I walked into that lovely leather goods shop on the Ponte Vecchio and flashed my biggest smile to the woman behind the counter.
“Arrividerla!” I announced, feeling a sense of accomplishment and pride that I had greeted her with such refined politeness. She must be impressed that an American would posses such a ladylike, gracious manner and vocabulary.
The woman smiled. Or did she snicker slightly and then try to stifle it? It sort of seemed like the latter, but I must have been imagining it. There was no reason for her to laugh at me. Except if she were prone to nervous giggling. I knew people like that. No matter what the situation, whether humorous or not, they giggled to ease their social anxiety. Funny, but their giggling to reduce their own nerves always seemed to make me more nervous.
“You shouldn’t have chosen a profession in which you have to constantly interact with people and appear interested,” I thought to myself as I walked past her and toward the rainbow of leather purses on display.
Nervous giggling. That had to be it: the reason for the saleswoman’s laugh. If, in fact, she had laughed in the first place. Or maybe she was just a very happy woman. Not to over generalize, but Italians are known for being fairly emotional and expressive with their feelings. That could be it, too. But whatever the reason, that fleeting moment left my thoughts as I picked up a gorgeous green purse made out of the most supple, buttery leather I had ever lain my hands on.
The two friends I was with and I made our way around the little shop, “Oohing” and “Ahhing” and being typical girls in a fancy boutique. One of us would eye something particularly spectacular and summon the other two over to properly acknowledge the bag that even Carrie Bradshaw would be proud to carry.
Once or twice, the perky shopkeeper made her way over to see if she could be of assistance, especially when it looked like one of us might have been slightly more interested in a wallet and could possibly be persuaded into purchasing it. We respectfully resisted her charms, however, as this was only one of many shops on the bridge and in the city, and we wanted to be sure we got the best bargain. Such Americans.
After we had successfully inspected every item in the shop, we walked toward the door to leave. I looked at the woman once more and smiled.
“Grazie,” I said
“Buona sera,” she smiled back, looking as if she knew something I didn’t.
I then walked out into the sunshine. Just as soon as the door closed behind me, my smile froze, then disappeared altogether. That’s when the burning sensation began to make its way up my arms, over my chest, creeping up my neck and then brightly displaying itself on my face as full-blown embarrassment.
I will take a short pause in this anecdote for some back-story. I had come to Florence, Italy for my spring break to visit a friend who was studying there for the semester. Upon arrival, I learned that my friend had flown back to the states for a few days to attend a wedding and had instructed her roommate, Carol, to take care of me until she returned the next day. Carol met me at the train station and led the way through the winding streets back to their apartment. Because she had classes that day (as it was not spring break in Italy), she gave me a quick tour of their place, along with a crash course in useful Italian phrases in case I wanted to explore the city on my own. Before my trip, my mother had also bought me two different Italian language CD courses and three guide/phrasebooks, so I had already been brushing up on my conversation skills. But Carol insisted she wanted to teach me a few more words. And so, in case I wanted to be very formal when saying goodbye, she taught me to say “Arrividerla” instead of “Arrividerci,”
“Use it to impress people,” she said. “Hardly anyone says it anymore.”
And there you go. Upon entering the store, trying to impress the woman behind the counter, I had not only immediately declared “Goodbye,” but the Italian equivalent of “Farewell,” an expression hardly anyone uses anymore. Yes, I would have laughed at me, too.