Sunday, February 1, 2009
(Published by Fra Noi, Chicago IL, December 2008)
As a cherry preserved in Maraschino liqueur will absorb the flavor of the liquid that surrounds it, so will a person absorb the flavor of the culture in which they are living. After years of existing in Italy, I have found that I too have soaked up many of the characteristics of the Italian customs that envelop me. I find I cannot speak without an immense amount of gesticulation, I cannot fathom the idea of dinner before eight at night, and I’ve even discovered that losing your temper from time to time is not necessarily a bad thing. But there is one habit I’ve subconsciously adopted that, originally, I wanted to cancel from my personality altogether, until I discovered what an incredibly useful tool it is.
When I first noticed this ostensibly tiresome tendency in those around me, I found it to be a rather annoying sound. Though some very skilled men occasionally use it, it is mostly a feminine communication tool. The little boutique where I work, has proven time and again to be the perfect environment to study the Italian female psyche, as it provides the subject with many of the utensils used in being female. We sell clothing, jewelry, perfume and so on, and after having observed the process that women use to carefully choose various items for acquisition, I have learned an enormous amount. And it was here that I first noticed the refined talent of whining.
Two friends will enter the shop, look around for a bit, and then one may spot a pair of earrings that she is fond of. But then a moment later, she’ll notice yet another pair that strikes her fancy as well. She will pick up both, turn to her friend and say something like, “Paaoollaaa…whiiiich one do yoouuu like better?” Her friend will study both pairs with great intensity, finally saying, “Weeell, I dooon’t knooow. The blue paaair would go with a looot of thiiings, but the pink pair is just sooooo prettyyyyy…” This ritual exam of prospective purchases can continue on for up to forty minutes at times! The droning used in this example is what I call the Whine of Deep Consideration.
Other times, a woman will enter with her husband or boyfriend, and I’ve been privy to witness the subtle differences of feminine whining in the presence of a male. The Whine of Deep Consideration can be used on a man as well, but what I have found most interesting, is the Whine of Manipulation. It is a fine art, and if not expressed properly, will have the completely opposite result of the user’s intention. When used correctly however, the results are astounding. While shopping, the male’s mind may wander off to other things, like where they will be dining that evening. He may innocently mention to his partner that he has decided that they will eat at a particular restaurant, recommended by his best friend. If the female had other plans in mind, she will skillfully use the Whine of Manipulation to get her way. “Weeell, Amooore,” she might say, “I waaas thinking that maaaybe we should gooo to that little trattoriiiia in the piaaaaza insteaaad.” After a few minutes of finely honed whimpering, the man can rest assured that he will indeed be enjoying the experience of having his dinner in the piazza.
The first time I noticed myself unconsciously wielding this vocally inflected power, was when I was trying to get a phone line installed in my apartment. As with most anything in Italy, it was a bit of a challenge to actually accomplish that goal. After numerous phone calls, I was finally able to set an appointment for the technicians to come to my home and do the work. They never arrived. So I set another appointment, and again, I found myself waiting for hours alone and abandoned until I accepted the fact they weren’t coming. On the third try however, a very nice man did eventually show up with a tool box. He looked inside the apartment, then outside, then down the street to where the junction box was. I had been looking forward to this day for months. I was finally going to have a phone line, and I was finally going to be hooked up to the Internet! I was giddy with anticipation as I waited for this sweet man to initiate his installation endeavors.
We were standing in the little street just outside my door, looking up at the cables on the building, already connected to other apartments in the palazzo. He stood in silence, thoughtfully scratching his chin, while I tried my best to contain myself from bouncing up and down with excitement. He eventually turned to me and calmly stated, “I’m going to need a ladder.”
Now, I’m no phone-line installation technician, but even I knew from the get-go that a ladder was most likely going to be a necessary instrument for this venture, as most phone cables are not running along the ground, well and easily within reach. I just looked at him, waiting patiently for him to say he was going to his truck to get one. But he didn’t. He said instead, “I’m going to have to call my colleague, he’s got the ladder. And I’ll probably need his help as well. We can probably come back and take care of all this in about two weeks.”
After nearly three months of negotiations just to get a tech to show up for an appointment, I knew that if I let this man go it would not be two weeks before he came back, but that it could be an infinite amount of time before I ever saw him again. And that, dear friends, is when I snapped and made the transition from using American reserved and polite interactive decorum, to implementing a much more effective method.
With a serious stamp of my foot, my hands flew up as to supplicate an unseen deity, my eyes rolled back in my head as if I was possessed, and I let out a not-exceedingly-loud, and perfectly pitched, “Whaaaaaaaaat? Noooooooo!” I whined those two words with such passion and profundity, my technician friend actually took a step backward as his eyes widened to the size of saucers. The invisible force that took me over, was much stronger than I could ever hope to be, so I humbled myself into it and continued, “But it’s been threeee mooonths alreeeeaaady. I thought I was going to have the phone line todaaaaay…”
The technician stood for a moment, just staring at me, as if he’d just seen a goat go bowling. Then, to my utter surprise and satisfaction, with a gentle smile he spoke, with the kindest of voices, and said, “Now, now. Don’t be upset. Let me make a phone call. Maybe we can get this done today after all, ok?” And within two hours, I was cheerfully sitting down in front of my computer, surfing to my heart’s happy content.
Italy is known for many glorious things, but I found myself thinking that day that there is nothing more fine, than a good Italian Whine.