Coming into Italy is falling into Wonderland. Some things are too big, some things too small, some pieces of American life are missing, some colorful things added, and everyone is a character.
It is a distorted mirror; at first, everything may seem normal—it is, after all, a developed country on par with the United States. But then the façade begins to shatter and a real world—a world so very different emerges.
The first thing to notice is the size. Cars are smaller (otherwise they could not park anywhere), people are shorter, cities are closed into tinier spaces. The shops are smaller, miniature ones filling in the medieval structures still standing.
Cafés and Tobaccherie (tobacco shops) rule the land, interspersed with hundreds of independent stores selling clothes and fruit and shoes and bread and hose and watches. These wonders—these independent shops with familial atmospheres—collectively take the place held by large corporations like Wal-Mart in the United States. Surrounding my apartment lay a Whiskeyteca (whiskey shop), Pasticceria (pastry shop), Paneria (bread shop), Salumeria (meat shop), Gelateria (ice cream shop), Cartoleria (stationary shop), Macelleria (butcher), Copista (copy shop), Fruttivendura (fruit shop), Pesceteria (fish shop) and… the list goes on and on.
Once I walk past all of these, I enter my (relatively new) apartment building and climb the stairs to the fifth floor as there is no elevator. It would almost be a normal university apartment, filled with Ikea furniture and generic-brand food. It is a place where dishes are cleaned by hand and the washer is opened by a spoon. Except it lacks one key ingredient: the microwave. Shocking, perhaps, but the microwave is a rare beast in Italy, even in normal households. Instead, everything can be cooked on the stove (which is lit by a lighter) and possibly by the oven, although ours scares me and I am not quite certain if it works. Another appliance gone missing is the dryer. Instead, clothes are left to hang for a day to air-dry.
Speaking of drying, every house is equipped with at least one hairdryer. Everyone must use the hairdryer. If you leave the house with wet hair or without a scarf, apparently you die immediately (or at least catch a cold).
Glancing to the right of the hairdryer is… wait… what is that? That is a bidet. The bidet is a staple in European bathrooms and it is used to clean the behind with a strong jet of water. Beside the bidet is the toilet, whose flush button is often hidden and occasionally a pedal or a string instead of a button.
While Italy has some quirks, it is just as functional as the United States. I love browsing little shops and food markets and sitting in a café that is not Starbucks, have learned to light a stove and cook without a microwave, and have gained enough resistance to walk to the third floor of Ballantine without losing my breath.