Rockin’ the Italian leather jacket

Yesterday was the day I finally caved in and bought myself an Italian leather jacket from the San Lorenzo leather markets.

Seeing how cool the locals look in their leather jackets, I had been wanting one all semester long. Plus, Florence is pretty well-known for its leather products — “You have to get something leather there!” my family friends who had visited here before told me.

Over the past few weeks, I’ve been checking out the jackets in the leather markets, taking note of the different styles, prices and employees. There were two vendors I had actually spoken to about possibly buying a jacket, but one of them didn’t make a low enough price offer, and the other was so effusively full of shit with his sly charming techniques that I just didn’t want to close a deal with him. Oddly enough, both their names were Alex.

Yesterday I passed through the markets again on a beautiful, sunny but still-quite-chilly day. I spotted a jacket I really liked in a stand, except that it was brown. The vendor saw me looking and said something, so I told him in Italian that I liked that jacket, except would want it in black. He instantly lead me a little down the street to the actual store behind the leather stands that line the streets. He tracked down the jacket in black and was able to determine my size just by looking at me. As he zipped me up he said, “You have the perfect physique for the Italian jacket,” and based on how I looked and felt, I almost believed him. I did want to try on some other jackets too, though, and ended up spending about 30 minutes total with this vendor. We mostly spoke in English, conversing about school and the quality of the leather and Florence and which jackets looked best on me, etc. I liked this for two main reasons. First of all, it obviously makes me feel more comfortable and less like a victim of any tourist-trap strategies. And second, my bargaining strategy is to approach the vendor like a friend at your own level who you are just doing fair business with: be interested in him and kind to him, don’t react like you’re weirded out by anything he asks or says, speak all the Italian you can, and do not to go in with any hints that you’re already suspecting he’ll try to rip you off. He was actually the perfect balance of an approachable vendor–not at all too effusive with the comments of charm, a good conversationalist, and a source of information to track down the right product. Oh, and of course, his name was Alex too. What the hell, I thought, do these vendors do a group huddle of the month’s game plan and assign everyone a name or something? “Alright, scarf guys, your name is going to be Max. Jacket guys, you’ll be Alex…” Nevertheless, Alex III succeeded. The jacket I liked most was marked for 420 Euro, which he discounted down to 220 for me (I’m sure they’re all marked way higher than they need to be in the first place). I refused that, and kept trying on more jackets, asking him to only select cheaper ones. I told him that I had seen lower prices more in my college-friendly budget, like a 90 Euro jacket. He immediately took out a lighter and held the flame to the jacket I was wearing. “See this? This is real leather that resists fire and water. The lowest you’ll see for a real leather jacket like this is maybe 130,” he explained. I believed him because it did seem to match what I had observed for real leather jackets in both the San Lorenzo marketplace and back home in the US. I spotted another jacket I was attracted to on a rack, tried it on and loved it, did my best to hide my enthusiasm, and nailed an offer that was perfectly acceptable (the number I had in mind while going in in the first place)–and about 3 times lower of the marked price 😀

So, now I’m rocking the leather jacket on the streets of Florence. If I have one regret in Florence, it’s not getting my jacket earlier!

P.S. I have often been mistaken for an Italian local before here, but now I really am quite often! Time to put my Italian language to the test! 😀


Daily Failtales: Week 4

The awkwardness of running out of things to say in Italian

I’m getting better at holding conversations in Italian–or at least in a mix of broken English and broken Italian. However, my speaking abilities and vocabulary is still very limited. And most of what I know how to say is meant for an introductory conversation–my name, my university, what I study, how old I am, how long I’m in Florence, how I like Florence, what I like to do, etc. Likewise, I only know how to ask a limited number of introductory questions, too–your name, how you are, what you do, how old you are, etc.

A classic Scott Pilgrim & Ramona moment of awkward smalltalk and then abrupt silence.

So, once I burn through everything I know how to say, there is always this awkward, silent ending to the conversation. Even worse is running into the same predominantly-Italian-speaking people who have already had this conversation with me. It’s like an exchange of “hi,” “how are you?” “bene, grazie.” And then that’s it. I literally don’t know how to say or ask anything more that wouldn’t be either repetitive or ridiculously random and frivolous. So the conversation just dies, and we’re left awkwardly staring at each other kind of nodding our heads. Then I just casually turn around to my friends, or shrug a weak little “Allora, ciao” and walk away. Real good socializing.

LESSON LEARNED: Prepare some new, interesting conversation-makers in Italian before going out to places you frequent.

That time I [un]successfully bargained for heels.

I had been on the hunt for a pair of black heels–black heels that could go casual or fancy, weren’t too high, were 60 Euro max, and had thick enough heels to rough the cobblestone streets. I found them. They were 80 Euro. After clearly stating that they were beyond my price range, trying them on at the shopkeeper’s insistence anyway, and spending a long time pretending I didn’t like them that much, I got offered a special deal of 60 Euro: BAM, in my budget.

I was so proud. My friends thought I had gotten pressured into the purchase, until I told them I was just bargaining him. Then they were proud too. I felt awesome, in awesome heels, with an awesome talent for bargaining Italian shopkeepers.

Then I wore them out for a second time, on a longer journey than the first night I wore them. And what the hell!? My heels felt like they were going to break off at any second. They were sticking to the street and then jarring in random directions, and I felt and probably looked so awkward. Now I’m determined for them to feel right, just for the sake of my dignity 😥

LESSON LEARNED: Succeeding at bargaining yields no success if the product sucks in the first place.


So, the manager/bartender of the pub down the street who I’ve befriended decorated the pub with a bunch of random masks for Fat Tuesday. One of them was this absolutely horrifying clown mask of a creepy looking joker with a terrifying smile and popping eyes. I couldn’t stop looking at it. It was GLARING at me. I kept telling my friend that it was going to give me nightmares. So he covered it with a paper towel, and then from his perspective behind the bar, the joker’s eyes seemed to be creeping on HIM now.

So, the next day I made this sign for him. The words say “No strisciante” which means “no creeping” …except he told me that I apparently translated “creeping ” as in a worm creeping along on the ground. He laughed at my mistake, but still hung up the sign by the creepy mask nonetheless 🙂

LESSON LEARNED: Google Translate can be wonderful, but will not always yield the translation you’re really seeking.

Italian Haircut

I didn’t intend to get bangs, but I got them. This experience I blogged about yesterday: “Pulled an Audrey Hepburn: My New Italian Haircut

LESSON LEARNED: When getting a haircut from someone who speaks a limited amount of your language, either bring a picture, or truly go in with the attitude to let the hairdresser do whatever he/she is envisioning. And remember, it’s only hair 🙂