A whole new world

Before you can blend into a new culture, you have to figure out some of the details. Most of that “figuring out” will happen on your own, and mostly on accident. The key element here is observing your surroundings closely. Like in the bathroom.

Let me introduce you to... the bidet.

Let me introduce you to… the bidet.

When I first see this sink next to the toilet, I’m little confused. After contemplating for a bit, I decide it must be for handwashing clothes, although I can’t figure out why it is so low to the ground and positioned right next to the toilet. Maybe it’s to save space? I dunno. But regardless of the reasons, I grab my running clothes and go to work.

After I pin them up to dry on the clothes rack outside of my front door, I head over to the house for dinner. Vito and Bianca are sitting at the table, and I take the opportunity to confirm that the sink is actually for handwashing clothes. Because, you know, I’m so smart and figured it out on my own.

I ask Vito what the small sink in the bathroom is for, and he starts laughing. I begin to get the impression that it might not be for handwashing clothes, after all. Crap.

“So you found the bidet (pronounced bee-day)? I don’t think they don’t have those in the States.” Nope.

He laughs again before continuing, “It’s called a bidet and all of the houses in Italy have them in the bathroom. It’s…” he pauses for a second, mulling over how to word what he’s going to say next. “It’s… when women go to the bathroom, they use the bidet afterwards to wash themselves. It’s a sanitary procedure.”

And I washed my running clothes in it? “You mean, they wash their hands, right?”

“No, no. Their bottoms.”

Ahh. Right. Well, at least no one has used the bidet in my bathroom yet since the apartment was just finished recently. But yeah… bidets. Good to know.

A couple days later, Arianna and I go for a run, our destination being Civitanova Alta. It’s a little town on top of a hill that overlooks Civitanova Marche, which is the town next to Porto Potenza. There’s a really nice trail for cyclists and pedestrians that snakes its way to the foot of the hill, and then there’s a relatively steep climb to the town.

Civitanova Alta from the trail.

Civitanova Alta from the trail.

We do some exploring once we get into the city itself.

Inside Civitanova Alta

Inside of Civitanova Alta

An alley and some houses in Civitanova Alta.

An alley and some houses in Civitanova Alta

One of the staircases in the city.

One of the many staircases in the city

During our run back to the car, I notice something else that’s different about the culture: Italians only take the personal space that they need. Let me explain.

When you’re on a run in the States and you encounter any other person on the road, you drift to one side of the sidewalk while the other person hugs the opposite side. This probably results in a good two or three feet between you two. If you’re feeling particularly bold, maybe you only leave a foot of room. But the point is that there is space.

That doesn’t happen in Italy. Anywhere.

At first, I give people lots of room on the sidewalk, and then I realize I’m the only one doing it. Everyone else maintains their course, whether or not they encounter someone heading in the opposite direction. When that happens, each party moves just enough to miss each other (I’m talking maybe an inch or two between their shoulders as they pass) and then they continue on their way.

Later, I notice that this doesn’t just apply to runners—it happens everywhere, like in the grocery store or when pedestrians cross the street.

On our drive back home, Arianna speeds past a hard-to-see pedestrian on the crosswalk.

“Oops, I didn’t see him,” she says. “Meh. Centi punti.” One hundred points.

I crack up. I don’t know why I’m surprised to find that they play that game here, too. A minute later, we pass a girl who’s jaywalking.

Più giovane. Mille punti.” Younger. A thousand points.

We laugh the whole way home.