I consider myself a fairly polite and respectful person. In each country, they have their social rules, and I feel it only courteous to abide by them. In Italy for example, it is considered polite to greet the people in a room or shop that you are entering. This custom is not new to me as it is the same in France as well. What I find upsetting is that some people, who do know the custom, decide to not adhere to it for whatever reason.
This morning, I arrived at my palestra (gym) and I opened the door for a woman. She didn't say anything to me as she walked past me while I held the door open for her. I walked in after her and decided that I should just let it go. Later when she arrived into the same room of the spogliatoio (locker room) as me, I said "Buon giorno" to her to which I got no response at all, not even a nod.
I admit that my initial reaction was anger. I might have even said some very bad Italian words in my head that I will not write here. I was hoping for a hint of politeness and respect, but I didn't get it.
What I do realize is that I should know better by now. I'm not new to Florence and this has happened to me more times than I can count. I know how it works here: people do not always greet you when you greet them. A few might mumble a similar greeting, but more than that would be asking for the moon to be served up on a platter.
Some days, I'm completely OK with this abstruse tradition and other days, like today, I felt sick to my stomach.
While I was working out at the palestra, I kept looking around at the other people and realized that I couldn't say anything to anyone. I was hoping that my friend Simone would show up so I could see at least one friendly face, but he didn't. I spent the entire time thinking about how I could change things, but I knew it was futile.
I recognize many of the people who go there and I'm sure many of them recognize me. The fiorentini are known to be fisionimisti (good at recognizing faces). But still, there is some strange code of not speaking to strangers. Among the regulars, there is not much affability or accessibility either, so I know it is not just me.
A few weeks ago, when I was stretching out next to a group of women waiting for a class to begin, none of them talked to each other. There were only four of them in a rather small area, yet not one word was spoken. They all looked as if they were avoiding each other until the class began.
I know I need to get a thicker skin because I will not stop greeting people at the risk of them not responding, and I will not change who I am to fit in with this lack of conviviality. So, the next time I go to the palestra, I will greet everyone there whether they respond to me or not.
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