My Night Out with the Seniors

16 Aug

Savignano, Italy

Two years ago, in August of 2010, I was working as coordinator at an English camp in the tiny Italian village of Savignano, just outside of Bologna.  My team consisted of four English teachers- not only English speakers, but actually hailing from England- which left me as the only American.  It wasn’t a big deal to me; a lot of the people I knew and worked with in Barcelona were English.  But I think I may have been one of the first Americans they had spent a lot of time with.  They were, at times, more amused by our slight cultural differences than they were by the more obvious ones between us and the Italians.  They would laugh at my use of the word bathroom over toilet, or apartment over flat.  They would chuckle at my accent or sayings.  But the thing that really got them was just how “American” I was.  They began to point out small things that never would have occurred to me as seeming particularly American.

The host families we were living with in Savignano had given us all bikes, which came in handy getting us to the school every morning and to the bar every afternoon after classes.  One evening, while trying to leave said bar in order to get home in time for dinner, one of the other teachers and I couldn’t figure out how to make the lights on our bikes work.  After trying to figure it out for a few minutes, I finally called out to an older gentleman I recognized from the bar.  “Scusi, signore!” I called.  He came over, and after having exhausting most of my Italian vocabulary on Scusi, signore, I tried to explain our predicament with a mixture of Spanish, English, and lots of gestures.  Since the five of us English teachers were already local celebrities in this small village, the signore was more than delighted to help us out and couldn’t wait to call all of his friends over.  They died laughing at my over-the-top reenactment of riding a bicycle in the dark and of shining lights.  By the time we had a large group of jovial signori surrounding us, my English coworker was bright red and couldn’t help exclaiming, “You are so American!”  I wasn’t quite sure what about this situation made me “so American,” but we eventually got the lights working on our bikes and made it home just in time for dinner.

A few days later we were sitting on the terrace outside of the bar when one of my coworkers looked down into her glass and saw a dead fly floating in her prosecco. She was really disappointed about having to buy a new glass, when I said, “They won’t make you buy a new one!  Just explain what happened and I’m sure they’ll give you another one for free.  I mean, we come here every day.”  They all laughed their “You are so American” laugh that I was now used to and my coworker told me “There is no way I’m asking them that!” in her English, I-Will-Not-Be-Demanding tone of voice.  Well, I set out to show them how things are done and brought the dead fly glass of prosecco up to the counter to explain the situation (thank God the bartender spoke a bit of English).  The bartender very sympathetically said, “Oh no, what a pity,” poured me another glass of prosecco… and asked for 2€.

Well, while I was out last Friday night, it became very clear to me where this “So American-ness” came from.  I am my mother’s daughter.  As most of you know, as I work toward getting a place in Boston, I’m staying with my Mom in Framingham, one of Boston’s suburbs.  Last Friday, I was invited out to dinner with my Mom and some of her friends.  Now, I don’t think they would mind me explaining, just to set the scene, that these friends are a little older than the crowd I would normally hang out with on a Friday night- some of them in their 50’s and some of them possibly qualifying for senior status.  I don’t think they would mind me mentioning this, because I promised them I would follow that up with the fact that last Friday night was probably one of the most hilarious nights I have had in years.

Now, let me set the scene some more.  Our party of 8 was placed in a back room with an extended family who was celebrating a child’s birthday. The construction of this room, for whatever reason, made for very bad acoustics, causing the noise volume to seem much louder than it actually was.  This caused people to feel like they had to speak more loudly, which made the children at the next table feel like they could start yelling, which startled the baby of the family so much that he started screaming, and all of this only prompted us to order lots and lots of alcohol while we waited for our meals.  And, we waited for a long, long time.  Light complaining started about this point, as everyone angrily agreed they would ask to be seated outside in the main restaurant area next time and wondered why the mother of the baby was not taking him outside to stop all the screaming.  When the meals finally started to be brought out, only three people were served.  We all waited politely for the others’ meals to arrive, as social etiquette dictates, until we realized that the other meals did not seem to be coming out anytime soon.  And that was it- my mother had had enough.

She got up to ask for a manager and, as she explained to us later, very politely and calmly told the manager that we had been waiting forever for our meals, three people had been served but felt bad about eating in front of everyone else, and on top of it all, we had a screaming baby totally unsympathetic to the fact that he was ruining our dining experience.  The manager came in and very professionally offered her apologies, which were immediately interrupted by my Mom’s friends reiterating, “You know, it’s unacceptable.  And of the food that has been brought out- the carrots are hard, the risotto is cold, and I’m still waiting for my side of pasta.  It’s just unbelievable.”  The manager left the room visibly shaking with promises to resolve the situation.  I was happy I already had my plate in front of me and I wasn’t taking any chances with the kitchen staff having some fun.

For all of the “So American-ness” in me, I have to admit I was a little embarrassed by this point.  My mother defended herself by saying that it was just unacceptable and everyone else rushed to her aid by saying things like, “I would have done the exact same thing- good for you Ellen!” and “Ya know what, it’s just not right.  It’s just not right,” while dramatically shaking their heads.  I had to laugh and say, “Alright, maybe I’ve been out of the country for too long.  I guess you’re right, we are paying a lot of money.”  “Plus, we’ll probably get something free out it now!” someone chimed in.

By the time we all finally got our meals, the family with the screaming baby had left and we were being served another round of drinks.  Everyone had calmed down a little, but I was still chuckling to myself and told everyone that, by this point, I had pretty much decided I was going to do a blog post on this.  This got us talking about the American standard of service and Americans’ demand for this service.  If someone isn’t willing or able to meet that standard, we’ll find someone else who will- and make it very clear just how much of a disappointment they are.

I think all of them were drunk with power (and cocktails) at this point.  “It pays to complain,” they told me.  “Put that on your blog.”  David told us all about how he goes into Starbucks and asks everyone to please be quiet, so that he can have a “quiet cup of tea.”  Roz told me to mention that they all “took complaining lessons from Jackie Mason.”  Even after a Wikipedia look-up, I’m still not 100% sure what she meant by that, but she seemed pretty confident it would sum it up for you all.

Well, wouldn’t you know it- it did pay to complain.  We were offered free desserts and coffee on the house as an apology.  And despite the fact that no one was in any way hungry, we ordered eight different desserts just on principle.  At this point, my memory gets a little fuzzy.  I do remember that we had gone from complaining to total, delirious happiness.  Everyone was passing around our eight different desserts, goading “Have you tried the chocolate cake?  It’s incredible!”  “You have to try the apple crisp- absolutely to die for!”  Clark started talking about the ‘60s station he has on his Sirius radio and broke out into a really long rendition of “Hello Muddah, Hello Fadduh,” everyone laughing hysterically at the end of each line.

Hello Muddah, hello Fadduh,
Here I am at Camp Grenada
Camp is very entertaining
and they say we’ll have some fun if it stops raining…

Take me home, oh muddah fadduh, take me home, I hate Grenada
Don’t leave me out in the forest where I might get eaten by a bear.
Take me home, I promise I will not make noise or mess the house with
other boys, oh please don’t make me stay, I’ve been here one whole day….

Wait a minute, it stopped hailing,
Guys are swimming, guys are sailing,
Playing baseball, gee that’s better,
Muddah Fadduh kindly disregard this letter.

The manager peeked back in and asked with trepidation if we had enjoyed our desserts.  “We enjoyed every calorie!” someone shouted out, followed by maniacal laughter all around.  The manager tiptoed back out.

The night was winding down when another baby started crying in the main part of the restaurant.  “Another f-in’ screaming baby?!  I think that’s our cue to go home.”  We all said our goodbyes with tears in our eyes from laughing so hard.  Everyone agreed we wouldn’t be going back there anytime soon and that they would be going home and opening up a bottle of Tums immediately.  And as my Mom and I arrived home at 9.45 exhausted from the evening, I thought to myself, “I am certainly not in Kansas anymore.”

But, you know, I have to say that while that Friday night out was just slightly different from my nights out in Barcelona, you guys sure know how to have a good time.  And while this Friday, I’m going out in Boston with some friends- for what is sure to be a night slightly closer to what I am used to, aside from the 1.30am last lall- we should definitely do it again some time.  And maybe next time we can get free dessert and appetizers.

Happy with their Dessert

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