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Sunday, October 19, 2014

Locked Inside Waterstone's Book Store

A long time ago, when I was still a teenager, I remember watching a movie about a young couple who got locked inside a Target for the night.

Keep in mind, I had no idea what a Target was at the time; they had yet to enter my world, but even then idea sounded pretty awesome.  

After three years without a Target (yes, it's hard to believe but I haven't been home to America in 3 years), I'd love an uninterrupted night alone with just me and my best friend Target, preferably just after they've labeled everything with those fabulous red clearance stickers I've grown to love.

Sigh....a girl can dream, can't she?

This is what I thought of today when I came across this story:

It's about an American man named David Willis who was trapped inside a Waterstones bookstore for 2 hours in London after they closed and locked the doors for the night without realizing he was still inside.  Employees of the bookstore discovered he had been locked inside only after he posted pictures from inside the store and then tweeted for help!

The funny thing is, we went to that very bookstore, at that very London location, when we were in London back in the spring.  Our family was in bookstore HEAVEN!

Jackson and Delilah loved when I read to them from Pippi Longstocking

Keep in mind, we live in a country where English is rarely spoken and there certainly aren't any English bookstores locally.  

Delilah and Jackson kept running up to us screaming, "The books are in ENGLISH!"

We spent close to £300 on books that day and had to pay extra at the airport just to bring it all home.  

But it was so worth it. Maybe we'll get locked inside one day...


Monday, September 15, 2014

Things I wish I'd know about Italy....

I found this little blog on Italy a few months before I moved here three years ago.  It's a great "cheat sheet" on what to do (and not to do) in the land of Vespa and Pasta! You can find the original post and the blog that it originated from here:

100+ Things to Know If You’re Going to Italy

My friends often ask me for support in travel preparation when they plan to go to Italy. In fact, I think it’s a great idea- go to a country prepared to experience it at the fullest! I enjoy learning about the little idiosyncrasies that make a visit to a new country so interesting, the small traditions, the interesting customs… so, I thought I’d give you a cheat-sheet for Italy.
If you’d like a personalized crash-course on Italian culture before your trip, please contact me at vanessa at Italyinsf dot com. I would be happy to schedule a time to help you out with your trip organization as well as give you some useful tips about culture and traditions!
  1. Don’t go off the beaten path before visiting the “holy trinity”: Rome, Florence and Venice. These cities are truly remarkable and you don’t want to miss them.
  2. Nevertheless, make time to spend a few days outside the major cities. Real Italy is in the small towns!
  3. Tuscany is wonderful. There are hundreds of small wonderful medieval villages and plenty to see. However, Italy is a lot more than Tuscany. From the hills ofLanghe to the trulli of Puglia, going through the culinary haven of Romagna, you will find fewer tourists and a wonderful land to discover!
  4. Tipping is not required. Service staff gets paid as high as entry level engineers do. In particular, tipping people you personally know is considered offensive. In general, the attitude toward tipping is that you can’t buy a person off, so be mindful if you decide to tip.
  5. Pick pocketing is an issue in larger metropolitan areas like Rome and Venice, but it’s not any worse than New York City, London or Paris.
  6. Newspaper are bought daily at the edicola (newspaper stand), and delivery of newspapers is rare. Edicole are very common and open everyday, and as much part of the typical Italian morning routine as stopping to the bar to order anespresso.
  7. Watch the street billboards for advertisement of “Feste” or “Sagre”, street fairs usually dedicated to one food. If one is close by your location at the time you’re there, don’t miss it- they’re wonderful events gathering people from the various towns and serving thematic foods!
  8. Dates are shown as day-month-year, always.
  9. Times are indicated in 24-hr format.
  10. And yes, we’re metric!
  11. You push to enter a place, and pull to get out. Exactly the opposite as in America!
  12. Airport and rail stations have public restrooms, often with attendants who expect to be tipped. If someone is guarding the door of the restroom, you’re expected to leave a few coins.
  13. Restrooms in all bars and cafes are for customers only. Order an espresso and only afterward head to the toilet!
  14. In public restrooms, toilet paper is a rarity. Italian women always keep a travel pack of Kleenex in their purses for this reason.
  15. You can’t walk in a church with a tank top or with shorts on. You need to be properly dressed to visit most holy places.
  16. Credit cards are not widely accepted. You can’t pay anything that is less than 10 Euros with a credit card, and even then you’re going to be frowned upon. Always bring cash with you!
  17. Public phones are now officially extinct. You will need to carry a cell phone for anything you need, from calling the hotel to reserve a restaurant. If you’re going for a brief stay, use your US cell phone and get a calling card. If you’re planning a longer trip, look into getting a SIM card and use it with your (unlocked) US phone- most cell phone calling contracts in Italy are prepaid services, so no need to lock in a plan!
  18. When using an Italian cell phone, all incoming calls are free.
  1. When walking into a store, especially clothing or shoes, in most cases you will have a shop assistant with you at all times. Sometimes you won’t be allowed to even touch the things unless you’re trying them on! The assistant will find your size and do all the work.
  2. If you enter a store to just to take a look, make sure your intentions are known to the person inside the shop. Ask if you can just look around without being hassled by a shop assistant trying to make a sale!
  3. The rudeness and bitchiness of Italian shop assistants, or commesse, is legendary, especially if you’re not a size 0. They apparently consider a size 4 “overweight”. Don’t take it personally.
  4. On the upside, though, shop assistants are not paid on commission. Feel free to abuse them- they probably deserve it anyway!!
  5. Store exchanges don’t exist. If you buy something and decide later you don’t want it anymore, you’re stuck with it. Choose carefully!
  6. Clearance sales in regular shops Italy are not very good- usually a 10%, 20% at the very most.
  7. Shops close for lunch between 12:30pm and 3 or 4pm. Everything shuts down by 7:30pm.
  8. Ask your local hotel for outlets stores. Outlet stores will have items priced at a more discounted rate.
  9. Buy shoes in Italy. Even with the dreadful Euro/Dollar exchange, leather shoes will last you for years and they’re really good for your feet!
  10. In larger cities and metropolitan areas stores are open on Saturday but closed on Sunday, and another half day of the week. In touristic resorts stores are open Sunday but closed one other day of the week.
  11. Banks are only open in the morning and for one hour in the afternoon. You need to bank in the morning!
  12. National Holidays:
    • January 1st, New Year’s Day
    • January 6th, Epiphany
    • Easter Sunday
    • Easter Monday
    • April 25th, Anniversary of Italy’s liberation
    • May 1st, Labor Day
    • June 2nd, Anniversary of the institution of the Republic
    • August 15th (Ferragosto), Assumption
    • November 1st, All Saints
    • December 8th, Annunciazione
    • December 25th, Christmas
    • December 26th, St Stefano.
    In addition, each town will honor its patron with an additional day off.
  13. You have to wear plastic gloves to pick up food in the produce section of the grocery store or old ladies will yell at you.
  14. You bag your own groceries and pay for the bag.
  1. 99% of Italian hotels include breakfast in the room price.
  2. As a consequence of #33 above, Italians remain the main audience at bars for breakfast. Don’t miss the chance to get out of your hotel by 9am on a workday and order a cappuccino al banco (at the counter) with a cornetto, preferably with custard, and eat it standing with all the rest of the crowd.
  3. Cappuccino is not forbidden in the afternoon, it’s just frowned upon following a meal. Some places will actually refuse to serve it to you. Don’t get upset, just embrace the culture…
  4. In order to be able to get the said cappuccino, in many places you first have to pay for it so you can show the scontrino (proof of payment) to the bartender.
  5. Italians don’t put ice in their drinks. If you must, ask for it, but realize they’ll look at you as if you were a Martian. When (if?) they bring you ice, they will send to the table a small saucer with 5 ice cubes for the entire table.
  6. You can’t order food “to go”, unless you are in a pizza place or in a rosticceria. If you try to walk in a restaurant and order a meal to go, people will look at you as if you were crazy!
  7. When eating at a buffet or family style, it is more than acceptable to help yourself as many times as you want, and never okay to overfill your plate.
  8. Aperitivo is a wonderful tradition you should not miss out on. Bars that offer anaperitivo buffet will charge you for the drink, but not for the food, which will range from simple chips and pretzels to sophisticated warm appetizers and parmigianocubes sprinkled with balsamic vinegar. Buffet is all you can eat (but don’t forget the rules above!). Find a bar that serves an aperitivo buffet and head there between 6pm and 8:30pm, and you can skip dinner if you want!Aperitivi
  9. There are no dipping sauces in Italy, so Italians are not really familiar with double dipping rules.
  10. When starting a meal, bread will be brought to the table but neither olive oil nor butter is served. A bread dish is never on the table, so bread rests on the tablecloth.
  11. Speaking of bread, never ever leave it upside down on the table. It’s considered bad luck and unrespectful toward the owner of the table.
  12. Never, ever pour wine (or water) backhanded. It’s considered an offense to the person you’re serving.
  13. No doggie bags in Italy. Taking home the leftovers is not an option, and leaving food on the plate is frowned upon.
  14. Salad is considered a side dish, not a starter. No meal in Italy ever starts with a salad.
  15. If you’re invited to a wedding, be prepared to eat. Imagine a minimum of 15 courses and sitting at the table for 5 to 6 hours.
  16. Tap water is never served, and despite the fact that it’s now as safe as in the US, people keep on drinking bottled water and restaurants only serve bottled water.
  17. When water is not safe at fountains, it will say so. Otherwise, take advantage of the only free water in the country!
  18. Coffee is not a “to go” item. You enjoy it at the bar, and no paper cup is provided!
  19. Cheese is never eaten with fish.
  20. Salad dressing is oil and vinegar and that’s it. There aren’t different types of dressings.
  21. There are over 100 different types of pasta, and each region has its own. Make an effort to try as many as possible!
  22. Bread and pasta are never eaten together in the North, but they are sometimes in the South.
  23. Restaurant customs are a bit different than in the US. Since servers are salaried and don’t rely on tips to make a living, they don’t care about turnover- it is customary in Italy to stay seated at a restaurant table for the whole evening, and dinner would usually take longer than in the US.
  24. If you don’t ask for the check, you’re not going to get it. Italians consider a check put on the table before you’re done with your meal, or without you asking, like an invitation to leave. It is considered a no-no in restaurants, so you must ask for your check if you’d like to pay!
  25. When ordering food at a restaurant, substitutions or changes are usually not accepted.
  26. Alfredo sauce is not Italian. Don’t ask for it!
  27. Frappuccino doesn’t exist, either. However, all other coffee drinks whose nameStarbucks has stolen usually mean something different than what you think you’re ordering.
  28. Hot chocolate is a different experience altogether- it’s denser, more like a pudding, and it’s usually ordered in the afternoon, as a merenda item.
  29. Appropriate use of grated Parmigiano cheese is limited to pasta- and pasta with either vegetable or meat sauce, not fish! There is no grated parmesan cheese on salad or pizza. Occasionally, slivers of parmigiano will be served overbresaola or carpaccio- but never grated cheese!
  30. Nothing but pork is considered appropriate meat for your pizza. No chicken, not beef- only pork in various formats (prosciutto, salame, salsiccia, etc.).
  31. Chicken is not to be eaten with pasta. That’s it. There isn’t a single pasta sauce in Italian cuisine where chicken can be an ingredient.
  32. Dinner is past 8pm, not at 5pm. If you’re hungry at 5pm, go to a pasticceria and get a hot chocolate and some pastries. If you’re hungry at 7pm go to a bar and order an aperitivo. Don’t show up for dinner before 8pm (and that’s still kind of early!).
  33. Don’t miss the chance to try pizza in a pizzeria, but be aware that pizza is a dinner food. The very few pizzeria open at lunch usually cater to tourists only (and the pizza is probably not likely to be great!).
  34. Speaking of pizza, it is considered inappropriate (and many places will just say it’s not possible!) to ask for a split topping: half a pizza one way and half a pizza a different way is just not a concept Italian pizzaioli are able to grasp.
  1. Most Italians under 40 speak some English, but many will be embarrassed to talk.
  2. Sunday is a holy day- and not for church, but for soccer! When the games are on, you will see plenty of people walking down the streets with their family with a radio glued to their ear. Sometimes as you walk down a busy street on a Sunday afternoon you will hear a mix of cheers and mumblings- that’s the sign for one of the teams scoring!
  3. Oh, and it’s not soccer- it’s football (or calcio).
  4. Girl watching is a national past time, second only to soccer. Don’t be alarmed when men stare at you. Men look at women as art historians look at the Sistine chapel ceiling.
  5. Third after soccer and women come Formula One and the Ferrari team. Don’t even attempt to speak ill of Scuderia Ferrari in public. You might be verbally assaulted.
  6. Italian television spends one day showing soccer and 6 days talking about it. Other programming includes plenty of half-naked dancing girls and inappropriate nudity commercials- and sometimes Formula 1 races, per priority list set above.
  7. Azzurro, light blue, is the color of every national athlete’s jersey. When you hear talking about Azzurri people usually refers to the national team soccer players, although it’s used in general terms for all national athletes.
  8. You shower at night in Italy, and you change to dress-up clothes before going out for the evening, whether you’re going to a restaurant or to a bar. Day wear is not considered appropriate for night time.
  9. In Italy it is not socially acceptable to be drunk. People boast about their alcohol resistance and no one would ever admit to be drunk.
  10. Business formal is the norm for all office and sales jobs. Wearing a tie is considered appropriate wear for pretty much any workplace.
  11. Italian men dress very nicely. Leather shoes and slacks are a lot more common than shorts and flip flops.
  12. You can see a lot of speedos on Italian beaches, and nobody finds it hilarious.
  13. Topless sunbathing is quite common in the northern beaches, and more frowned upon in the South.
  14. While in the US temperature in public places is determined by the one who feels hot (and hence she is the one who lowers the temperature in the space), in Italy the one who’s cold is always right and her requests will determine a room’s temperature.
  15. Never, ever give chrysanthemums as a flower gift to anyone. They are considered the flowers of the dead, and only brought to cemeteries.
  16. When entering someone’s house, it is customary to ask for permission on the doorstep, even if you’ve been invited already. You say “Permesso” upon entering a house.
  17. Lines (at the post office, at the bank, at the bar, at the bakery) are never really lines. They are a declaration of intent that you need to assert if you want to be helped. Make sure you demand your right in line if you don’t want to be “overtaken”!
  18. Purple being the color of lent, it is considered a color that brings bad luck. Avoid the darker purple hues for evenings at the theatre, and it’s definitely a forbidden color at weddings!
The Fiat 500
  1. Driving in Italy is not terrible. Keep your right, be careful, but many Italians are terrified to drive in California, so you should be just fine!
  2. However, don’t even think to drive in Naples. Road rules are different from what you’re used to, and despite being incomprehensible to most, they keep the city going. You’d be the wrench thrown in the perfectly oiled wheel!
  3. You don’t flag cabs in Italy- usually, you walk to one of the taxi stands where they wait in line- usually located close to main attractions.
  4. If you call a cab, you are often charged for the time it takes for it to come and get you.
  5. Making a “pit stop” alongside the road to relieve oneself (Pulling over to the side of the road and peeing) is accepted. It’s disgusting and terrible, but you’ll see plenty of men doing it.
  6. Never drive on the left lane of the autostrada unless you are passing a car.
  7. Leave your left blinker on while you are in the left lane. Turn left blinker off when you return to the slow lane.
  8. Make sure you respect the speed limits. Contrary to general assumptions, and especially in recent years, police has gotten very strict about speeding. They won’t stop you- just send a picture of you to the car owner. If you’re renting, you are liable to pay the hefty ticket ($200+).
  9. If someone flashes their brights behind you, it’s because they want you to move to the right lane so that they may pass.
  10. Before boarding a train you need to validate your ticket. You will have to validate your ticket directly on buses instead. Make sure you allow plenty of padding on your transfers, as Italian train times are, once again, more a declaration of intent than a set rule…
  11. Scooters, bicycles and motorcycles share the road with cars, and they will zip by on your left and right in a one-lane road!
  12. It’s hard to pay for gas with a credit card, especially after operating hours other than on the autostrada.
  13. No right turn on red!
  14. Don’t try to find a cup holder in your car. If it’s more than 5 years old, there won’t be one!
  15. Eating in the car is unheard of. Italians would never do such a coveted and social thing like eating in the most unsocial place of all, the car.
  16. However, that doesn’t mean Italians don’t like their cars!! Actually, cars are coveted sign of social status. As a consequence, garbage that you produce in the car gets taken out immediately. You will see people throwing things directly outside the window. As long as the car is clean, who cares about littering?
This little guide to Italian culture has had so much success I have thought of a few other items to add to this list. If you have more, keep them coming by emailing me at vanessa at italyinsf dot com!
  1. The perfect drink for a pizza is beer, or soda. Almost no Italian drink wine with their pizza, when they do they consider it an overindulgent pleasure and usually it will be a sparkling wine, like Prosecco.
  2. Pesto does not belong on pizza, on sandwiches, as a side to a caprese salad- pesto only belongs on pasta al pesto.
  3. Martini is a vermouth, not a drink. If you ask for a Martini, you will be served white vermouth, usually on the rocks, with a twist of lemon in it- a delicious aperitivo if you ask me! To order a “North America”-style Martini, ask for a Martini Cocktail!

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Wordless Wednesday


So happy to be raising a group of rainbow spotters who get just as excited as I do to see one...

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Italian Myths About Americans

TOP 15
Italians have about
(As told to me by my Italian friends)

1. All Americans are rich and there is almost no poverty in America.

2. Everyone in America is from New York City. Or California. Or maybe Texas.

3. Americans eat ketchup all the time. With every meal. 

4. While chewing gum. All the time. 

5. Americans drive huge cars and they are all brand new.

6. All Americans have huge families.

7. Everyone in America vacations at Disney World or Myrtle Beach.

8. Every American owns and carries guns on their hip, John Wayne style.

9. Every American is a cowboy.

10. Americans wear jeans all the time, except when they are wearing workout clothes (because we are all in great shape because of all the working out we do).

11. Americans only own two types of shoes: flip flops and tennis shoes

12. We all know George Clooney.

13. And Julia Roberts

14. We all drink beer and never wine.

15. Americans think all Italians are in the mob.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

The Brock BRATS take on school!

Much to our dismay, summer is over and the school year has started. I'm not even going to pretend I'm not SO happy!!!

For the first time in a long time, I don't have a middle schooler. Last year, we had one in high school, one in middle, one in elementary, and one in preschool.  That was NOT easy.  

The week before school started, I found myself thinking a lot about how next year, my first will start her final year in high school and my last will start her first year in school.  

What a journey. The days are long but the years are short.