Impressions

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It’s grey and cold in Perugia today.  We only have five weeks left before we pack up and fly home.

I can’t help getting into reflective moods these days.  I think about regrets and highlights.  I think about the year in Italy nearing its end.  I think about coming home.

Lately, whenever we bump into people, they ask us questions about our experience here and our return to America.

Several have asked us if we wish we could stay longer. The thought of leaving gives me knots in my stomach; however, I think a year is probably just right. We’ve seen the four seasons, experienced all the holidays and worked through an entire school year.  We’ve had enough time to really get to know Perugia, see most of Umbria and visit 18 cities outside this region (with six more planned).  We’ve lived big, and we’ve embraced each day.  We’ve been observers of the Italian culture for nearly 11 months.  However, by the end of June, I’ll be ready to return to where I belong.  I’ll be ready to be part of my own culture and be with friends/family who really know us.

Another common question people ask is what our favorite Italian cities are.  This is a tricky one to answer because Italians act offended if their hometown is not the favorite.  So naturally, we agree with them. Secretly, Ray likes Florence, Tom likes Lucca, Matt and I like Rome the best.

A few weeks ago, someone asked us to describe our impressions of Italy.  He wanted to know the little things that surprised us or struck us as unexpected.  As an example, he commented that on a trip to America, he was amazed that people bought milk in one-gallon containers.  How would you ever finish it before it expires? he asked.  He also thought Costco was weird.  After thinking about this question, we listed our observations:

The presence of hazelnuts.  It seems to be everyone’s favorite flavor of ice cream.  It’s often in chocolate bars.  And many breakfast pastries and desserts have hazelnuts or a combination of chocolate and hazelnuts.  I haven’t met an Italian who doesn’t LOVE HAZELNUTS.
Today's flavors: chocolate/hazelnut/vanilla, hazelnut/chocolate chip/grapefruit and vanilla/hazelnut/strawberry

Today’s flavors: chocolate/hazelnut/vanilla, hazelnut/chocolate-chip/grapefruit and hazelnut/vanilla/strawberry

School work is an art form.  The correct answer isn’t as important as color-coding each step.  It’s no wonder some of the greatest artists were Italian.  Grid paper is also used to align the various components of an assignment.  It’s taken the boys all year to accept the “form over content” mentality.
compare September vs. May

compare Tom’s work: September vs. May

Regionalism.  Everyone is proud of their own city and their region.  Being Italian is secondary to being Roman or Florentine or Perugian.  At home, if I brought someone a gift from another place, it would be special, unique and cool.  Here, to most Italians, it would be an insult.  I tried this with Theos chocolate from Seattle.  I gave some to a friend and later wished I hadn’t. Banana-chocolates from the local “Vannucci” chocolatier are a more appropriate hostess gift than an exotic brand from outside Perugia.
Gestures.  Italians talk with their hands.  Someone told us this is because every region has their own dialect.  Sicily and Sardinia have their own language.  So before the peninsula was united and schools taught standardized Italian, people relied on hand motions to help communicate.
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Eating.  I don’t understand how Italians eat so much and so fast.  I can never keep up. I’ve seen disapproving looks when we go out to eat with friends.  Someone once shook her head at my unfinished dinner and said, “What a shame.  It’s better your stomach bursts than leave food on a plate.”
Drinking.  At sporting events and parties, Italians don’t drink much.  They act drunk, but they aren’t.  In America, we drink to liberate ourselves, open up, and feel happy.  Italians are like that without drinking.
The customer is always wrong.  Here, you have to look out for yourself.  If you buy the incorrect size, you keep it.  If you buy a defective product, you keep it.  There are no cash returns.  You are responsible for leaving the store with the right merchandise.  I’ve been burned several times, even in a restaurant.  The other day I ordered cherries for dessert. The waiter brought a bowl of wrinkly, sour, old looking cherries. I could only eat a couple.  When he asked how my dinner was, I explained the problem with the fruit.  He looked at me like I was an idiot and said that it’s still a little early for good cherries.  My fault.
Protection of children.  Italians don’t leave kids alone, not even 14-year-olds.  It’s considered dangerous and bad parenting.  A couple times, Matt and I have left the kids in the apartment while we go across the street for dinner or on an evening walk in our neighborhood, but I’d never tell an Italian this.  Once, when Tom was playing by himself right outside our apartment, he was picked up by the police and brought home.  They told me that I shouldn’t let my 12-year-old play by himself outside even though it was still sunny out.  Ray, in fifth grade, is not allowed to walk five minutes home alone after school.  Teachers will not dismiss him without a parent.
Finally, it is becoming evident to me that Italians don’t have a lot of experience saying goodbye.  This may be because an Italian doesn’t move around the country the way an American does.  They usually don’t live outside the town of their birth.  Many Italians live within a block of their mammas, papas and siblings. And several of our friends live in the same building as their parents.  So they don’t get much practice saying goodbye. When we talk about leaving, Italians say, “Don’t worry, just come back and live here again.” They don’t seem to understand that while we may visit sometime in our life, we will never come back to live.  The awkward sadness that I’m feeling doesn’t translate well.
Therefore, next month, when we say our final goodbyes and close the door to this apartment for the last time, I’m handing out postcards of Seattle with our address on it. We have room in our house for visitors and I’d love to bring some of Italy to our home. When they tell us to “just come back” I will invite them to come to America.  In the meantime, there are still five weeks if anyone can make it over here.

Sports, School and Ice Cream (written by Tom)

by guest blogger Tom

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My favorite thing to write about is football, especially the Huskies.  This fall I wrote weekly reports on college football.  I watched every Husky game from our computer here, and I’m excited to go to all the home games next fall.

There aren’t many Italians who know what real football is.  Some think it’s soccer, and some think it’s rugby.  Most people think I’m a rugby player.   I wear a Husky football jersey to school every day under my uniform.  On Thursday when I have PE, I get to wear shorts.  P.E. is one of my favorite classes.  So is French.

I wear a Husky football jersey to school every day under my uniform.

These are all the boys in my class except one, who was absent today.

But I don’t really like school that much.  In Math, we have to be very organized.  We have to use a red pen for the title at the top of the page, a black pen for headings, a green pen for lines and line segments, a blue pen for showing our work and a pencil for drawling angles and pie charts.  And the big problem is, we are not allowed to use white-out or erasers, so if you mess up, you have to start over.  Yesterday I asked my teacher why we couldn’t always use pencils and erasers.  She said that people would take home their assignments after they were corrected, erase all the incorrect answers and replace them with the right ones.  However, students still find ways to cheat.  The other day, I caught three of my classmates using cheat sheets for a test, so I got up, grabbed the cheat sheets, and turned them into the teacher.  Luckily, the three boys weren’t mad at me and they agreed not to do it again.  Hopefully, this will put an end to cheating in my class.

We have a class called Antologia where we read stories.  The stories are confusing.  I understand the words in Italian, but the story itself doesn’t really make sense.  For instance, there was one called “The Wolf and the Sheep.”  This is how it goes:

One day, a wolf and a sheep arrived at a drinking river at the same time.  The wolf was mean and wanted an excuse to eat the sheep.  He said, “Why are you dirtying my water?”

The sheep replied, “How could I dirty your water? You’re farther up stream than me.”

Then the wolf said, “Six months ago you were saying bad things about me.”

“Six months ago I wasn’t born,” the sheep responded.

“Your dad was saying bad things about me,” said the wolf, and he grabbed the sheep and ate him.  THE END.

In art history, we are studying columns.  There are three types of ancient Greek columns: the Doric, the Ionic, and the Corinthian.  On Sunday I found a Corinthian column in a town we visited.

In art history, we are studying columns. There are three types of ancient Greek columns: the Doric, the Ionic, and the Corinthian. On Sunday we found a Corinthian column in a town we visited.

One good thing about my school is that the teachers sometimes don’t show up.  This week, we have gone to school for 15 hours and for 10 of them the teachers were gone.  When this happens, we go into another classroom and write, draw, read or do whatever we want to.  Right before school got out today, we heard that all but one of our teachers for tomorrow are sick.  The principal gave all the kids the option to go to school or not.  You can probably guess what I chose.

One of the worst things about school is that we go six days a week. Then on Sunday, my one day off, my parents take us sight-seeing and we have to look at piazzas, churches and museums.  Last weekend we went to Montefalco and Bevagna, but at least I got to bring my football.

I played catch with my dad in the main piazza

I played catch with my dad in the main piazza.

While we were there, we went to a museum that was kind of boring, but at least it wasn’t very big.  My mom and I counted angels.  We found 96 in the main part of the museum.  Then as we were about to leave, we found a special angel-only exhibit downstairs.  The first one looked like a wide receiver who missed a catch.

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And the second one looked like a disappointed coach

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We have only 149 days left, and I’m glad.  I like Bellevue better.  I think everything is better back home like my friends, my school, my house, and even the food. At least here I can get gelato every day.  My favorite flavors are lemon, vanilla cream and chocolate chip, but I like Baskin-Robbins more because the ice cream is colder and the flavors are better.  I can’t wait to get home and eat pink bubblegum ice cream, cinnamon firehouse, and poprock swirl.

Me in Italy (written by Ray)

by guest blogger Ray

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School has been going really well for me ever since Christmas break and the week I was sick.  I’ve been understanding a lot more in Italian.  I use to get easier work than the Italian kids in school, but now I do the same exercises and homework as them.  I think it’s fun.  Also, conversation is easier to understand.  I hardly ever have to say “Non capisco.”

My favorite class in school is Italian grammar because the teacher is really nice to me and it’s the easiest class.  Right now we are studying comparisons and superlatives.  For instance, if something is good, we say it is “buono.”  If something is better, we say “migliore.”  If something is the best, we say “ottimo.”  At first it was confusing, but my tutor Paola helped me understand.

In history we are learning about the Etruscans.  They lived before the Romans.  Where they came from is a mystery, but they lived in here Umbria and around the center of Italy.  They were the ones who invented the arch.  They were really good architects.  When they wrote, they wrote from right to left, and they did not have spaces between their words.  They wrote with a different alphabet than ours.

This is an Etruscan arch.  It's the most famous arch in Perugia.

This is an Etruscan arch. It’s the most famous arch in Perugia.

My least favorite class is science.  Right now we are studying the body.  We are learning about breathing, muscles, bones, intestines, nerves, veins and cells.  There are some funny pictures in my science book like a rotting orange, the Italian food pyramid, a little baby sitting on a potty, and an angry boy riding a bike.

This is a picture from my science book.

This is a picture from my science book.

We always have a break at 10:15.  That’s when we get to have a snack and talk.  My friends are Alberto, Andrea, Gaia, Anna, Alessandro and Teresa.  During break the boys sing Gangnam Style or play charades.  Actually, I don’t play charades because I have no idea what they are acting out.  Sometimes they do things and I don’t know what it is suppose to be.

This is me with my classmates.  I'm sitting between Andrea and Gaia.  In the background is poster of me that my class made at the beginning of the year.  It says, "Welcome to our school."

This is me with my classmates. I’m sitting between Andrea and Gaia. In the background is a poster of me that my class made at the beginning of the year. It says, “Welcome to our school.”

Today during snack time, I talked with Gaia.

Today during snack time, I talked with Gaia.

After school, I come home for lunch, check my emails, do my homework and get gelato.  I go across the street to Grom for gelato.  Right now my favorite flavors are cream, lemon, chocolate and stracciatella.  The most common flavor is hazelnut.  Vanilla is not very popular, and it’s hard to find.

Sabrina and Verenna and me.  Today I ordered three scoops and some whip cream.

Sabrina and Verena and me. Today I ordered three scoops of gelato and some whip cream.

We are half way through the year. It has been fun when people visit us, but I’m also excited to go home.  I miss our backyard and our house and our neighborhood and my friends.  But when I leave I will miss the gelato, the food, my Italian friends, all the traveling on Sundays and vacations.

Cone or a Cup?

Matt in front of Perugia’s central Post Office.

It’s been a week.  We are just beginning to navigate the nuances of cultural idiosyncrasies.  Just beginning.  Today we needed to get our Permesso di Soggiorno (another ridiculous document that allows us to stay in Italy for the year – as if the visa wasn’t hard enough).  So Matt stepped up to the challenge and talked his way through several obstacles at the post office.  This led us to three additional government buildings, at which point we were instructed to return tomorrow.  (That sounds familiar.)

By then it was time for ice cream.  With Umbria Jazz over, the line for gelato was less than five minutes.  And the boys are finally getting the hang of how to make an order.  Here’s how it goes: They begin by specifying a cono or a coppetta depending on whether they want it in a cone or a cup.  Then they select the size.  Italians don’t say, “one scoop or two,” (because the ice cream is transferred via a spatula).  So instead, they say, “piccolo , media or grande”.  After that, they chose the flavor.  If they can’t decide between amaretto and peach, for instance, they have them both.  Finally, the server may ask if they want panna.  That’s Italian for whip cream.

The last topic is bread.  This would be insignificant except for the fact that our fridge is still broken and we’re still eating out every night.  And since Italians don’t eat dinner till 8pm, and since we’re still acclimating, we sit down starving.  Luckily, the waiter soon brings bread.  However, it’s dry and tasteless . . . confusing . . . because everything else tastes good in Italy.  The answer for this travesty:  The Pope.   Here’s the proud story we’ve heard repeated over and over.  Hundreds of years ago, the Pope put a huge tax on the Perugians’ salt.  They rebelled and didn’t buy his damn salt.  The boycott worked, and to honor their victory, Perugians have never added salt to their bread since.  Hilarious.  In your face, Pope.

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