Mission Statement

So there is no misunderstanding, this blog isn't just another ex-pat site full of information and miscellaneous advice (unless you consider learning through my mistakes and observations a type of advice). My vision for this blog is to let people in on the truth of what it means to live in this crazy and lovable country. If you want to continue glorifying and romanticizing Italy, then some of what I have to say may be hard for you to hear. Consider yourself warned.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Once Upon a Time In Italy

      I'm late. Rehearsal started at 8. What was I thinking stopping to browse in that shoe store?! I knew I wasn't going to buy anything anyway. Now I've over-killed my time! Which would have been okay if the bus had been conveniently waiting for me, but it wasn't and I made the wrong decision. I waited for it! I waited long enough that it made no sense to stop waiting and walk instead, like I should have done from the beginning! So I became one more sardine, packed in and marinating in the unairconditioned Roman heat. Now, after elbowing past passengers trying to get on the bus before letting me off of it and after a Berlusconian motorcade interfered with both pedestrian and vehicular traffic for a solid five minutes, I can finally see the entrance to the rehearsal hall. My legs, despite the intermittent jog, just can't carry me any faster. I'm out of breath and a drop of sweat is trickling down the back of my neck while I battle with a bag that slips off my shoulder every time I pick up the pace. I'm already dreading my entrance, worried about interrupting the continuity of the rehearsal, or worse getting flashed a withering more-effort-next-time-please glance from the director. I pause for a moment as the final pangs of the cramp in my side pass and then gently push open the door....
      About 15 of the 55 members of the choir are milling about chatting casually. Our director is still nowhere to be seen. A few people turn and greet me as, uselessly breathless, I walk in. It's 8:13pm.

      Every. Time.

      This is, of course, a simulated and more or less generic scenario. I have lived through various such permutations involving ice cream, bicycles, scarves, and political demonstrations, to name a few. Each time is as horrifyingly stressful to me as the last because I suffer from self diagnosed (and self invented) OCPD: Obsessive Compulsive Punctuality Disorder. This causes me to feel lateness as an actual physical discomfort that begins somewhere just behind my bellybutton. The more tardy I become the further the discomfort spreads until my feet are tap dancing on their own and I start singing chromatic scales while making beebledy-beebledy sounds with my index finger on my lips. Whoever is with me will not be spared the anxiety as I ask them the time every thirty seconds while obsessing over everything I could have done differently to avoid this. But here's the kicker. Every single time, after enduring painful running cramps and near collisions with slower pedestrians, I arrive at my destination... and I'm still the one who ends up waiting.

      So, a word from the wise: It's really difficult to be late in Italy. Oh, I'm not saying it's not possible to miss a plane, train, or the first five minutes of a movie. I'm talking primarily about person to person appointments. It's difficult. Really. Because I have found that no matter how late I think I am, the person or people that I'm meeting almost certainly arrive later than me. I'm sharing this tidbit of information in order to spare whomever reads it (and subsequently moves to or visits Italy) the stress and strain that may accompany any effort to be on time. Basically, appointment times, much like traffic lights, are simply more of a suggestion than a hard fast rule.

      I, however, slow down for a yellow traffic light, so where does that leave me? I'll tell you where that leaves me. That leaves me OCPD-erring on the side of caution. If a bus ride takes roughly ten minutes, I also plan for the waiting time of the bus (which could be double that) and the potential traffic or weekly worker's strike that it could encounter. So if I have to meet someone at eight, I'll leave no later than seven twenty-five. And that means that I'm more-than-frequently tragically early.

      As you can imagine I may be one of the only people in the entire country who actually organizes her travel-time this way. Most people leave late to begin with and plan for the perfect transportation scenario (something that, here in Italy, exists only hypothetically or when you don't actually have to be anywhere by a given time) therefore compounding their lateness and my irritation. The bizarre thing is that ultimately this seems to work for them because when someone says “eight-o-clock”, what is actually understood is “roughly eight thirty”, and so each arrives at “nine”, precisely and punctually late. It's not that I don't understand the theory of this trick or the stress that it could (always in theory) spare me. It's that punctuality is so ingrained in my psyche, that even if I plan to be late, I'm often still on time. 
      Then again, I've only been living here for a few years and sadly, despite my OCPD, I have recently become aware of the fact that scenarios such as the one stereo-typified at the start of this entry are becoming more and more frequent in my life. I hadn't really taken the time to notice it until a friend of mine and her husband came to Rome about a month ago from the US. Each time we were to meet up, I somehow arrived late. It was nothing drastic. Ten minutes here and there. Ten minutes that would have gone unnoticed were I meeting Italians because they would have shown up at least five minutes later than that anyway. Ten minutes that spoke volumes to me.

      Evidently Italian lateness is not something that one is born immune to, nor something that one can be vaccinated against. It is a rapidly mutating and highly contagious virus that begins to infect you the moment you board your Alitalia flight one hour behind schedule and which then continues groping it's way through your system with each speed bump you must slow down for. A fifteen minute wait for a train here, a half hour wait for a restaurant reservation there.... Before you know it you're automatically adding at least ten reckless minutes to the time on your watch. The only cure I know of is to get out of the country...fast, which is why tourists suffer no permanent damage.

      I fear it may be too late for me though. Since my mother is Italian it's probable that I was already exposed while in the womb, making me all the more susceptible now in adulthood. Even my father lived here for years, at one point apparently stating that if one really thought about it, why should a train arrive at any particular time. So let's face it, I never stood a chance. For now I still appear chronologically healthy within the framework of this country, but I'm afraid that there are too many signs indicating a slow and steady deterioration. I have found myself running to catch the train one too many times, I experience a rush of relief when I arrive late to meet a friend and she isn't there yet, I've heard myself blame fictional traffic jams for my delay... just isolated symptoms that, when put together, indicate a larger dysfunction.

      Despite the fact that perhaps this trait was misleadingly dormant in me all along, I can't help but blame Italy. I mean, what is it about this country? The Mediterranean sun? The passeggiata culture? The unreliability of the sidewalk clocks? All I know is that it is becoming ever more difficult for me to show up on time for appointments, social or otherwise. I can't help but worry about what the future has in store for me. Will I eventually become so throughly Italian that I will be able to casually walk into choir rehearsal half an hour late without batting an eyelash, confident in the knowledge that there will surely be someone who shows up later than me? I sincerely hope not. I don't think my OCPD could take it. In the mean time I leave you with this. They say that when Mussolini was in power the trains ran on time... I guess I can buy that, but I imagine that those were some very empty trains.


  1. Ah, Jessica, you are cursed with the Ordman affliction. I too cannot seem to be late. Perhaps my time in Tuscany will help me!

  2. But that's just the problem. I'm becoming less and less able to be on time!