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The Timing Thing

January 3, 2020

Okay. You all know that I live in the South Tirol of Italy where, shall I say, things are a tad different than in the United States. After being here for so many years, my wife and I have generally adapted to most of the differences. In fact we have embraced them wholeheartedly with the notable exception of the timing thing. Let me explain.

Where to begin? Let’s start with the strict ordering of the hours that local businesses keep with very few exceptions. On Sunday, everything is closed, period! Then the fun begins. Mondays, for some unknown reason, are subject to either all-day closures or morning hours only rules. Tuesday and Wednesday are normal enough but then comes Thursday when everything is closed in the afternoon in our province. Friday is again normal but Saturday brings closures in the neighboring villages which lie in Bolzano Province. Add to this the fact that all businesses are closed from between noon and three in the afternoon on days when they are open and you get a mess so big that you need to write it down on paper. We do.

Ah but when we are in a hurry, we forget. I can’t count the number of times I’ve driven to the nearby village of Fondo on a Monday only to find the familiar sign: Chiuso. Likewise I seem to constantly show up at a store at precisely noon only to see the owner hurriedly lock the door in front of me. We seem to never fully learn and that results in repeated shopping trips and frustration.

But wait, there’s more. Restaurants hereabouts each have a closing day (Giorno di riposo), chosen by their owner with no particular reason. Seven different restaurants are apt to have seven difference closing days. Yes, we’ve written all of those down on paper too. It’s the timing thing.

Then there are the holidays, which number many in Europe and particularly in Italy. I’ve tried to memorize all of these because I can’t port around a piece of paper long enough to list them all. This year we did it again! We missed the German holiday of the Pentecost. Yikes! Shame on me. We got stuck on a back road in our car going to a neighboring village in the midst of an on-foot procession that went on for a half a mile. Again, it was the timing thing.

We have tried to adopt a strict rule of staying home during local holidays of all sorts. There are just too many people on the roads. We once tried to eat out for Easter only to learn one needed to make a reservation two months in advance. As I recall, we settled for a tuna sandwich at home. We also learned of the crafty Italian ponte, the practice of bridging a holiday to a weekend in order to evade working. I still get this one screwed-up regularly, leaving us muttering as we drive back home empty handed or empty bellied.

To top it all off is the Italian logic of timing. People consider it proper to be late for dinner or other appointments from between 20 minutes and a half hour. It is sort of required. Call me an American but I consider it just plain rude. I have told many a dinner guest, “Show up on time the next time or don’t show up at all.” So far, our friends have complied for dinner. For other appointments, they revert to their plus twenty rule.

Lastly there is the infamous torno subito (be right back) sign. These are often posted on a shopkeeper’s door. The trouble is that they actually mean he’s not coming back at all. I once waited two hours for a shop owner only to be told be a neighboring shop that the proprietor never comes back after putting up that sign. When I inquired as to the validity of subito, the answer was “Bo!”

Trades people in Italy are notorious for never getting back to you with estimates or keeping appointments. There are always tons of excuses that make no sense, the most popular being: “Avevo un giorno intenso!” Hey, we all have intense days but most of us go forward with our commitments just the same. This popular excuse is followed by family illnesses (real or imaginary), road problems (usually real) and “Mi scusa, ho dimenticato.” We all forget but not with the consistency of Italians.

The timing thing: You learn it or you don’t. I have to admit I seemed to have flunked the course.

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15 Comments
  1. This is so interesting! The customers definitely seem to have gotten the short end of the stick! Still, in some ways it sounds like an enviable lifestyle. Do the local customers ever express the same frustrations you do about the signs and flexible store hours or does it not bother them because that’s their normal?

    Liked by 5 people

    • Italians long for an “American style retail” environment. Recently, large stores in larger cities have opened with 7 days a week service. without the 3 hour intervalo. It’s essential to working families.

      Liked by 3 people

  2. Having a casual attitude about all these things probably makes for a more relaxed lifestyle. But I’m like you and it would likely drive me.crazy.

    Liked by 5 people

  3. Esagerato! Ovunque, nei piccoli centri, succede la stessa cosa. Nelle grandi città è diverso, anche in Italia.
    Quanto al numero dei giorni festivi, non mi pare che siano enormemente più numerosi in Italia che negli USA:
    https://it.usembassy.gov/it/festivita/

    D’accordo, invece, nel considerare maleducazione l’uso di arrivare in ritardo agli appuntamenti.
    A proposito, segnalo un’interessante conferenza del prof. Alessandro Barbero sugli orari dei pasti:

    Richiede attenzione per quasi un’ora, ma secondo me è tempo ben speso.
    Cheers.

    Liked by 4 people

  4. Well, one thing is for certain: I’d never survive in that kind of environment. I’m too buttoned down. I give you credit for all that you endure. 🙂

    Liked by 5 people

  5. 😉😉😉💖

    Liked by 4 people

  6. I read you I read you with growing interest It is a little smiling ( do not be offended ); since we moved my husband and I from the city to a country exactly what happens to you is happening We two are alone Here we have no relatives the children do not they are happy but we don’t survive we have our own habits of hobbies we have the garden I think my husband is right when he says it is not the strongest organisms that survives but who is able of adaptation, I realize that it takes effort but there is no other way to go.
    🙂

    Liked by 4 people

    • Per favore, non fraintendere. Adoriamo il nostro piccolo villaggio e tutte le persone in esso. Tuttavia, siamo americani alla fine della giornata e alcune cose ci frustrano. Siamo gli unici americani nella nostra zona, quindi abbiamo imparato ad adattarci.

      Buon fine settimana Marzia

      Like

  7. Sounds like a great place to write though. Lots and lots of patience. Not a strong suit for most Americans. 😊

    Liked by 3 people

  8. Hi, thanks for the visit 🤗

    Liked by 2 people

  9. Wow! I would have difficulty adjusting there!

    Liked by 2 people

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