OUT WITH THE OLD, IN WITH THE NEW : LITERALLY!
By Damion Michaels
Every year around New Year's time, I think of
my first few months of living in Naples, Italy. At the time, I was
not yet 21 years old and although I thought myself to be worldly and
much older than my years, culture shock was getting the better of
I arrived in Italy in August and through a chance meeting, I landed
a beautiful (and furnished) apartment overlooking the bay of Naples,
a telephone, electricity, and a genuinely smart and beautiful crowd
of Italian friends. Someone neglected to tell me that apartments are
impossible to come by, especially furnished; that telephones take
around eighteen months to get; and electricity is easy to get as long
as you had a couple of month's patience. As for the Italian friends,
from day one I learned that all one needed to do was to ask for directions
on the street and they were likely to receive an invitation to dinner.
What, me worry? I am the worldly guy. This is normal, right?
The only thing I worried about was the language. I did not speak Italian.
But my new friends were determined to teach me and constantly dragged
me to every social function imaginable. So I learned Italian by watching
reruns of Star Trek and Loveboat with an Italian dictionary, pen and
pad nearby, and socializing with my Italian friends who spoke very
little English. By holiday's time, I had this "living abroad
thing" down to a science because I spoke conversational Italian
with little effort. What, me worry? I can handle anything. Day in
and day out, I learned new things about Italian culture. But nothing
prepared me for the holidays.
When the holidays arrived, I had no place to celebrate Chanukah. This
meant that I would celebrate my holidays the Italian Catholic way.
I had a wonderful Christmas with an Italian family, that practically
adopted me as one of their own, and I experienced first hand the graciousness
and love of the Italian people. They even found a menorah and we lit
candles (forget which day it was)---all of them. It was a wonderful
evening and I was emotionally overwhelmed at the affection afforded
me. I thought that this was one cultural difference I could easily
warm to. But this is normal for me, right? I am the worldly guy.
The rest of the week was a barrage of holiday parties and strange
little customs. All were in good fun. I was told that on New Year's
Eve to not park my car on the street and be ready for dinner at 10:00
pm. Did I mention that dinner plans usually started at 9:00 pm anyway?
What, me worry?
On, New Year's Eve, my friends arrived to my apartment promptly at
10:00 pm. We walked around the corner to a beautiful little restaurant
called the "Il Cottone Club" or the Cotton Club. We had
a spectacular meal, wonderful conversation and more wine than I care
to admit---but hey, we were walking remember. I learned that the remainder
of our evening involved coffee afterwards and then a trip to a jazz
club. My culture shock was disappearing more with each passing minute.
I left the restaurant with a wonderful feeling. Anxious for more conversation
over coffee, our group settled at the sidewalk tables at the little
Café behind my apartment. I noticed that the streets were eerily
quiet and devoid of parked cars or traffic. Someone announced the
time and the crowd agreed in unison to something that I did not understand.
We all ordered our coffee and conversation picked up where it was
left off in the restaurant. This was the life, I told myself. Just
then some shouted "Due minuti". "Two minutes?"
I wondered aloud.
Without interrupting conversation, the group picked up their coffees,
cigarettes and purses, and they all casually moved to the archway
of the Café. I then heard the familiar count down to a New
Year's Eve. "Tre, due, uno, Buon Felice Anno" rang out.
And kisses and hugs broke out all around. I stepped out of the archway
to give a friend a hug on the other side of the crowd. In a flash,
I was grabbed by my collar and yanked into the archway. Still trying
to determine if I had broken some Italian custom on New Year's Eve,
I heard an amazingly loud crash behind me. I turned to see a television
that saw its last good day when the Honeymooner reruns were on (and
only a few months old). I heard more crashes and looked down the street
to see every imaginable old item in pulverized piles. It was apparent
that the old adage, "Out with the old, in with the new"
was a literal expression in Italian culture.
Well, hello culture shock! What the hell is this? My friends assured
me that this was normal and it was evident because conversation truly
went on uninterrupted. We proceeded to the jazz club that evening
and it was the most amazing New Year's Eve I ever had. What, me worry?
I had this "living abroad thing" down right? Are you crazy?
Every day for the remainder of the four years I lived there, I constantly
lived in fear of being crushed by an appliance older than I was.
So much for being worldly.