’t think the dude intended to screw us. He was just disinformato.
Anyway, of course we had gotten back to our apartment and the store had closed by the time we figured out that the cards he sold us would only be sorely rejected by our cellulares. The next day, we explained the issue to a different (and this time, of course, basically non-English speaking) salesperson who proceeded to insist that there was nothing he could do. He proceeded with said insistence for the next two hours.
“No, no, SIM opere! Problema with cellurare!”
His only solution was for us to spend more money on cheap phones that we could get for half the price elsewhere. Unfortunately for him, however, I’m not just ‘American’ (I told you, I’m a d-bag); I’m from New York. I don’t take kindly to getting screwed over anywhere, including in a foreign country whose language I don’t speak. So when he repeated, “Mi dispiace, sorry, but non posso give money back. It’s gone,” for the third time, I was really over it.
“Yes, you can. And I’m not leaving until you do.”
And just like that—after a heated hour and 48 minutes of debate—he turned around, opened the register, and plucked out our euros.
“Okay, okay. Qui è.”
Check it out, dad! *Totally based on my powers of persuasion, you proud?* (Cher Horowitz? Clueless? Anyone?)
I mean, he really did put up a good fight, but I suppose a stubborn New Yorker’s inner litigiousness always translates.
Image courtesy of onscreenfashiondotcom via Guest of a Guest