I’ve decided to search for an Interior Design job here in Florence, Italy. My landlady Federica has a friend in the antique business who could possibly have work for me, or know of someone who does. She cautions me about  Italy’s severely depressed economy, however I’m feeling lucky today. I leave my room armed with an umbrella, English-Italian dictionary, a detailed city map, and my best “I’m a talented designer” smile. Because of the rain this morning the buses are late, and unusually jammed with riders.

Trying to stay upright on the jostling #17 bus,
I hold on tight, and concentrate on the buzz of voices surrounding me. I pay close attention to body language and voice tone, in the hopes it will aide me in deciphering such enthusiastic and energy charged discussion.  I’m never bored by these few minutes of full-immersion into Italian verbal and non-verbal communication.  The secluded location of my temporary home at Residenza del Palmerino, combined with the time of year, means that tourists are a rare sight on this particular route. From their curious stares I assume that the other riders are as fascinated with me as I am with them. It’s common for them to openly examine me from head to toe, in embarrassing detail.  I play a covert game of chicken by looking straight into their eyes and waiting to see who will look away first.

This match I know I can win.   It’s a rare individual who can out-stare me when I set my mind to it, or feel the need to recoup my dignity in the face of unguarded scrutiny. I long ago mastered the art of wide-eyed intimidation as a mother of three daughters.

In addition, to the above simple Game of Chicken, Florentines have developed a perverse way of running you off the sidewalk. If you find yourself waking extensively on the busy streets in Italy, you will at one time or another become a contestant in an interactive game I have christened Sidewalk Chicken.

In Florence, the sidewalks are unusually narrow. It’s often necessary to turn sideways in order to pass.  Generally the locals do not notice when they bump you with their shoulder, arm, shopping bags, or my most recent experience of the oversized designer purses women love to carry.  I’ve been struck and thrown off balance on several occasions.  As an overly polite Canadian this has required a major adjustment for me, accustomed as I am to the “sorry”, “pardon me”, and “excuse me” that I’m familiar with back in Calgary. The lack of sidewalk etiquette here is ill-mannered, at best for a seemingly refined culture.

On this morning I find myself face to face with a game of Sidewalk Chicken already in progress, and became a reluctant participant. My formidable opponent is a master of the game, she’s dressed to kill in the guise of petite woman wearing 5″ heels.  Striding the centre of the busy street’s narrow sidewalk, she refuses to give me an inch to pass.  Until this moment I had assumed the shoulder infractions & purse assaults were unintentional.  Now I realize that this stiletto-clad drill-sergeant marching toward me simply does not care if she knocks me into the street. I’m sure she sees me, yet she continues her emotionless advance, as if I don’t exist.

As a mere mortal faced with her well-practiced battle skills, I admit defeat, and withdraw by stepping off the curb.

She breezes past me confidently, an umbrella and oversized designer purse flanking her like medieval weaponry.  Today’s skirmish may be lost, but one day I will be victorious… In the meantime this preliminary reconnaissance mission has taught me an important lesson: I need an intimidating purse – substantial in size, preferably black in colour, and ornamented with multiple metal studs. I refuse to be knocked of another sidewalk. She has given me the fortitude to hone my sidewalk intimidation skills

I make my way to the interior design district near Porta Romana.

The assorted store owners are kind and take my name and number, but work here in Florence is slow. I suspect they will never call but I delight in exploring their shops filled with antiquities. As masters of restoring and reusing valuable artifacts of their history, these talented individuals create new & useful items for the growing and ever-popular Italian housing renovation market.

This trip is definitely not a wasted journey. The desired job in Italy may not become a reality, but my head is slowly filling with ideas for a new slant to enhance my existing Interior Design business back in Canada. Why not teach my Calgary clients how to infuse an Italian flavour into North American design? Why not indeed?

And the bonus … Now I’m free to shop for that unique purse to use in my next game of Sidewalk Chicken.

Have you ever personally experienced this unusual behaviour in Italy or other countries. I know we have our fair share of rude walkers in Canada, however these women have it down to an art. It’s rather impressive actually. Tell me about your experiences with this, or how you think I could have reacted!

next week: DIECI MINUTI – part 1


About Italian Living

I'm an interior decorator from Canada. I own a design firm. I have three grown daughters who are confidant women living busy lives. I love my family my friends and my life, however, something is missing. December 3rd, my eyes open at 3:33 a.m. It's time to fulfill my lifelong dream of living in Italy..... I rent my house, pack my bags, say a final farewell to all the people I love most in this world and hop on a plane January 13th.... alone. This is my story...
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  1. sonja franzmann says:

    You are a gifted writer Shauna, great entries, I look forward to your new posts now that I’ve subscribed!


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