Italians: a Study in Hypocrisy (Part II)

As the title implies, there is a Part I to this topic that has already been published. Do begin there.

2) Let me begin with a list: air conditioners, dog training, clothing dryers, screens, high-speed internet, adequate-speed internet, bike lanes, two-way streets, available parking, turn signals, window screens, modern deadbolt locks, reasonable store hours, immigration laws, a maximum number of political parties, and normal tax rates.*

Italy has almost none of all of these things. I dare you to find a dryer for your clothes in any home in the country. Likewise, I dare you to find a trained dog that won’t bark at every passing fly in the yard as if it were a flamboyant homosexual that interrupted a Westboro Baptist Church “mass”, or brain-cell destruction ceremony, whatever you like to call it.
This country is full to the brim with inefficency, in all aspects of life. And as Italian law states, there must be obnoxious complaints and arguments about such things, accompanied by little-to-no action. (<— Hypocrisy. See what I was saying?)

For example, Italians don’t believe in air conditioners because they are highly superstitious. And if that doesn’t make any sense to you, good.

The best way to explain the lack of air conditioning in a country with 40 degree weather and 70% humidity would be to tell you that the people here are afraid of the air. A light breeze coming through the window will cause many to clutch their necks in horror, utter an expletive, and demand that they trade seats with someone, so as not to “catch the air.” Truly, the doctors here see this as a treatable malady; in fact, it is one among many other maladies to which any doctor in North America would roll their eyes at, tell you to go home, and stop being dramatic. And yet, the “aria” is a real condition here in Italy – any sneeze, sniffle, throat tickle, fever, headache, general bone ache, knee problem, itchy eye, grumpy mood, or cough is explainable as being caused by the “air” he caught. And he knows exactly where he caught it, too. You see, he was standing in line at the bank, and suddenly he felt the slight, normally welcome draft of cool air from the air conditioner. This was when he realized with dread that he would be forced to wait in the line for at least another ten minutes before he could hurry himself to the exit, and out of the line of air-fire. About three minutes in, despite his best efforts to turn away from the air, and use other’s bodies as shields, he knew he had caught the air. Or rather, the air had malevolently found him. That evening over dinner, he coughed once, and proclaimed vehemently to all who would listen that he simply¬†knew it had been the air in the bank. He had felt it immediately, he said. He then cleared his throat dramatically, and promptly resumed eating his dinner: a dish made with exceptionally spicy pepperoncini flakes.

Now, I will choose one more topic to broach in the list above, because if I were to address them all it would require at least a week’s worth of my time, an endless amount of espresso (with grappa), and probably some psychotherapy to work out the level of crazy it would drive me to.

July 7th, 1868 was a historic day, and one that goes overlooked now. On this day, a U.S. patent number 79541 was filed by Bayley and McCluskey for what is now a standard in the construction of homes and buildings in North America: we know it as “the window screen.” Groundbreaking, I know. You see, someone decided that bugs carried diseases and were gross, but they still liked fresh air in the house, so they invented this handy little mesh contraption, easily installed, and that is now available to fit almost any window type imaginable.

But the Italians have none.

I will tell you what they do have, though. They have massive black flies, horse flies, tropical insects, a million-and-one kinds of spiders, mosquitoes, and in the last thirty or so years, an invasion of what is known as “tiger mosquitoes.” If the term “tiger mosquito” doesn’t frighten you, you clearly haven’t been bitten by one. They are massive, striped (hence the name), they leave welts, and they attack during any of the twenty-four hours in a day, not just dawn and dusk. On my first night here a few years ago, I was yet unaware of these loathsome creatures, and woke up covered in 43 bites. I counted.

Now, this would naturally lead many people to complain about the sheer number of pests that enter the house. Women clean cobwebs down from the corners daily, shoo flies away from the fresh fruit on the counter every five minutes, and swear and gesticulate enthusiastically at every mosquito bite received. But if you suggest installing a screen to them, they will only wave their hands at you, as if to dispel such a ridiculous idea, and move to adjust the (highly effective) window shutters.

If I sound bitter, it’s because I am. Call me a wimp, but spiders terrify me. In addition, I am exceptionally sensitive to mosquito bites, and receive large welts that are anywhere from the diameter of a golf ball, to ones that exceed the size of my iPhone. And before bed every night, I have securely closed my door and window, despite an average of 27 degrees, and aggressively hunted any mosquitos that may have snuck in during my daily absence. Of which there are usually at least three.

And to think, this could all be remedied with a ten-minute trip to the hardware store; but here in Italy, I have discovered that it is much simpler, much easier, and truly the people’s zest of life, to just complain about it all.

But for the sake of my family and friends when I return home, I hope this condition of hypocrisy hasn’t been as contagious as “the air” can be.





*A separate post has been published concerning the politics and the tax rates, because as items they are far too expansive and inefficient to incorporate here. See: “Kicking and Screaming: A Guide to Italian Politics” if you want to read a bunch of simultaneously entertaining and frustrating factoids about this nation’s government policy.