As a U.S. American living in Italy, I can tell you that there are a few things that make living here difficult. Sure, it’s beautiful, the food is amazing (and fresh!), wine is abundant and so inexpensive, and the proximity to the rest of Europe continues to amaze me. Nevertheless, there are things, and it depends on each person, that will test one’s resolve. You start to think, “Maybe living back home isn’t all that bad;” “It’s so much easier at home;” “Our system might be fucked, but it’s better than this shit!”
Perhaps one of the most noticeable cultural discomforts for me has been the sense of being watched; that my life isn’t solely mine, but shared with my the people in my building. I almost feel like I’m living in a dorm rather than in a shared apartment. Sharing an apartment is hard enough for me, but when I want to seek solace in my flat, I expect my flatmate to be the only possible impediment to this goal. Back home, if someone knocked on my door, and I wasn’t expecting anyone, I was instantly on edge. I considered whether I would answer the door. Who could possibly be knocking on my door?
But here, neighbors knock on your door to just say HI (which is really sweet, until it is when you’re napping, or not awake yet). Or, to check on me. Again, it’s seems sweet, but the level to which I am being watched is disconcerting to me. Example: We have shutters on the windows and doors. I close mine every night to keep my room really dark (and in the winter it keeps the flat warmer). My landlady once said that she knows I’m awake when I opened my shutters. But, in order to see if my shutters have been opened, she’d literally have to hang over the ledge of her window to see my door beneath her. Ok, that’s creepy. On another occasion, she asked me if I was sleeping ok. I said I was having trouble. She said she had heard me moving in my room (below her room, in another flat). I now sneak around just so she doesn’t know that I’m home. Don’t get me wrong, she’s super sweet and she’s takes such good care of me. I just don’t like feeling like I am being kept an eye on – I’m not 20-something. I’m 50-something.
Last year, when I started dating a guy, she called her friends to tell them, and proceeded to tell them anything I told her. OMG! I was mortified.
When I buy a product at the store, she might question me for buying it or tell me another product is better. She questions me when I take my laundry to the laundromat (the washing machine in our flat is tiny – sheets don’t really fit).
When I leave the building and I happen to run into one of the them, they ask me where I’m going. Or, when returning, where I have been. Seriously?
A friend of mine was telling me about a neighbour who would text her asking her if she were staying home (her car hadn’t left the parking place). My friend told that one day this neighbour texted her and asked if my friend was feeling ok. She said yes, buy why did she ask. The neighbour replied, “because I saw that you hadn’t made your bed yet; I was worried you might be ill.” Keep in mind, this neighbour lived across the street! She had to be straining to see through the windows. WTF!
Another friend just told me about her landlady. Now keep in mind that my friend is in a short-term agreement; she is only in this flat for 6 months. Part of the agreement was that the landlady will come in once a week to clean. But, it turns out it was more to check up on my friend. My friend is in her 20’s, but she’d not a partier, nor does she have friends over all the time. Still, the landlady comes in once a week “to clean.” Then my friend starting to realise the landlady would ask about her habits – food she ate, how laundry was done, and the level to which my friend cleaned. Yes, how she cleaned. “Wait a minute,” you might be asking. Doesn’t the landlady come in to clean? Well, kinda. It appears she comes in under the guise of cleaning, but really she’s checking on my friend’s life.
For many of us North Americans (and Brits), this is just too much involvement and concern in our lives. But what would be their true intention? Are they simply caring for us? Are they bored and are looking for something to talk about? So often I have to ask myself, “Why do I think our way is ‘right’?” Behavior doesn’t define intention, but does the average person stop to think about his/her intention (including ourselves)?