February 21, 2007

Standing in line

Yesterday I overheard a conversation on the tram among group of American study abroad students. “So, like, when you, like, try to get some pizza and you try to get in a line, but, like, there is no line, just no line – there is not even a system for a line!”

Yes, this is a tough one; it hits every time I take an Alitalia flight back from NY. The hostess calls out, “first boarding lines 34-60 only” and EVERYONE stands up and crushes in, “ah yes, I am going home”. So, why do they do that? And why don’t we?

I know they don’t do it just to drive foreigners crazy, so there must be a rationale, we just have to figure out what it is. I got part of the answer by watching the little boy at my feet on the same tram. He was dressed up in his carnevale outfit and holding his mother’s hand. I leaned over and asked him who he was dressed up as. He briefly looked my way, stone-faced, and turned to his mother to know what to do. She gave him very clear clues that he should look only at her and he never looked back, not even out of curiosity, and spoke only to his mother, no one else on that tram existed for him.

When this little boy grows up, having learned that the people with whom he should interact are prioritized into concentric circles of family, relatives, family friends, school friends, he may not notice you as he walks into the pizza shop and therefore “cut in line”, a line that he just didn’t notice. You are out of his vision, out of his circle, out of his group and he has no obligation to notice that you exist. For him it is just the way things are, you don’t notice people (and cars) that are out of your circumscribed circle of vision.

I often see people stopped in the middle of the sidewalk or an exit chatting with friends, not noticing that you need to pass until you finally interrupt, “SCUSATI”. Then they turn and look and see you for the first time, slightly surprised that you are talking to them and, without a word and while continuing their conversation, move ever so slightly aside, just enough to let you pass -- the same in-group orientation perhaps.

It’s the only rationale I can come up with after a visit to the base of the iceberg, and you?

A domani,

1 comment:

american girl in italy said...

When I first moved here I could NEVER get anything done because the little old ladies were constantly cutting in line - well, I guess cutting in line is not correct, since there was no line, but they would always go to the front. I used to, out of respect for elders and all that, just let them go. After a few weeks of that, and two hour trips to the bread store, I pushed back. haha Everytime I go to the store, anywhere, I form a line, behind all the open tellers, waiting for teh next available. ALWAYS someone will walk right up to an opening one, and cut. Last time I threw my purchases down and walked out. I showed them! haha All I got was no new clothes...

God love em, but they drive me crazy.

Have you ever seen this clip of the differences between Europeans and Italians? It is hilarious.

I just found your blog. Look forward to reading more. :OD