Buon giorno, ragazzi.

I suppose it was inevitable, really. I mean, after a time people change. Adaptation to the local environment is one of the things that not only
distinguishes but, in fact, keeps us homosapiens alive and kicking through the ages, si?

I am beginning to fancy myself an Italian. What does that mean, I hear you ask. Let me answer it this way. The following is a list of new or adapted behaviors. Feel free to alert David Attenborough.

1. Use of sunglasses or, as they're known locally, gli occhiali di sole.

Rome is sunny. This not only makes it a lovely place in which to live, but also gives one a built-in excuse for walking around like Ray Charles. I sport a rather
flash pair of Guccis and stroll the streets protecting myself against dangerous ultra violet rays and paparazzi. And feeling awfully fab. (Isn't it true? We just feel more glamorous in sunglasses. With regular glasses, you feel like 4-Eyes or the class dork. But with SUNGLASSES, wow, suddenly you're Claudia Cardinale circa 1968 and you are hot, hot, hot.)

2. Use of the word Ciao.

I say it without a trace of irony. I no longer giggle as the hard C leaves my mouth. And, as time passes, I am even treading into the Ciaociao territory. VERY
Italian, that.

3. Obsessive devotion to the black turtleneck.

I now bear an uncanny resemblance to a U-boat commander. In occhiali de sole, of course. Should they ever decide to film Das Boot The Sequel, I'm ready for
my close-up, Signore DeMille.

4. Loose interpretation of time schedules.

I am NEVER late for anything. I’m American, for God’s sake; we get to the office before sunrise. I’m at the airport hours before they even start checking in my flight. But now I live in the Land of Late. So, time for some cultural adaptation.

Here’s how it works. If you tell someone you'll meet them at, say, 6:00 in the evening, you should: a) make plans with someone else for 4:00 which means, this being Italy, that you’ll already be running anywhere from 30 to 50 minutes behind schedule before you even start; b) decide to take a walk in the dead opposite direction to your next scheduled appointment; c) order a coffee 15 minutes before you are due to meet your next appointment; d) LINGER.

Time? What's time? 'Tis this approach that gives riseto the famous "Domani, domani." Of course, with the Italian postal service and Alitalia as the national
airline, blind adherence to time tables is a colossal waste of time.

I am considering throwing away my watch. Except it’s Gucci. So it goes with the sunglasses. Which look so good with the turtleneck. And, it’s Italian, too. Which brings us to the next point.

5. Nationalistic approach to things that REALLY matter: food, shoes and wool.

Never, ever, ever, EVER allow yourself to buy lunch, footwear or a new winter coat from any country other than Italy. The other day, for example, I found myself poised over the yoghurts in a small grocery. I was about to purchase a rather tasty looking one when I noticed it was made in Germany. Now, there's
nothing wrong with German food. God knows the anti-bacterial measures are beyond reproach. Second only to the Swiss, I would think. However, I immediately felt a type of nationalistic revulsion. Eat food from another nation? Mai! This may the EU --- one gigantic market --- but, REALLY, only buy the stuff from Italy.

6. Willingness to accept that no conversation should EVER be considered private.

Here's the thing. The telefonino is a vital part of life. First of all, given the above, you spend most of your time walking around in the dark and running late. Contact with the outside world is therefore vital. It is a given that you will spend time talking on the phone while walking around the city. Talk about multi-tasking. You're supposed to be able to talk on the phone, walk in high heels, navigate in the dark, flirt outrageously, chew on a crostini and avoid Death by Vespa. Oh, and look absolutely fabulous while doing so.

Imagine, then, the sheer relief when you enter the quiet of a restaurant. I mean, you sit down, you wait for your friend who is even later than you are, you adjust your sunglasses, you reapply your lip gloss so as to ensure you look your best (because life, after all, is about accessories and the need to be stunning) and then you think, si, I'll call so and so. I mean, why not? Perche non? EVERYONE ELSE is doing it. Restaurants have become the new calling centres.

(Truthfully, I don't talk on the phone in a restaurant. And this is, of course, how the locals are able to determine that I need the English language menu. It's either that or the fact that my hips are 17 inches wider than the average Italian's...)

7. A post-lunch lactose intolerance.

Cappuchino and cafe latte are ONLY meant to be taken up to the lunch hour. Once your body has injested even a medicine dropper's worth of vino, you are to avoid milk like the plague. I learned this the hard way.

One afternoon, early on in this midlife bonanza, I made the mistake of ordering a café latte at a small bar opposite my school. Suddenly, in a scene worthy of Edvard Munch, a group of horrified people turned to stare and gape. Telefoninos went dead. Hand gestures stopped mid-air. The barista, making sure he had heard me correctly, asked: "Un caffe latte, cara? Si?" I nodded tentatively,
obviously aware that this was the cultural equivalent of a turd in the punchbowl.

THAT mistake has not been repeated. Now I, too, am able to scorn and pass judgment on those poor, misguided souls topping off their meals with a cow
product. It feels good to sneer. Part of the crowd and all that. (Truthfully, the Italians never sneer. Well, except in the case where someone has opted for a bad
perm and an exceptionally bright sweat suit. But, face it, that kind of lunacy is worthy of a good sneer, no? In nearly every other case, the Italians simply point
out that here, in EEEEEEET-a-lee, zis is not done, okaaaaaaaaaaay?)

8. Devotion to happiness and good news.

The Italians love life. This is what I'm really discovering. I have yet to hear anyone talk about their work or, more to the point, complain about the stresses of their jobs, etc. And, trust me, this is not what you'd call a quiet country. Everyone's talking but no one is complaining. Unless of course the topic is Berlusconi. Or Bush.

The truth is, I came here --- unknowingly, I think --- to fall in love with life. And that's exactly what has happened. I pinch myself daily and think, Wow, this is
as good as it gets. Sure, sure, it's lovely not to have to think about work and deadlines and all that. But that's not what I mean, exactly. What I mean is
about attitude. A way of living a life. What I'm finding in Italy is the sheer joy of being alive, the richness of living in the moment. I didn't really know
that's what I was looking for but now, upon reflection, I realise that's EXACTLY what I wanted.

And so the adventure continues.

Until next week,

Tanti baci,



© Copyright Amy Selwyn 2004