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The Captain always teases me by saying, “You know I never listen;” and I tease back by saying, “True.  We have the perfect arrangement for living in Italy – you speak and I listen.”  (He’s much better at speaking the language than I.)

While the captain may be teasing, it seems true to me that often people really don’t listen to others (I include myself in this group). The reasons are many – self-involvement, disinterest, hearing impairment, multi-tasking, language challenges, etc., etc.

The TED website recently put up a talk by sound specialist Julian Treasure which I found fascinating. He talks about why people don’t listen, and how we can all improve our listening skills.  It’s a short video, just over seven minutes – here, take a look.

One of the things that has always struck me about Italy is the non-stop noise, at least where we live.  As I type this it’s 10:30 at night and there’s a festa down the street a way with live music – very loud live music.  Driving bass, banging drums and a songstress who is, alas, a bit flat.  It’s not my taste in music, to be honest, but I don’t really resent it being forced on us (at least not until after 11 p.m. – last night the live music went til midnight and I did get a bit cranky).  It happens only a few times a year up here. The amazing thing to me is that no one complains or seems to mind.

But if it’s not live music, there is always some other kind of aural stimulation – scooters and cycles tearing up and down the mountain; the bus slowly groaning its way up, merrily tootling its horn at every curve (a necessary precaution on these narrow roads) and then loudly sighing and chuffing at each stop; church bells from our village, from Montallegro and, if the wind is right, from the Rapallo Cathedral; ambulance and police sirens; cruise ship horns; airplanes overhead; dogs barking; cocks crowing at all hours; birds; children shouting (a particularly cheerful noise, that) and always, always conversation.  Conversation as an art form is alive and well in this courteous country.  Finding three minutes of silence daily, as recommended by Mr. Treasure (can that really be his name??) is a challenge here.  Every now and then one of us awakens at 3 or 4 a.m., and we are struck by the relative silence – it is such a rarity.

In contrast the U.S. seems much quieter in general (not the cities, to be sure).  The example the Captain likes to give is this:  when Italy won the World Cup (European football) in 2006 the racket from Rapallo was amazing – horns blasted, cars tore through the center of town with kids hanging out waving flags and shouting, ships in the harbor blew their horns – it was an explosion of celebratory sound.  In 2008 when the Arizona Cardinals (American football) won the game that sent them to the Super Bowl we stuck our heads outside right after the game.  Our Arizona neighborhood was as silent as a tomb, the town was silent; and we were a mere forty miles from the stadium where the game was played.  No one was out and about because anyone not at the game was surely inside watching it on TV – but afterwards there was no public demonstration of glee.  And if someone’s party is noisy in the U.S. it takes the neighbors no time at all to call the police and complain.

So, is it harder to listen in Italy, where there is so much more ambient noise?  Though the Captain might well disagree,  I don’t really think so.  But as we know, he doesn’t listen anyway…