Once again, as every year, culture shock has blind-sided me. Yes, it is gorgeous here (see above) and yes, it is warm (even hot) and dry. But it’s not Italy, is it? Sounds so obvious, but somehow it takes me aback annually. In fairness, I have to say that there will be a repeat of culture shock, in reverse, when we return to Rapallo in April or May.
But just what is the shock? Size is one thing – everything is so darn big here. When it comes to living quarters, I like that. When it comes to servings when eating out I don’t. Cars? no. Sense of humor? yes. Noise is another thing: there are non-stop sounds in Rapallo; scooters dash up and down the mountain, dogs bark non-stop, the rooster who can’t tell time crows his ignorance, diners clink their cutlery against their plates at Rosa’s and even, if they’ve had enough, break into song or begin to cheer loudly. Over at Case di Noe someone has fired up a brush-cutter, and every half hour the church bells remind us what time it is. (Speedy has addressed this part of the problem by down-loading chimes to sound the hours on the computer – not the same as the jazzy bell concert San Maurizio gives us each Sunday, but better than nothing.)
There are plenty of noisy places in the U.S., but we don’t happen to be in one of them. Our neighborhood has forty homes, of which probably one-third are occupied now, it being still early in ‘the season.’ The family with small children who lived across the street have moved – how we miss their constant activity and cheerful little voices. If we listen carefully we can hear the hum of traffic from the highway that’s about a mile away. When the birds visit our feeders they are likely to squabble. The humming birds sound like teeny little power saws when they zoom in and out. But mostly it’s just very quiet and peaceful. That’s nice, it really is, it’s just such a change.
The biggest change, though, and the hardest to adapt to, is the societal difference. Italians are out and about for a good part of the day. One must shop daily, the passagiata awaits at the end of the day. There are friends and family to visit and ‘news’ to be discussed endlessly. The silence in our neighborhood is but a reflection of a larger silence that I think of as particularly American. People are afraid to discuss ‘issues’ for fear that they will offend or anger the person to whom they’re speaking. Somehow Italians have found a way to express differences without letting it get personal, and without letting it get in the way of friendships. Here people are afraid to make eye contact with strangers, unlikely to greet strangers on the street (any one of whom may be carrying a weapon, concealed or otherwise, at least here in the wild west), and uncomfortable with the idea of discomfort.
Of course Italy is far from perfect. But part of culture shock, I think, is the tendency to idealize the place one has left, to look back through the fuzzy lens of rosy glasses, while looking at present circumstances with the critical lens of a microscope.
I’m not asking for sympathy, believe me. We are terribly fortunate to be able to enjoy life in two such diverse places, and yes, we are Thankful that we are able to (’tis the season). I’m just saying that the transition is, for me at any rate, difficult, but difficult in an interesting way, not a painful way. So please, stick with me for a while? Pretty soon I’ll have my feet under me again and will share some more of the excitement of life in a most peculiar state.