A common sight throughout Rome’s neighbourhoods are shops called negozi di casalinghi – basically homewares and tat shops – and ferramentaria – hardware shops. But we’ve been struggling to find some garden chairs, so we can actually take advantage of the communal garden of our palazzo. Contributions of our neighbour’s dog notwithstanding.
Finally, in our local hardware shop, they produced a catalogue. We went away to consider, then returned shortly afterwards to make an order. To find the shop – a vast space but with only about two square metres dedicated to customers – packed with people on crutches. Was it some kind of convention?
Anyway, as well-trained Brits, we dutifully queued. An old lady on crutches came in afterwards, accompanied by an even older lady (surprisingly not on crutches). The younger old lady took up a position beside us, and slightly to the front. Britons are famous/infamous for our queueing. Italians aren’t.
Despite the sprawling Aladdin’s cave that formed their domain, the two ironmongers themselves – a clueless older chap, and a younger chap who scurried up and down ladders, handling three orders at once – would reply to most enquiries with “Non c’è lo” (We haven’t got it), but confidenently assured the potential customers they knew what was meant. Each exchange took about 10 minutes.
Finally, the previous crutch-wielders in front of us, having dismissed all the screw options presented to them, vacated empty-handed – with some difficulty, as the 2m2 had become even more packed. The elder ironmonger then beckoned us forward. Prompting a furious micro-tirade, ejaculated by the older of the two ladies who had attempted to take up a position in front of us, something along the lines of “Damn these upstart foreigners, serve us first!” I didn’t catch the actual words, but the sentiment was clear.
She stood at my shoulder – well, more at my armpit as I’m tall and she was a little old Roman lady – glowering and grinding her teeth. The temperature in that 2m2 space seemed to drop a few degrees. Now, if my Italian – and possibly more importantly my Romano – was better, I could have engaged in the kind of feisty argument you frequently see among friends, family and strangers here. Sadly, it’s not, and, well, I’m too polite, so I just meekly put in “We are first,” and we went about our business with the older ironmonger, who delagated to the younger ironmonger.
The old lady – younger old lady – muttered a placatory “Mama…” and gave Fran, my wife, a vague “Sorry” look, though didn’t actually muster a “Mi dispace”. The ironmonger dealt with our order. The temperature rose again, crutches were shuffled and life went on in the Eternal City.
Of course, we then had to vacate the 2m2 space, shuffling through the crowd then running the gauntlet of the older old lady, now ensconced outside on a chair, with a ready glower. We avoided her eye. What we really should have done is glowered back, and vigorously employed the that quintessential Italian hand gesture, fingers together, pointing upwards, palm towards self, and the whole thing moved expressively, vigorously moved. “Boh! Che cosa vuole, nonna? Siamo stati certamente per prima!”