What I have learned from ‘continentals’ (a series of faux-pas)
May 5th, 2017
Moving to Italy just turned 21 from the comfortable and familiar Holylands, Belfast to the cradle of the renaissance that is Florence was by any stretch a significant culture shock.
Although at the time I would have liked to think of myself as sophisticated and worldly – it didn’t take long to realise I was in fact by definition a typical ‘wee girl’ from Northern Ireland.
I came to this realisation of my own ‘uncouth-ness’ in the most abrupt of ways and fake tan played a pivotal role in this coming of age saga. Once I had gotten over my gut wrenching homesickness – one of my first nights out on the town was in October, I had been living the so called ‘dolce vita’ for one month at this point. The night began with standard procedure – Box of wine at the princely sum of 2 euro for the pre-drinking in our medieval style apartment just a short walk from the Duomo * (pre drinking is not really ‘a thing’ in Italy or in fact really anywhere on the continent, they enjoy the act of leisurely drinking itself and therefore don’t find it necessary to drink as much as you can for as cheap as you can prior to leaving the house, some may call this civilized I call it expensive).
Post-winebox we are tottering along with our heels and dresses (no jacket because of course we don’t want to check it in or pay the extortionate 2-euro rate, *(this is also not a thing in mainland Europe, people are happy to pay a small sum of money for warmth and to ensure they don’t lose a coat which undoubtedly cost more than 2 euro).
I am of course very TANNED up, it’s a balmy early October evening still around 16 degrees so it seems appropriate to indeed be wearing so much tan and a rather small dress.
Navigating the cobbled streets in sky high heels is proving difficult and just across the ‘palazzo’ we here a faint shout, said voice becomes clearer ‘How much, How much?’. The voice is coming from a young lady complete with puffa jacket and knee high flat boots, a stark contrast to my attire.
After much slurring and shouting across the street we are aghast that she is implying we are ‘ladies of the night’, my (english) drinking partner/ housemate is having none of it and we march right over there. Italian lady continues to sling insults about our lack of coats and very obviously fake tans, my friend tells said Italian lady we will ‘see her in the club’ in a vaguely threatening tone.
Sure enough a couple (dozen) of limoncellos later we spy puffa coat (as we came to refer to her) in the club, minus the coat now but still sporting a warm jumper. The conversation goes along the lines of ‘Heeeey you over there, you called us prostitutes’ ..Italian puffa coat confirms this is still her belief – I assert that I am in fact a law student on exchange at the University of Florence and very much not a street walker despite what the fake tan would suggest.
Italian lady is not backing down and tensions are rising – before I know it we are out on the street, a street brawl between girls on the quaint streets of Florence is NOT commonplace to say the least.
I would be lying if I said I made any valuable contribution to the physical aspect of this brawl – as I’m more of a ‘use your words’ type and so I did the honorable thing and watched from the pavement whilst shouting encouragement…due to teha fporementioned limoncello I can’t be sure what the outcome was. This was my first and one of my most important ‘continental lesson’ six years ago and it stayed with me – I sat down on those cobbles and told myself
Lesson #1. If you want to be taken seriously in Europe or even if you just don’t want to be seen as a sex worker – don’t wear fake tan and always bring a coat even when you think it’s still summer.
More European enlightening lessons to come!