Last year I began to learn the difference between “kid clean” and “adult clean” – routed predominately in the lack of crumbs in the latter. This semester I’m learning an entirely new type of clean: “Italian mom clean.” I try to leave time every morning before school to clean my room so that (theoretically), Donatella won’t have to. But clean for me means all the covers are on the bed, all of the trash is in the trash can and – I added this last one after the first week of living with Donatella – everything is off the floor. Sometimes this means I pile my textbooks on my desk, or my bed, or the little footstool that might be intended as a chair for my desk though it’s about six sizes too small.
For those of you who’ve been unfortunate enough to see a room that I’m living in you know that in addition to not typically doing any of these three things, I also like to leave my clothes (clean and dirty) on the floor along with everything else of vague importance. However, this is not Italian mom clean. Most days I come home from school to find that my bed has been made, my papers stacked on one corner of my desk, my hair brush has been moved somewhere that I need a treasure map to find, and my gum has been arranged in color order against my wall.
I don’t really mind the lack of privacy. Actually, it’d be great if Donatella could Italian mom clean the saltine crumbs out of my bed. It’s a little strange and a little uncomfortable – mostly because we never talk about it so I can’t tell if Donatella is ultra-cleaning my room because that’s just something that she does or if she has any irritation about feeling like she has to do it. I’m hoping it’s the former because if she’s expecting me to color coordinate my own packages of gum on my way to school every morning I can say right now that she’ll be disappointed.
In most cases, Donatella is extremely relaxed. I learned in Italian that, although adults will greet you with “ciao” both when you enter and leave a shop, you’re supposed to answer with “Buongiorno” or “Buonasera” depending on the time of day and leave with “arrivederci” (the formal version of ciao in both senses). At home, Owen and I both tried to adapt our language to the more respectful version of greeting and did it about two times before Donatella scolded us for being too formal. I think the real reason I’m not bothered by the lack of privacy is that it’s offset by a clear recognition of mine and Owen’s independence. Donatella doesn’t care where we’re going or when we get back. Both she and Enzo really care about us having a good time. Last night at dinner, when Donatella was out dancing, it was just me, Owen and Enzo at dinner (meaning it was mostly, and peacefully, silent) Enzo finished the meal by reiterating how much he and Donatella really wanted us to enjoy ourselves here and it was clear how much he meant it.
As a side note, Donatella has started leaving her clothes on my desk stool with mine and I can’t tell what secret message I’m supposed to take away from the gesture. I complimented one of her sweaters a couple days ago because I thought it was silly and today it was on my pile of clothes.
Other things in the Grande household are clearer. The rules about Enzo’s wine are perhaps the most clear. The best thing about these rules are that they’re completely unspoken. At the dinner table there will either be one or two bottles of wine. If there is one bottle, Enzo keeps it in front of his plate. Neither Owen or I are permitted to touch it until Enzo has finished his third glass and then, without a word on either side, he’ll stand up and move it to the center of the table. Then we can serve ourselves. After a bottle of wine has been used for one meal, Enzo will bring it out and put it in the middle of the table, opening a fresh bottle for himself, which he’ll drink for the majority of the meal before permitting us (and mostly Owen, because I still don’t love the taste of wine) to try some.
The rules of ordering food outside of the house are also still forming. Today our Italian teacher took the whole class to buy gelatto so that she could show us how to pick a real gelatto store. What she taught us was that if there are huge mounds of ice cream or if there are unnatural colors, light blue being the most predominant, even offered in the store, then you should leave because it’s only for tourists. As we were leaving she asked, “Who wants to practice their Italian with the cashier?” Everybody averted their eyes. “Becca!”
I had to memorize the sentence “pago quindici gellati da due euro” which I repeated to myself the whole way there. Essentially I said, “I would like to purchase 15 gelattos at 2 euros a piece”. I felt better halfway through the walk when Antonella (our Italian prof) turned to Owen and impromptu ordered him to ask two Italian women for directions to the ice cream store.
We’re also trying to figure out the best places for lunch in the city. My favorite place so far is a sandwich store called “amici di ponte vecchio”. There are a lot of things that Florence does really well. Bread is not one of them. The “amici” is the only store I’ve found so far where the bread added to the sandwich.
At another sandwich store the guy behind the counter asked “parlo italiana?”
To which I responded, “poco.” And didn’t realize until Owen started grinning that I’d said “A few” instead of “a little” (which would’ve been ‘po’). Though, in retrospect saying that I speak a few Italian probably got the message across better than if I’d answered correctly.