~ In my opinion, Italy produces the finest clothing, shoes, and handbags. Then again, I’m a ‘weeeee-bit’ biased.
~ If one wishes to browse, or purchase, these exquisitely designed items, one must tolerate the occasional ~ domineering-Italian-sales-clerk.
~ Distinctive characteristics of this belladonna; 5′-1″ tall, black hair, chocolate-brown eyes, flawless olive skin, unparalleled personal style, AND… attitude up the wazoo!!
~ In my experience, you have one-shot at receiving outstanding service from this pint-sized Totalitarian. It all rests on the ensemble you pieced together that morning. If you miscalculated, and wore the: ”CLEARLY-you-are-NOT-from-ITALY”, outfit… I have to warn you, you WILL be punished. That punishment will come in one of three forms; the perfectly timed eye-roll, a single raised eyebrow, or my personal favourite, the exasperated ‘sigh’ released from pursed red lips. (on a slow day, expect all three)
Walk with me now, into a high-end Italian boutique. Thick glass doors encased in an olive-wood frame ~ honed travertine floors ~ the alluring aroma of spun-silk wafting through the air. As your foot crosses the threshold, you are scrutinized by discerning eyes; they commence at your hairline, move seamlessly down your left side, pause briefly on your footwear, and terminate in the vicinity of your right shoulder. Amazingly, she never makes direct eye contact. If your chosen attire is meet with approval, her salutation, although bored, is sincere…. In contrast, if you’ve broken the Cardinal-Dress-Code-Rule, a disapproving, “buongiorno”, is casually tossed in your general direction, laced with a side of intolerance.
(You feel about as welcome as you would if you’d pushed your way, ‘uninvited’, into a strangers home, sat at their kitchen table, helped yourself to pasta & vino, then belched in Nonnas’ face…. (nonna=grandmother in Italian)
The sales clerks steely gaze speaks volumes: “You…. want to come in here…. dressed like that?”
Assuming you dare proceed past the frosty glare, she’ll chaperone you at a distance of 3ft., as you browse the merchandise. Summon the audacity to disturb a hanger, or God forbid, actually touch the apparel, within seconds of your hand leaving the item, she will proceed to; re-fold, re-hang, or re-arrange the erroneous mayhem you’ve apparently caused. My all time favourite sales-clerk-diva reaction; after I slowed down to glance at a display of sweaters, she walked over to the undisturbed stack, smoothed them down, then patted them gently….as if to convey to the sweaters, “it’s ok, you’re safe, she’s leaving soon!!!”
I must admit when I first moved here, it took me a few attempts at shopping Italian-Style, before I realized, these clerks are merely a form of the schoolyard bully dressed in Versace. I notice when I, (a) stand my ground, (b) ignore their impossibly close proximity, or (c) carry on, nonplussed, with my intended shopping…. they become weary of me, retreating to their respective corners, and wait on my eventual departure.
This morning, I find myself face to face, with a worthy sales-clerk adversary. I routinely go for a Monday morning bike-ride. I love Mondays as they are quiet in Florence, most stores are closed until mid-afternoon. Today, I happened upon a boutique I’d always admired. The lights on, a sales-clerk busy in the doorway, all signs pointing towards ‘open for business’. As I enter the boutique, I find myself face to face with a miniature Mussolini, sweeping the threshold. I sense she knows I’m standing in front of her, yet she does her best to ignore me. I inquire politely if the store is open, and in place of an answer, she turns her face and left shoulder… ever so slightly to the right, allowing me barely enough room to pass. In the face of such blatant disrespect, my tenacity to shop here intensifies. I squeeze past her tiny frame, and to my delight, the boutique is filled with clothing that matches my personal taste & style. Enthusiastically, I launch into what can only be described as a fitting-frenzy. Conservatively, I try on 80% of the merchandise. Initially, she’s reluctant to assist me, her every attempt at intimidation is in vain as I’m on a shopping-mission. It takes her 45 minutes to acquiesce, and actually participate in her job. We proceed full steam ahead with operation clothe Shauna, and she is phenomenal!
Two hours, 15 outfits, and a memorable morning later, she is sharing her favourite locations to buy quality shoes, the number for her hair-stylist, and tips on haggling with street vendors.
With shopping bags brimming from the basket of my bike, I leisurely pedal the cobbled street. I turn toward the sound of a voice… to my surprise and delight, she’s standing in the doorway of her boutique, smiling and waving, and her warm Italian “Arrivederci” echos through the narrow passage!
I did not arrive in a Ferrari, dripping in Fendi, however, this petite Bella-Donna proved to me once again…… this IS the amazing, and hospitable country, I know and love.
If Italy puts on a frosty-facade at times…look deeper, it’s well worth the effort.