Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Born and raised in the land of kindness - Nato e cresciuto nella terra dei gentlemen

I am thinking of when my son will be older. Not a teenager, more a grown up man, and when they will say: "Your son William is such a gentleman!". And I will smile, thinking that he could be different if I had raised him in a different country. Depending on where you live, the way you deal with others can be very different.

Police car parked on a pedestrian crossing in Italy

In Turin City Center:"coglione di merda! ma che cazzo fai? Sto pezzo di merda! Terrone! Figlio di mignotta! Ma vaffanculo, stronzo!"
Total chaos in Central London
In Central London:"
Excuse me?? Sorry? Sorry? Sorry? Can I get out please? Excuse me? Hello? Thanks louts. Bugger off!"
From time to time:
"Get out of my way, arsehole! What? No, you f**k off twat! ". A chain of equally strong (but also hilarious) insults in cockney which I'd rather not translate.
Cars making way for ducklings in Boston

In Boston City Center:
"Excuse me, are you crossing? Please do! Don't you need to cross? No problems, I'll wait!"
Translation: "Welcome to the land of kindness!".
Although it's not always easy to distinguish whether people are being really kind or "false and courteous" (the appellative given to the people living in Piemonte in Italy), which is the same as "politically correct" for the British,if there are two things I highly admire of the American way of life, kindness is certainly the first one and it's not just appearance. I will talk about the second one (honesty) in another posting.

But... when all you know is people shouting, people pushing as hard as they can to get on the bus instead of you, people sneaking in front of you in the queue at the post office, drivers making sudden turns and almost touching you, when the traffic light  still shows that it is your turn to cross - pregnant, not pregnant, doesn't matter! -, when you are used to living in total chaos, in a city where the average person is angry at 8:00 am and his Facebook status says "bugger off!", you feel over excited (or totally suspicious) when someone, all of a sudden, treats you with kindness.

It happened more than once. I was pushing the stroller towards the corner of a side walk crossing a main street and was wondering whether I should cross the street to go on the other side or whether I should just stay on the same side walk and turn onto the main street. Almost every time, before I was even ready to make a decision of whether to turn or cross the street, a driver would stop by, just before the crosswalk, and would ask me politely whether I was planning to cross the street.
The first time this happened I felt the driver was taking the piss. So I said with a fairly annoyed tone:
"Why don't *you* go?? It's *my business* whether I decide to cross or not! Ok?" A little confused and with a slightly gracious tone,  the driver said: "I just care about your safety!"
"Oh... Sorry! It's just that I was living in London and before in Italy. They don't bother stopping there and they could care less about your safety!."
"Aha, welcome to the United States!"
Big smile.
I then realized that people here do all kind of nice things to show kindness.

As soon as they see you with a child, they offer you seats on buses and on trains, they tell you to go to the top of queues in bathrooms and at post offices, they open doors for you even if they don't need to go inside the stores you are going into, they stop to ask you if I you are looking for something when they see you confused, they smile at you (with the wrinkles) and say hello if they see you walking by or past them.

In Italy, I experienced the exact opposite. People kept their seats for themselves on trains and on buses, not even store owners would open doors for me - At the back of their mind... she decided to have kids, now she should pay! - and they try to steal your place in queues. When I bumped into a neighbor there I heard: (1) "Buongiorno!", meaning "I don't know you but I say hello because I have to be polite" (2) "Ciao, che bel bambino!" Ti assomiglia! Scusa, devo andare. Buona giornata!" meaning: "We used to go to the same school but we never had anything in common. So, get out of my way bitch!".

How can people be so kind here in the US? Could it just be a facade?
A couple of weeks ago, I was riding my bike with William in the child seat in front of me, for the first time.  I did not want to go fast as I was worried to lose the balance, so I was keeping the gears set for an easy ride. Suddenly, I was overtaken by a fast biker and a loud comment hit me: "Listen, you should use the gears!" I immediately replied: "Don't tell me how to ride my bike! You mind your own business!""With the same loud but helpful tone, she said: "I can show you how to change the gears, if you like. It is safer for your child!" At the end I felt totally "di cacca", as one would say in Italy, unworthy of all that kindness and all I wanted to do afterwards was to find a place where to hide!

Could it just be a facade, purely based on the fact that the Americans follow rules?

Here is an episode that proves the opposite. William and I the other day were at the library re-consignment store. Suddenly, he got into one of those Little Tikes cars that toddlers like to push backward and forward with their feet. That particular car had a fire alarm! William has an obsession for anything with a sound that has a slight resemblance to "ni no ni no ni no" so he immediately decided to take ownership of the car and started fighting the other kids who wanted to try it. Before I was able to get William to abandon the car, he was already driving it out of the library. After purchasing the item for half of the price they were selling it for, which they gave me to avoid having to take the car away from William, a loud rain storm began. I was on foot, with an empty stroller, William in his car, which he could only drive backward and nothing to protect us from the rain. I was about to push his car (and the stroller) in the rain... when a man in his fourties, John, who had just arrived at the library with his wife,  looked at me and said: "do you want a lift home? We have a large SUV with car seat suitable for a 2 year old. We can take you home with all your stuff!"  In Italy, you would immediately think... what does he want?

Here? No, he's just been kind. Before I accepted the offer, John was gone and two minutes later he was outside the library with the trunk of his SUV car open. Given that my house is only three blocks away from the library and that John's wife was also insisting that I accepted the offer, I said
"yes but William and I can wait until you are done at the library". "No, don't worry, it's all set!", his wife said, and in minutes William and I were home, with his car still making ni no ni no sounds and without catching a single drop of water.

William in his perfectly dry car after the rain storm

"That was very kind of you!"
"No problems. Any time!"

I think I heard these same exact words a week ago or so. Now I remember. Someone knocked on my door to ask me if I had forgotten my handbag (with money, credit cards and everything else) outside, next to the stroller. Can you believe it?

Same reply:
"No problems. Any time!"

I am still searching for the software that makes all this kindness happen here in the Boston area. Do you know what it's called?

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