I will fake it until I make it!

All about the escapades and thoughts of a girl who thinks WAY too much for her own good!

Saturday, May 29, 2010

No Pride in Prejudice


1. An adverse judgment or opinion formed beforehand or without knowledge or examination of the facts.
2. A preconceived preference or idea.
3. The act or state of holding unreasonable preconceived judgments or convictions.

I’m lucky. My parents did not raise me with prejudice. I have long felt that not carrying these preconceived notions about people has allowed me to expand my horizons beyond those who are limited by pre-judging those they have not met. Prejudice and racism are things I have had exceptionally little tolerance for throughout my life. As Austin Power’s dad said in Goldmember, “There are only two things I can’t stand in this world; intolerance for other people’s culture… and the Dutch!”

Italians are prejudice against African men. Notice I didn’t write African American men. I wrote African men. I say this because many, if not most, of the black men working in Italy are from Africa. Unfortunately, a very large number of these men make their living by selling tourists counterfeit goods on the street.

Without obtaining the necessary permits, these men display their illegal wears on large white bed linens so they can scoop up the ends in a Santa Claus-esque sack and make a mad dash from the Italian police whenever the police decide to enforce the anti-counterfeit laws.

While traveling around Italy and Europe I noticed this trend in many tourist destinations; black men with white bed linens on the ground displaying designer purses, wallets, and sunglasses. It’s impossible to miss. They approach you on the street and can be quite assertive in their sales pitch depending on how direct you are about saying no.

This selling of illegal designer goods has not done much to encourage the Italians to open their arms to those from Africa. Quite the contrary; it has caused resentment, distrust, and in some cases flat out hatred. But unlike the U.S. where we have a large and diverse population, Italians do not. It’s hard to convince someone they cannot judge an entire country based on a few, when their only experience with this culture has been witnessing the African male selling illegal goods on the street, while diligently avoiding the police.

As much as I hate to admit this, for the first time in my life I understand how people could form these opinions. Before, I would just write people off as closed minded, or afraid of anything unknown or different, but now it’s not that "black and white" to me.

To understand this prejudice you have to understand certain aspects of Italian culture. For one, Italians are a bit of a closed society. They have a deserved and understandable, albeit extreme, pride in their own history, in their own traditions, and in their own products.

With obvious exceptions, Italians don't mix up the nationalities as much as other countries do when it comes to marriage and making babies (Maybe this is why so many Italians are vertically challenged. Perhaps if we cross-bred the Italians with the Dutch we could stop this shortness epidemic!).

To over simplify, Italians like Italians.

Additionally, Italian design is a source of extreme pride throughout the country. Ferragamo, Gucci, Fendi, Prada, Dolce and Gabbana… so many of the world’s most elite designers are Italian. Unlike other parts of the world where everything is manufactured in China; a large quantity of apparel and leather goods are still made in Italy, by Italians. Selling fakes on the street that were made in another country weakens the brand, takes jobs away from Italians, takes money away from the shop keepers who are selling the legitimate pieces, and reduces the amount of sales tax collected by the government which reduces the amount of money available for public services.

To many Italians this practice not only shows disrespect for something they take great pride in, it threatens their way of life. This explanation is not to say that I condone this view. I’m only stating I understand where it stems from and I can see how it would be hard for an Italian to not think that way.

Living in a foreign country has also opened my eyes to my own capability for prejudice that I had no idea I had. I have come to the realization that I have formed my own prejudice against… Italians.

I know how this must sound. I live in Italy. I’m dating an Italian man. I have a few Italian friends. Still, I have formed opinions of Italians based on my interactions with them and I find myself assuming things about them that I have very little basis for.

For instance, I really do believe a large number of Italian men cheat.  I really do think it’s a larger percentage than in the United States, and I really do believe that I could never marry an Italian man because of it. I have NO statistical proof of any of this mind you. I just believe it based on what I have heard and my limited experience here. On a less negative note, but just as unfounded, I also believe that most Italian men are wildly romantic and fantastic lovers. Again, I have no idea if that is true, but it is my belief.

I’m also not that fond of Italian women. I’m not sure why. The few Italian women I have actually met have been kind enough. My roommate in Rome (an Italian woman originally from Naples) is one of the most lovely people I have ever met, Italian or otherwise. The few women who have spoken to me at the gym seem fine, and the girlfriend of my boyfriend’s best friend was friendly, charming, and welcoming.

However, I find myself thinking that most Italian women are stuck up, have no sense of humor, and are only concerned with their appearance. Again, I have almost no basis for this feeling. I shouldn’t judge all Italian women by those who have felt it necessary to tell me off because I was riding my bike on a perfectly large sidewalk that gave each one of us ample room to pass, or for placing my umbrella too heavily on the ground when entering a building, or for coming into a yoga class without introducing myself first, or for constantly asking me to walk more softly in my own apartment which happens to be above hers.

I know I’m being ridiculous. However, if you make me join a queue in Italy, I’m gonna automatically have my arms on my hips, elbows back with my right leg extended a bit behind me to block the inevitable Italian woman who I just KNOW is going try to cut in front of me in line and not think twice about it.

I’m not proud of this realization about myself, but to deny it would be a lie. And to not address it would be a dishonor to all that my parents taught me and to all of the great people I could befriend. I’m hoping this realization keeps me in check. I hope it keeps me looking at things from a position of empathy and keeps me questioning why I think the way I think, and why I feel the way I feel.

I’m not perfect. I have many flaws that I want to learn to accept, but intolerance is not one of them.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Tick-Tock, Tick-Tock

On August 7th I will turn 40. Although I find I talk about age quite a bit, I have never worried about it. I have never been one of those people who panic about becoming the big “four-oh”. In fact, two years ago I started telling people, “I’m almost 40.” As I recall, my entire adult life I have volunteered my age.

Surprisingly to me this admission has subjected me to several lectures from various girlfriends over the years (including those younger than I am) about how I shouldn’t discuss my age. I didn’t understand what the issue was. I was proud of my age. I didn’t feel like I acted or looked my age. Why not talk about it? It’s just a number. But as that significant “number” draws nearer to being MY number, I find myself with more dread than happiness or anticipation. And for the first time in my life, I am seriously contemplating shaving off five years after the big day.

Maybe I’m feeling this way because everywhere I turn I see an article, or have a discussion, or get an email about how much the body starts to degenerate with age; how it’s significantly harder to lose weight; how all of the hair on your body starts thinning; how you stop producing collagen and elastin; how it’s harder to heal from an injury; how your ability to reproduce slows down; how your sexual drive slows down; etc., etc.

OH MY GOD! Too much information! I don't want to know this stuff!

For the last few months I have been dating someone who, let’s just say is significantly younger than I am. Significantly to the point that I won’t even tell you how much younger. One might think this is a good thing; a testament to my young spirit and looks. But dating someone a lot younger isn’t all “Demi and Ashton” glamourous.

Don't get me wrong, in some ways I feel like a total rock star that I can hold the attention of a gorgeous younger man. But, lately, it’s also making me feel more self conscience and aware of my age than even before. I’m noticing every wrinkle on my face that is not yet on his; every extra pound that is harder to shed; every sag here and every bump there.  These are my own insecurities.  I know every person has them.  But knowing that every person has them is not lessening my own burden of having them.

Maybe it’s not so much that I am worried about becoming 40 as the dread I feel about time zipping past me without any way to slow it down. I can’t believe that I have been in Italy for nearly 8 months now. I can’t believe that I only have 2 months left. The first 20 years of my life seemed to take forever, and the last 20 have careened past me like a high speed train running late for its on-time arrival.

Remember when, as a child, a day seemed to last an eternity? And if you were looking forward to something two weeks away it felt like you had to wait an entire year?  I’d like that feeling back please.  Could someone please figure out a way to slow down time?

Monday, May 3, 2010

Turn and Burn Baby!

When one thinks of dining in Italy one may conjure up romantic notions of 2-hour long dinners spent with great friends out on the piazza enjoying mouth watering courses of Italian food and wine served with precision and care.  Well, after living here for 7 months, I now know “one” should think again!

The reality is most Italian restaurants have no idea what customer service really means. I find this strange because Italians are so concerned with quality and customer service when it comes to other industries, like apparel, where it’s considered rude if I select my own shoe box from the stack of boxes on the floor because it’s the job of the staff to pull that box for you and place that shoe on your foot… daahhh!

Let me warn you now, if you come to Italy expecting the kind of restaurant service you get even at a Denny’s in America, you might as well just ask the pilot to turn the plane around right now, because you’re not gonna get that kind of service in Italy my friend!

Most of the time Italian waiters have severe tunnel vision. There is no such thing as working a section of tables rather than one at a time. In Italy waiters get to you when they get to you; can only manage to take a drink order during their first visit to the table (mostly because ordering your meal at that same time doesn’t make sense to them. You order your meal when they come back with your drinks… about 15 minutes after you ordered them); and disappear for what seems like an eternity after the meal has been served.

You know how it gets really annoying at some American restaurants when the waiter or the manager continually comes over to see if everything’s okay at the table? Yeah, well you don't have to worry about that here because NO ONE would bother to ask you how your meal is because they’re not going do anything about it anyway! For reasons that are still unknown to me, the wait staff will pass by your table of empty dishes for 20 minutes without clearing any plates.

But here’s the absolute kicker for me; on 3 separate occasions my friend Christine or I have been asked to leave a restaurant. Yep, someone on the wait staff actually came over and said, “I need you to go soon.” One time Christine was asked to leave after only being at the restaurant for 30 minutes. She was still nibbling on her dinner plate when the waitress said she needed the table!

I’m sorry, you can talk to me about cultural differences all you want, but there is nothing as off-putting as being asked to leave a restaurant while in mid-sip of a freshly poured cup of tea! Especially when you’re not being loud, you have not stayed there without ordering an appropriate amount of food, and there is no wait at the door!

Oh Italian restaurants, if you could just adopt this one little habit from the United States, just this one little concept called restaurant service, I’d be the happiest gal on the planet!

Saturday, May 1, 2010

For Stephen

If you were still here I could share with you all the insignificant things that only you and I would understand and appreciate.

If you were still here I could tell you how sorry I was for being so judgmental when we were married.

If you were still here I could wish you happy birthday, on this day, which would have been your 40th.

But you are not still here.

You left this life 1 year, 5 months, and 18 days ago.

You left this life before I could forgive you.

You left this life before we could be true friends again.

Today, I say to you what I said to you on our six year wedding anniversary when we did not know if we would stay married.

Today, I say to you what I whispered in your ear when you were dying.

Today, I say to you what I think to myself every time I become overwhelmed by your death.

Stephen, my heart is always with you.

But today I also add, I forgive you and thank you for all you have taught me.