Confusing identity

Welcome to 2015, the first song playing on my iPod as I recount my first tale of the year here is Bitter, from the This Mortal Coil album, Blood, and for those back in the UK who think it’s all sunshine and red wine here, I’ll post you a photo of the snow we had earlier this month – needless to say it’s now gone and we’re back to red wine and sunshine.

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So for my first post of 2015 I thought I’d tell you about a conversation that occurred a few days ago. I was shopping and spotted an English acquaintance, we passed the time of day and as we did so a woman in the queue at the till kept looking over at us.

My friend left and I took up my position in the till queue, which here in Italy usually means a long wait, I put my proposed purchases onto the floor at my feet, and am waiting when the woman who had been looking over turns and says to me, “ You speak very good English for a foreigner.”

“Thanks,” I replied a tad confused but too engrossed in the sign advertising a 20% discount on bucatini: I’m not tempted as its probably the only pasta that I dislike .  

“Was it hard to learn?” I look up at her confused and reply with, “Not really, it sort of came naturally.”

She’s now at the front of the queue, her shopping is being scanned and tossed down to the bagging area to be retrieved and bagged by her friend, who has a look about her that reminds me of a spaniel that’s lost all of its toys. Before she pays, she turns and looks at me again and says, “Good for you, I’d have thought it was tricky, what with you being German.”

I look at my friend who is on the till, she mouths, ‘tedesco?’  meaning German? I shake my head and mouth back, ‘stupida’.

I don’t mind, but the woman in question had an accent that wouldn’t have sounded out of place on Birds of a Feather.

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Stop this Nerk (two)

So I’ve delivered the hire car back to the young man who resembles Jeff Brazier, even down to the same accent and spent the morning mooching around the arrivals hall at Stansted airport. It’s only 11.20 a.m. and I’ve noticed that there’s quite a lot of people speaking German and that the group of Eastern European men opposite me, who are swigging neat vodka out of a bottle they’re passing around are reinforcing their own stereotype. I decide it’s time to choose what will be lunch today, and having already decided it will be something healthy, I head to Pret a Manger and select a crayfish and avocado salad and return to my original seat. Opposite me now is a small boy, just a toddler and he’s eating a ham baguette that is the same length and thickness as his arms; he looks so funny dwarfed by his giant bread-stick. All around me people have their laptops open to Facebook, I switch on my iPod and it shuffles forward and Little Boots sings Motorway, as I tuck into my salad.

Motorway

I mooch some more and as I’m getting bored decide to ask if I can enter the departure lounge, as at least there’s shops to spend time in. The woman on the Ryanair desk says it’s okay and asks me to keep an eye out for the departure gate for the Pescara flight as all the information boards have malfunctioned. I join the queue at security, take off my belt: I have never understood why we have to do this. When my turn comes, the sign above my head reading, ‘stop this nerk and check his case’ must have lit up as my case has caused the machine to bleep and it’s been diverted to another bench. I’m called over and am asked if the case contains any liquids or creams. I respond in the negative but do tell the man who’s opening it that there’s a six-month supply of prescription drugs and a metal loaf tin inside. He removes the loaf tin and takes the case back to be x-rayed. The machine bleeps again and he comes back and asks me again if there’s any liquids or creams inside, again i reply, no and he smiles. “There’s deodorant inside,” he says. Recollection crosses my face and I tell him I’d forgotten it was there.

There’s now a small crowd all wanting to see what contraband is inside my case, they watch as the security guard removes two animal themed onsies, four packets of Colman’s chilli con carne mix, a retractable washing-line, a large orange rubber hoop and what looks like bags of powder. A woman leans in to see as the bags of powder are revealed and is visibly disappointed to see the bags contain turmeric, garam masala and cumin. (I’ll admit it: I’m a culinary powder trafficker). The man then retrieves three aerosols and two roll-on deodorants, “They had a sale in Asda,” I say as if that’ll make everything all right. He then swabs the case for narcotics, I assume and takes off the deodorants to be tested, before returning them to me in a plastic bag. I re-pack my case and am skulking off in the direction of departures when he calls me back. The nosey woman stops and turns to watch as he says, “You forgot these.” and I watch as he holds up a clear plastic bag containing three tubes of water-based lubricant with the words ‘Sensual Lube’ emblazoned across them. I take them from him and then say, “They had a sale on at …” I don’t go into any further details and remove myself from the security section and melt into the duty free shopping area.

Finally it’s time to join the queue for my flight, a man with a clipboard tells me it’s gate 57 and off I go, I join the long line of people waiting and just by chance catch sight of the person in front’s boarding pass and see that it says, Seville, I have no desire to go to Spain so I ask another steward with a clip board where the Pescara flight leaves and he tells me gate 55. I’m delighted to see I’m at the front of the queue, I’m joined by several Italians and before long there’s around 150 people behind me. The operative opens the gate and I hand in my passport and boarding pass, she looks at it, shakes her head and tells me I’m in the wrong place, as this is the gate for the 16.15 flight to Kaunas, Lithuania. I explain to the handful of Italians with me that we are in the wrong place and they follow me to another man with a clip-board, he checks and tells us gate 59, and we all head off hoping it’s the correct one. It was, thankfully but in all the confusion I not only lost my place at the front of the queue but found myself standing behind the nosey woman from security, who when we come to board the plane makes sure she’s several seats away rom mine.

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Sign of the Day

Only in Italy

I drive down into the valley as The Skids, coincidentally, play Into the Valley, I notice that I need fuel, so pull into a petrol station. I like the fact that the petrol stations here have staff that fill up your car for you: it’s good old fashioned service. I’ve not been to this little side-road one before and a large man saunters out of what can only be described as a portacabin. “Good morning,” he says, before asking, “You German?” I shake my head; having not been asked this for a long time, I assumed everyone had been informed by the gossip mill that the blond* man up on the hill is English.  He asks me what I want and I tell him I’d like twenty Euro of unleaded. I watch as he unscrews my petrol cap, inserts the nozzle and presses the button to release the fuel. He then proceeds to take out his cigarettes and lights one. 

The pump shudders to a stop and without removing the cigarette from his lips he puts the nozzle back in its holster and accepts the €20 note I pass him through the window. “Have a good day,” he says as another car pulls in and he wanders off, ash dropping from his cigarette as he asks the driver what they want. I drive away smiling as the iPod shuffles and Sirens, by The Temper Trap plays. Only in Italy could you be served with petrol by a man who is smoking, yet another quirk to file away in my memory.

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 *Just to point out why the word, blond is flagged up. A while back I was messaged by an American girl who said “You mustn’t be a very good writer if you carn’t [sic] spell blonde.” Obviously I had to reply correcting her spelling of, can’t and informing her that girls are blonde with an e and that boys are blond without the e.

No! I Am Not

Now I know I stand out when I’m out and about in town. It’s not the colourful clothing I choose to wear or the fact that despite my advancing years, I’m sporting a cockscomb hairstyle, (blame the punk era)better suited to a twenty-something that singles me out.  it’s the fact that I’m naturally blonde (now more a greyish white) and blue eyed. This leads to lots of staring by the swarthy, olive skinned, raven haired locals. Some older members in the village look at me with suspicion and mutter behind their hands. This happened yesterday, doing my best to maintain my standing as a local I dropped into the local bar again for a coffee. The pretty young girl behind the counter recognised me, scoring me another, Barry’s a local point. I ordered my coffee and standing at the bar noticed two elderly signorina’s staring at me, one muttered something to her companion, who dipped her eyes as I smiled and wished her good morning. Then the question came, “Lei Tedesco?” (Are you German?”) I replied letting them know I was English and not German, suddenly their demeanour changed and they both smiled and wished me a good morning. It really is a case of, don’t mention the war.

I then went with Fabrice to purchase cement, we arrived at the builder’s yard and I went into the office to get the paper-order to hand to the young man on the fork-lift truck to collect for us. As I entered the chatter stopped instantly and the two ladies in the office looked at me; rather like rabbits in headlights. I said hello and one of them relaxed slightly, and then asked me, if I was Swedish. “No,” I told her, “but I am partial to a little bit of ABBA.” The sarcasm was wasted on her. “Sono Inglese,” I then said, in an attempt to raise the temperature in the room. “Ahhh,” they both said in unison. “Inglese. Birmingham, London?” Shaking my head I replied, “No, abito qui.” (I live here). Just then as my order was being scribbled into the order book an man came into the room, he looked at me and scowled, seeing this the older of the two women said to him, “He’s English,” the man asked, “Are you sure he’s not a Russian?” The younger woman handed me the slip of paper and then said to the man, “No he’s not Russian or Swedish.”

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I took my order out into the yard muttering that I wasn’t a fan of the musical Mama Mia either, the lad on the fork-lift truck took the order from me and then said, “Are you a German?”

I just rolled my eyes, waited for my cement and wondered how much hair dye would cost.

And to add insult to injury, on the drive back the iPod shuffled and Abba kicked off with, Knowing Me, Knowing You.