May 17, 2007

The doing game

I had a cultural moment this evening. In Anagni, about half way to Naples where I had accompanied my son to his B2-series volleyball game. Three grown men, in their 50-60s, were sitting on the other side of the bleachers with two drums (normal) and a "tromba" in a box-like container that made the most annoying, loud, very loud, screeching, ear-shattering noise. Not just occasionally, he hung onto this thing like a baby to a bottle for the entire game, never letting up.

I had to get up and leave during the third set (in any case, we lost), either that or walk over, pick up the box and throw it out the window.

Funny thing is that everyone I talked to after the game agreed that this noise was 1. excessive (even for a game), 2. "exasperating" 3. even damaging to their eardrums.

But no one considered taking action, or that taking action was an option. There was a certain distance from the whole issue -- pazienza e basta. What can you do about it anyway? Nothing. So why get heated up. My son agreed -- "mom, lascia stare" although it had even bothered him, while playing.

We are not very good with the "pazienza" thing. We are doers, we take action when we feel wronged. We get offended, outraged, we make reports, call lawyers, do something -- even invade another country (oops, no politics please). But in any case, we feel a compelling need to "do".

And it is hard for us to understand that this is an American cultural trait -- the doing thing -- and that not all cultures share this compulsion or, at least, not to the same extent.

A couple of years ago, I spoke on cross-cultural communications at a meeting of the International Women's Forum of Bologna. Following this evening, they started a "cultural moments" forum on their website ( One woman wrote about an incident in her gym in which the instructor(male) made some very inappropriate comments of a sexual nature aimed at one of the women in particular during the lesson. Afterwards, the locker room was a buzz, but only she (the American) said, "but you must DO something, report this incident to the management". She said that she was the only one to get enraged and demand action. The rest of the women just shrugged their shoulders, "ma, che si puo fare." She had a cultural moment -- a "doing" vs "being" one.

Anyone else out there had a similar experience?

a domani,


Anonymous said...

great post!
"Anyone else out there had a similar experience?"

you bet, practically every other day here in rome... i firmly believing in saying something, making complaints, standing up for things that are serious or trivial because it's the principle that counts. AND because i firmly believe that the only way for change/improvement to come about is if somebody points out the problem and tries to make things better.
that said, i also firmly believe that the reason why italy is in such a rut has to do with the fact that most people say “pazienza, che si puo fare?”… Perfect example: every single person living in italy hated the fact that we had to pay 5 euro to recharge our cell phones every single time, no matter what the sum was. People just complained about it for ages BUT did nothing to change it UNTIL one day a young man started a petition, got tons of signatures, and presented it to the right people, lo and behold- a new law which abolished that ridiculous “fee”. Change is possible, you just have to make it happen. And I’m a proud “doer”.

zeva said...

I'm one of those people who writes complain letters/emails all the time! To the bank, the post office, Atac (roman public transportation company), Trenitalia, etc... I always get responses, some are just "We'll take note of that", others are concrete solutions. Example: our neighborhood mailman started to get lazy and for a few weeks, instead of placing mail in each individual mailbox of our condominio, he would just throw it on the floor in a pile. Now in USA, mail is VERY sacred, you don't treat mail like this so I was outraged. I ran into a couple of people in the entryway and they were equally outraged but when i suggested we all write to the post office, they pretty much chuckled and said "You're not in america!". I did it anyway and the post office apologized and from then on, it never happened again.
Mind you, i also write letters/emails of praise when praise is due. it's not as common as my complaints but still...