Monday, March 29, 2010


Today I'm hosting a guest blogger, Cherrye, who writes about her life as an expat in southern Italy on her blog My Bella Vita.  I know I can identify with Cherry's problem, how about you?

Non-Verbal Confusion in Southern Italy

I’ve been writing about life in Calabria for almost four years and in that time I’ve written a lot about my Italian language journey-from lingual misunderstandings to struggling through an Italian class and even into my quest for an all-Italian language month.  But sometimes the best misunderstandings occur right in front of me-with my eyes and ears all open and in ways I just can’t seem to put into words.

You see, you’d think that once you grasped the language, confusion would slip away like the mud packed onto a southern Italian village on a dreary, rainy day. But no. Italians are famous for their body language so it should come as no surprise that non-verbal cues can be just as tricky as their bella lingua.

To Queue or Not to Queue

Although I’ve lived in Calabria for almost four years, the lack-of-a-line-thing still baffles me. Just last week I was at the supermarket in the only checkout “line,” and was all but felt up by an elderly gentleman to the right and a white-haired woman to the left.
“Are they trying to skip us,” I asked my husband.

“Yes,” he nodded as he stepped forward and placed our items at the counter, the Italian supermarket equivalent of peeing on our space.

The couple-I’m convinced they were working together to take out the straniera-stepped back.


Or so I thought.

As we were preparing to pay, I noticed a 20-something year old man leaning over my shoulder from behind the metal bar separator.

“I just have this bottle of Coke,” he said. “I don’t have time to wait in line.”

And instead of telling him to get back in line where he belonged, the cashier looked to the person behind us, who ironically wasn’t the old man or elderly lady who’d been stepping on our heels, and he said yes.

I’ve also been skipped in line by a hurried middle-aged woman who whined about having to return to work, a thin gray-haired woman who pretended she didn’t see me and an over-excited group of teenagers who took over by sheer force.

I’m curious as to whether this sort of thing happens in other parts of Italy or just here in the south? And if it has happened to you, what do you do about it? Do you hold your ground or do you back off and let them ahead?

*Cherrye Moore is a Calabria travel consultant and freelance writer living in Calabria, Italy. For more information on traveling in southern Italy, you can visit her site, My Bella Vita or see her writing on expat life on

Photo credit:


At 3/29/2010 02:54:00 AM , Blogger Gil said...

One time when that happened to me I just left my shopping in the cart and walked out the door.

At 3/29/2010 07:23:00 AM , Anonymous Cherrye at My Bella Vita said...

Good for you, Gil! If only I had the nerve ... ;-)

At 3/29/2010 08:59:00 AM , Blogger Diana and "Guido" said...

Wow, Gil. That's conviction. It has never happened to me so far as I know. Doesn't matter to me anyway. I'm having so much fun watching it all that I have to remember why I'm there. I know.

At 3/29/2010 09:33:00 AM , Blogger Barbara said...

Sorry but I don'[t see how that affects anyone but the store! Guess I'm just a brash American, but I have no problem with saying, "excuse, me, but there's a line". As for that "I'm tooo busy to stand in line bullshit - well, it's just that- bull shit! Some people think their time is more valuable,, but sorry, my time is precious too, and standing in a line just isn't how I want to be spending it!

I say call them out on it, embarrass them, bring it to everyone's attention, and I"m betting others will thank you for it - I know they've thanked us! Walking out solves nothing, and the guilty party has no idea they were the reason!

At 3/29/2010 11:03:00 PM , Blogger Karen Riedel said...

It happens in Northern Italy, too. In Bologna, I had a woman push past me, saying she didn't want her fish to spoil. However, if you call them out, as one person suggested, you are asking for all kinds of trouble. In the first place they will gang against you since you are straniera. Second, you don't always read the situation correctly. In a train line for instance, if the ticket guy has made a mistake on your ticket, there is an unwritten law that you can break back into line. I found this out as I tried to call the guy out, and everyone turned on me. I just shrug now and let it go. Life is too short to get upset about this sort of thing.

At 3/30/2010 01:12:00 PM , Blogger LindyLouMac said...

Yes it happens here as well! I now offer if the person behind me just has a couple of items and I have a trolley full for them to go ahead. It is always much appreciated and it works both ways, people have gestured me forward with my one or two items :)
What I find annoying is the people who load every item individually into bags, checking it all again and holding up the queue, as the next customers have no where to pack their items!!
Ah the joys of shopping, never try and do it in a hurry.

At 3/31/2010 06:30:00 AM , Anonymous Cherrye at My Bella Vita said...

@ Barbara - I know this happened to a friend of mine here in Calabria, she spoke up and told them she was working, as well and basically had the other customers and store owner look at her like SHE was the bitch. I definitely don't get why it is ok.

@ Karen - sounds like what you said is what happened to my friend here in Calabria. She definitely felt like the enemy.

@ Linday - True about the bag-packing! I always feel flustered like I need to rush and get out of the way for the next customer!


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