Daily Failtales: Week 2

Continuing from my Week 1 recap of Daily Failtales, here’s some more funny little tales of fail from this past week or so:

Casually strolling through the Strozzi, nbd

Credit: italyguide.it

My Architecture class takes place in the Strozzi–the same building Day 1 of orientation took place in. Hmmm, this looks different than last time, I thought as I wandered into the Palazzo Strozzi for my first class. I obliviously strolled through an enormous, lavish room that reminded me of Mr. Darcy’s mansion in the 2005 version of Pride and Prejudice. As I looked around for any doors or stairwells, the construction workers inside looked at me. Oh shit…I’m not supposed to be in here, am I? Realizing my error, I hurried out the open door on the opposite side, puzzled. DOVE IS MY CLASE? I thought, as a construction worker at this doorway shooed me away. I then joined a student in walking to the Strozzi common building next to the Strozzi PALACE of Florence that I had just casually strolled through.

LESSON LEARNED: If the building’s interior looks like a palace, it very well may be. So do not continue walking through.

Mouse Maze

The grocery store around my corner is set up like a maze. It begins with the produce, and takes you through a one-way adventure of zig-zagging isles until you finally reach the cashier at the end. While purchasing my food, the employee was trying to tell me, in Italian, that I needed to weigh my produce before. Non capito, and I didn’t know what to do at this mid-purchase moment. There was someone behind me in line, so I said, “I’ll just go put these back then?” and hastily did this awkward speed-walk/jog/gallop through the damn maze of isles until I finally reached the produce section at the start, put back the bananas, and hurried back to the cashier to finish my payment. Hopeless.

LESSON LEARNED: Weigh your produce before paying.

An unintended walking tour

My textbook-purchasing errand involving four different copy stores and bookstores somehow turned into an unintended 2 to 3 hour walking tour all over the city of Florence, thanks to a few wrong turns and some unexpected traffic areas to get around. On the downside, I was carrying around what became a heavy backpack, and the heel of my boot broke on a cobblestone street. But on the upside, I had the fortunate experience of wandering into the final scene of the 1991 version of Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves–minus the fighting. (Your movie tastes must be infiltrating my brain here, mamma). I have no idea what church this is, but it has such a beautiful medieval look to it!

LESSON LEARNED: Keep getting lost in Florence, but wear better walking shoes.

That time Chelsea caused a Fiasco

Chelsea, Heather and I finally built up the courage to check out a local bar on our street last Friday night, which we had been very curious but very intimidated about. “Ciao,” a tall, gorgeous Italian man standing outside the door greeted us as we walked in. We ordered beers at the bar and took a seat in the corner, slowly getting acquainted with the place. “Yeah, I can definitely see this is as a good go-to place by our house,” we were agreeing, feeling quite comfortable and pleased with the atmosphere. [Cue fiasco].

Brawny, I think I found your next spokesperson for a brand image makeover.

Apparently the table was wobbly, and with a little kick, Chelsea accidentally clonked the table enough to knock over the beers. Heather’s lap, the table and the floor were soaked in birra. The locals looked at us. The three of us looked at each other with that “Oh shit” look, and before we could get up to seek paper towels, that gorgeous Italian man appeared out of nowhere holding a giant roll of paper towels. “May I help?” he asked. Where the hell did he come from? we were all thinking.

“You know,” he said while beginning to wipe up our mess, “you didn’t need to spill your beers to get my attention.” He then introduced himself (in perfect English!), and we found out that he is one of the owners–Paolo. We conversed a bit, telling him that we are students here and whatnot. A little later, he brought us [very undeserved] drinks on the house…but asked that we drink them instead of spill them.

LESSON LEARNED: No crying over spilled beer–it might lead to something good.

Is this lotion?

Heather kindly ran some errands for me today. Personal products can be confusing to purchase when you can’t read Italian, though. She picked up what looked like a bottle of body lotion, and tried asking the barely-English-speaking employee to make sure. Apparently, it was lotion to be used for–errr, intimate purposes. The old lady behind her gave a strange look. “Ooooooh!” Heather laughed, “no, no.” So she picked up another one, which the employee nodded to.

At home I started rubbing it on my skin and instantly knew something was off when a clear, kind of sticky fluid came out. “Ummmm,” I said to Heather–not wanting to sound ungrateful for her running my errands, “this doesn’t feel right.” I inspected the container. “Detergente fluido,” I read. “Detergent? Did I just rub detergent on my arms?” We laughed about it and typed up a bunch of the text on the container into Google Translate (one of our dearest friends here in Florence), and gathered that it’s some kind of cleanser for the skin–but not soap. Honestly, I don’t know what it is!

LESSON LEARNED: Italian translation for “lotion” is “lozione,” and “intimita” means “intimacy”–as in for-sexual-purposes.

Ghetto Laundry-hanging

...our mighty little washing warrior

My six housemates and I have been desperately avoiding the dreaded task of laundry since our arrival in Europe. We’ve lowered our standards and raised our creativity to reuse, mix & match, and conserve the limited amount of clothing we could bring here.

This weekend, we finally reached that point that left us no choice but to inevitably take on the daunting task of doing laundry…all in the same two days…without a dryer.

Our apartment has one small clothes washer in one of the bathrooms. It fits a little over half of what’s a typical load of laundry for me at home, and the wash cycle takes about 1 hour and 30 minutes. You cannot use the oven during this time, or else the power will go out in our apartment.

While washing is not luxurious, it is perfectly manageable. Drying, however, is where the struggle exists.

Careful not to get clotheslined in our living room / dining room / hallway 😉

If only that light produced heat...

There are two drying racks in our house; there are seven of us. (It is rumored that a third drying rack exists, but we have yet to discover this lost treasure).There may be a clothesline hanging out someone’s window, but fa freddo (it is cold), and we don’t see any neighbors hanging clothes outside from our courtyard window view.

So, we combined out domestic laundry skills with typical Boy Scout survival skills. Never have we had to implement such strategic knot-tying and optimization of spacial resources.

On the downside, we have clothing hanging all over the place–our common room, dining room, bedrooms, hallway lamp posts and dartboard. On the upside, if our apartment were to be entered by burglars, they’d probably be intimidated by what appears to be intricate twine booby-traps all over the place.

While we’re making due with this ghetto laundry-hanging system for the first time around, we do have a few concerns:

  1. How long will these take to dry?
  2. How baggy will stretchy clothes become without a heated dry?
  3. How long can we tolerate having wet laundry hung in every view of our apartment?
  4. How mortifying will it be when we have family visits and guests over?

Desperation at its classiest.

There are two self-service laundry places on our street, which two of my housemates have already used. (Imagine how ghetto we’d get if none of us used it this time around)! Most of us are trying to avoid using a laundromat, because the small but pricy 3,50 Euro dry cycles will add up quickly. But this may be a resource worth allocating for 😮

Funny miscommunications

Miscommunications are inevitable here. Whether it’s not knowing the language, mishearing an accent, misinterpreting a gesture or not knowing the norm, communications are frequently interpreted the wrong way. These are some funny little miscommunications I’ve encountered so far in Florence:

Volete che ad aprire per voi?

When buying a bottle of vino rosso on my way back home, the cashier asked me a question I absolutely did not understand. I looked at him with confusion–a classic Eli Manning-style deer-in-the-headlights look glued on my face for a drawn-out moment. Figuring I am not retarded but rather foreign, he gestured the motion of opening a bottle, asking “Open?” It blew my mind that they would open the bottle for you and let you carry it down the street that way, so I still had that damn deer-in-the-headlights look expression.

Sono Americano.

Yesterday in my Italian class, I learned that words like “Americano/a” should end in “o” for males and “a” for females.

I have told several people that I am an American boy.


This happened last week, when attempting to converse with a local who, well, fancied me. (He knew VERY little English, I knew pretty much NO Italian, and we both knew poco espanol).

We managed to get onto the topic of music at some point, though. I tried to ask him what kind of music he likes. There was dance music playing, so I tried to ask if he likes dance music, since I could easily gesture in the room to show “dance music.” He suddenly got very excited, apparently thinking that I was asking him if he wants to dance with me–right there in the bar. “Aaaaaah, Lisabetta, si, SI! Vamos bailar!” he exclaimed.

“NOOOOO! Noooo, nooooo. Mi dispiace!” I laughed while effusively waving my arms to signal “no.” He realized it was a miscommunication and asked me “PORQUE?! PORQUE?!” I didn’t have the vocabulary to explain, but at least I could clearly tell him NO to clear up that miscommunication.

“That is danger.”

Also from the same night and conversation as mentioned above… My friends took a picture of Luca and I sitting together. When they showed us, his response was, “That is danger.” The girls and I all burst into laughter. Immediately, he recognized that his limited English vocabulary uttered the wrong word. “No, no! That is GOOD. Is GOOD,” he clarified. His diction mistake made me feel better about my own conversational mistakes.

Learning about hobbits in History class

I really enjoy the topic of my History course, The Social World of Renaissance Italy, and the quirky professor as well. He does have a rather thick Italian accent, though, so lots of attention is required to listen closely.

The professor’s first lecture was about the different main groups of people who lived during the Middle Ages (peasants, citizens, merchants, etc). But at one point he started talking about how the hobbits lived–how they lived humble, quiet lives of simplicity and such. It was like I was listening to Biblo Baggins’ prologue on concerning the nature of hobbits.

HOBBITS?! I thought. No, he MUST’VE said something else. But then the professor said it again…and again…..and again. The hobbits of the land did this, these hobbits did that, etc etc. I sat there probably with my jaw half-dropped in awe, and eyes full of wonder. IS THIS GUY LOONY? DID I MISS OUT ON KNOWING THAT TOLKIEN WAS INDEED WRITING NONFICTION, AND MIDDLE AGES = MIDDLE EARTH? I was at the edge of my seat. The professor must’ve thought that he was absolutely fascinating.

This went on for approximately 15 minutes.

Finally, while saying “hobbits” again, he wrote “inhabitants.” What an accent!

Daily Failtales: Week 1

Every week is full of awesome little occurrences–seemingly insignificant instances that are nonetheless impacting for a foreigner striving to fit in with a culture. Sometimes these are positive experiences, leaving you feeling like you grew in some way; sometimes they’re full of fail, leaving you feel like a total noob.

The following fall into the latter of the two.

Why won’t it rip? (1/25)

There was about a 3-hour layover in the Munich Airport. When washing my hands in the bathroom, I was really having a tough time ripping off some paper towels from the dispenser. I tugged, and it pulled out a little, but not much. So I tugged harder, then studied the dispenser to see if I could notice any signs of doing this all wrong. I tugged to the left and to the right, forcefully and gently, outward and straight down…no luck. WHY IS THIS ROCKETSCIENCE? I thought, then pondered if it was just jammed. At one point I was using both my arms with all my might to tear the paper towels.

After several minutes of struggling, I finally realized that this was not a dispenser but a machine: you are not supposed to rip it off. It will loop back into itself. Good job, Germany. I like the eco-friendliness.

LESSON LEARNED: Don’t go Hulk on items that seem to work wrong: it’s you doing it wrong

But I need a bag… (1/26)

On Thursday night we ventured across the river to go to the only large supermarket in Florence. The shopping itself was not too difficult, because I had already studied translations of food items that I knew I’d be regularly buying, and you can just look at the products anyway.

Checking out was the toughie. First, I freezed up–couldn’t even produce a greeting to the cashier. He seemed grumpy already, so I probably exhasperated his mood and our 5-minute customer-employee relationship by exchanging no words at all with him, except for the price and a “grazie.” After paying, I went to bag my groceries, but encountered un problema: no bags. I was clearly confused, standing by my food on the belt and looking around the area for any bags. That’s when I noticed that I probably had to ask for one (or just be offered one like apparently the rest of my friends were offered). So I said “Mi scusi” (“Excuse me”), hesitated, and then made bagging motions while saying “Per favore.” This is when I was still getting over the S.U.C.S., so I was especially frazzled and kind of wanted to cry when the very annoyed cashier gave me a nasty look and threw one plastic bag my way…which definitely did not suffice for holding my groceries, but I wouldn’t dare request anymore. Clearly American enough already.

The bag broke, and my groceries started oozing out. (Thankfully my friends pulled through to help me out with the walk home).

LESSON LEARNED: Bring a reusable bag, or ask for whatever amount you need before paying.

Wrong answer (1/29)

This guy was talking to me in Italian, but I couldn’t understand a thing. I froze up, not being able to produce any words. Eventually he asked, in English, “Do you speak English?” Finally a quick response came out: “No.”

Why did the word “No” come out? For one, I obviously do speak English. And secondly, it was probably obvious to him too since that’s the only sentence I responded to.

LESSON LEARNED: Think before you use an automated response

That time I caused a fiasco (1/31)

Yesterday I stopped by a caffè to grab a coffee. I finally did everything right!–Didn’t need to admit that no parlo Italiano (I don’t speak Italian), already knew the amount to pay, and just seemed to be accepted as a local rather than a foreigner, which is always a great vibe.

Between the good experience and jolt of espresso, I left with an extra kick in my step…literally. A man holding two cappuccinos needed assistance, which I didn’t realize until I already exited out the door to enter the sidewalk. So I akwardly went “Oooooh!” and twisted in a weird way to open the door behind me for him, as if I was stopping it from closing on a blind person about to be slammed by a closing door. Thankfully the man got through without a chaotic mess; I, however, did not.My boot kicked right into the large metal trash can on my left, which caused a very loud noise. You could hear it slam against the sidewalk as it bounced away from me with force, and broke into its three parts. “OOOOH!” “OOOOOOOH!” was all I could utter. Cigarettes and ash were all over, and the trash can was rolling down the sidewalk. “AAAAAAAH! MI DISPIACE!” (“I’m sorry” — Or, technical translation “I am displeased with myself,” which may be more appropriate for this situation) I yelled in a panic, as the guy with the cappuccinos behind me watched the chaos unfold. I quickly scrambled to pick up the trash can and its parts, and do my best to briefly make the mess less messy.

I did not walk home feeling like a champ.

LESSON LEARNED: Look before walking, and don’t get frazzled

Many more failtales to come.