Culture Clashes – The Good and the Not So Good

This is not a rant.  I am not in a foul and ugly mood.  It is just that after a while I can no longer hold my tongue.  Some things in Italy annoy me.

Kids and Cars –

Everyone out there who is as old as I am can remember the fun filled roll around in the back seat time before mandatory seat belts.  Clean it up, I’m talking about being a kid and not buckled into your assigned third of the seat.  As toddlers we would stand on the back seat of the car peering out the back window, sticking our tongues out at the drivers behind us.  Or hanging out the side window and giving trucks the arm pull down signal for tooting their big horn – then getting yelled out for sticking our heads out.  When  you were about 4,can you remember sitting on your dad’s lap and “driving the car” ?  How about those fun filled times riding in the back of the pick up truck.  Sitting on the edge of the truck bed and balancing as the wind whipped your face.  Then there was the piece of plywood my father had cut to fit the back seat of the car that my mom tossed pillows on.  it was an instant bed for long drives.  So what if the car flipped and we flopped around.  Somehow we all survived and made it to – well whatever age we are.  Then someone started keeping data on folks killed in cars.  A lot of them and many because they weren’t buckled in.  Safety first!  Seat belts save lives!  Well, where car safety is concerned, here in Southern Italy it is kind of like 1955 .  I see toddlers standing on front seats – wheeee – you can really see out the window.  Now, not all parents do that – I have seen kids buckled up for safety.  Frankly though, I see more standing on seats and hardly ever see a car seat.  Someone lovingly holds all the wee ones.  The absolute worse thing I saw was in Puglia – a helmetless tiny tyke on the back of a giant motor cycle clutching dad’s shirt as they sped through town.  Jack pointed out the kid was smiling and I was the only one having a hissy-fit.  Apparently, according to Jack, I am often the only one having a hissy-fit.   Is this car riding freedom a good thing or a not so good thing?  You decide.

You Can Dress Them Up But You Can’t Shut Them Up –

This is the second year that Comicron,  the fabulous  international comic short film festival was staged in Piazza Roma.  Artisitic Director, Ugo Gregoretti spent his younger days summering in Pontelandolfo.  It is a classy event, from the red carpet, the film stars attending, the beautifully appointed stage, to the well dressed folks sitting in the cordoned off area.  We got there a tad late and sat in the back behind the incredibly well dressed Antonetta.  She had on a fabulous long silky blue gown and dingle dangle sparkly jewelry.  How did I know her name was Antonetta?  Her pals got there later than we did and during a film bellowed ANTONETTA.  She leaped from her seat and five dapperly dressed donne chatted in the aisle next to us.  My evil eye and shushing had no effect.  Of course the young ushers also occiasionaly chit chatted in the aisle.  Jack said I am the only one it bothers and I should get over it – do you sense a “get over it” theme here?  This is not the only time chatty chicks bothered the hell out of me.  The first time I got so insensed I asked them to be quiet – the performers deserved respect.  Who were the performers?  Primary school kids! The moms in the audience felt compelled to share their shopping lists, lover’s names and whatever was on their minds  throughout the performance.   The only time they were quiet was when they were snapping pictures of their own kid on stage.  Che fa!  Is freedom of speech whenever and wherever you want to talk a good thing or a not so good thing?  You decide.

What Time Does It Start?

The producer/director in me gnashes teeth and is ready to kill when the advertised time of events are absolutely ignored.  My theory is the lack of timeliness is taught in the elementary school.  Case in point.  A few years back I went to the primary school’s end of  year show.  It was slated to start at 3:00.  Parents who worked left work early to get there by 2:00 to join the non working parents and thier toddlers in line.  Why so early?  Well audience consideration is not taught in the school either – there were not enough seats for all the parents.  People got  there early to grab a seat.  It was a hot June afternoon.  By three, standing outside the school in the sun I was drenched in sweat.  By three-thirty, I was drenched in hate and wondering why the bloody doors hadn’t opened.  We could hear the kids still rehearsing.  Hey teachers, if you don’t have it ready by now give it up.  They let us in at about 3:35.  Everyone scrambled for a seat or wall and the spectacular finally began about ten minutes later. (Don’t get me started on the production values.)  

The team that produces the events in the piazza and/or the acts they hire seem to have lost their watches too.  This year the August festaval headliner, jazzman James Senese was promoted as starting at 10:00.  At 9:30 I’m nagging Jack to get a move on so we can get to the village  before the show starts.  Jack raised an eyebrow and said , “it will start at 11:00.”  We got to the piazza a bit before  10:00 and there wasn’t any crowd.  Sitting at a table at Bar Mixed Fantasy, Jack told me to look behind me.  I did and there sat the roadies for Senese eating sausage sandwhiches at 10:00 PM.  No one was on the stage.  At about 10:45 things started to wake up and crowds started to form in front of the stage.  Somehow they knew  when the show would start.  Son of a witch, Jack was right – the show started at 11:00.  Cripes, maybe I am an Ugly American with my own expectances and Jersey girl angst.  Jack, ever living his theme with me said, ” Midge, this is Italia, get over it.”   I must say, I have never gone to events in Northern Italy – except the opera in Verona and that started about 10 minutes late – so I don’t know if tardieness is just a southern thing or universal.   In the scheme of life does timeliness really matter?  Is timeliness – or the lack thereof – a good thing or a not so good thing? You decide.

Those of you who live in or visit Italy or simply have an opinion – please join the conversation.  You decide!

Ci vediamo .  Thanks for listening.

10 thoughts on “Culture Clashes – The Good and the Not So Good

  1. I agree that late starting is crazy making for those of us who value the time of others. But years ago I had a boss who said “if you always arrive ten minutes late for work, you aren’t late, that’s the time you arrive.” It sounds like the local custom is to start an hour past announced starting time so 10 actually means 11.

    I’m with you on “talking during performances” of any level. I also hate folks who just walk up to take photos during the performance and those who leave 10 seconds before the performance ends to avoid the crowds.

    As far as kids in car memories, I was a city kid and we took buses or walked. Didn’t have a car til I was in high school. Come to think of it, there were no seat belts on the buses, probably still aren’t.


      1. I’m with you, Midgie…..a stickler for punctuality and silence during performances. But, we’re both American. Other cultures are much more relaxed about everything than we we Puritans are. Hard as it may be, un-clench your jaw and go with the flow!


  2. The moral of many of your stories seems to be “Jack is always right”. From now on in life, start with that premise and avoid all of the things that annoy you. Lori is working on me to do the same thing. It’s not going well. Miss you!


  3. I don’t know if the Expat Culture Shock thing ever wears off. I’ve been in Holland a year now. If someone were to talk during a performance those surrounding them would physically remove them. If you start late for a performance your house will only be half sold for your next show. Perhaps it’s a Northern Europe thing. We DO have seatbelt laws and motorbike helmet laws but no bike helmet laws. Probably because of so many designated bike lanes that don’t interact with traffic.

    We just got back from Portugal and it’s very laid back, like Italy. Loud people talking as if they were arguing but not actually arguing, baby’s and toddlers out at midnight. When we were in Spain the locals rarely ate dinner before 9 pm and10 was more common. It reminds me of what my good friend Dorsey would call “CP or Colored People’s” time. “We’ll get there, you know we’re commin’.” Perhaps we should take the kind of advice Dorsey gave me about it once. “Well you know where you can stick those white middle-class values of yours, don’t ya?” Time to get more zen like that Philosophy Major of a husband of yours.


  4. Ahhhh the Culture Conundrum! What fun…let’s do a Ph.D on it! So I think the answers probably lie in more questions…
    Seat belts and helmets: Are we in the US obedient or educated or both about wearing seatbelts? Did we become educated because ENFORCEMENT was more strongly in place and is the result of that educational experience that we think: ‘Better wear my seatbelt or I’ll get a ticket’ and are therefore OBEDIENT masses OR do we think ‘Better wear my seatbelt and make my kids wear theirs because we could die if we don’t’ or a mixture of both by this stage? So HOW we educate may very well influence WHAT we actually teach and the lesson we impart, don’t you think?

    Show Times and Talking: From an audience perspective – When does a collective OUTDOOR art/theatre experience change from being an outgrowth of the ‘street performer/guerrilla theatre/ busker experienceto be ‘taken in stride’ while socially engaged in some other activity like riding the subway, sight-seeing or shopping TO being a ‘theatre’ experience with the RULES of theatre etiquette and edifice in place. How does the education for that ‘switch’ take place and how is it enforced. Obviously the producers themselves appear to have a different attitude, if they started on time people would probably show up on time or maybe they tried that and nobody came? Interesting.

    Talking during shows: Well the Italians are NOT shy about letting a performer know how they feel, the claque at La Scala Opera is alive and well, having said that these folks are ‘engaged’ in the performance and responding to the performance soooo we go back to the collective experience outdoors vs. indoors and add to that the modern influence of TV which moved us away from deep engagement and respect for the performer because in our own home we’re in control of the environment we’re watching in. We can come and go to the bathroom and kitchen whenever we want, we can comment to our spouse sitting on the couch next to us about anything without disturbing anyone else or the performer. Hell we can switch the channel and turn the whole show off if it doesn’t engage us. Has audience forgotten the rules of live collective theatre experience because we’ve been in our houses in front of our TV’s for too long and now we’re sharing on social media ‘immediately’ our opinion and reaction to any performance and once again switching off it we’re not engaged. Does a ‘Live in the Piazza’ experience bring a cross-section of audience, those there socially and those there for the show?

    Point of Entry: We celebrate seeing all ages at festival events, families engaged in the Performance in the Piazza and ART as PART of LIFE. While these events may not have in attendance all the etiquette and manners expected at the MET do they not serve their purpose as a point of entry to Art, art as part of life and art education. An adult who enjoys a lively relaxed art experience in their piazza is probably more likely to support their kid doing art or theatre. Is there a correlation between the move away from the collective live performance cultural experience and dwindling audiences in theatres and opera houses?

    If these experiences are a point of entry isn’t the question how once we’ve introduced the ‘live in the piazza’ audience with the ‘free for all, enjoy as you wish at whatever time’ attitude, how do we then educate and introduce those noisy masses to the ART HOUSE, the grand theatrical edifice (be it indoor or outdoor) with all it’s requisite rules (teaching them that those rules enable us all to have an enjoyable collective experience) so all feel welcomed, not intimidated, shut out or divorced from ‘real art, high art’ or as if they are in the midst of uptight stuffy people, the upper crust who know ‘more than I do about ART and think they’re better than me’. How do we bridge the gap and teach the etiquette? And isn’t this a broader problem and question? I’ve experienced this same noisy lack of etiquette and consideration for others in the train in NJ as people yell into their cellphones or race up and down the aisle, I think social etiquette in public situations may be a problem in general rather than just at theatre/festival/piazza events.

    The Royal Opera House has Paul Hamlin week. Paul Hamlin Foundation buys the whole opera house and the tixs are given away to those who wouldn’t normally have the opportunity or wouldn’t even consider setting foot in an Opera House to watch the opera and ballet. All the seats in the main area are taken out and folks encouraged to bring cushions. Ushers and Usherettes encourage noisy groups of children and adults to whisper or use their ‘indoor’ voices in a fun friendly way not censuring and shortly after the curtain goes up, the silence is deafening, as everyone becomes engaged, regular folks who could never afford a front row seat at the opera, the poor, marginalized, adult or child. Perhaps it’s a start, a way….

    How to control those noisy crowds in the Piazza Roma ….I have no idea! 🙂 If you want them to start on time…sneak around and set the clocks back. 🙂 Crickey looking at the length of this I think I got carried away but it’s all for the love of theatre!


    1. It is all for the love of theater and the shared experience that makes the piece resonate for performer and audience. It is interesting that when bands of some repute play the piazza, there appears to be more audience focus. Well said reply to my post. Keep the conversation going, that too is art.


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