A LOST ‘SAVOIR FAIRE’

Venice, Italy 2014

Dedicated to Dona. You have been waiting to hear this story retold:

Italy had never been a place that I wanted to visit. Perhaps it was because it was a country that seemed to rich and refined, even for my standards. When I met Dona she personified those feelings as I watched my young Italian friend walk casually through our Parisian office with her Louis Vuitton bag, designer clothes and shoes.

“Italy has the best food, the best coffee, the best desserts, the freshest food…” she would list for me the many reasons Italy topped France, and most definitely the US. It took me moving out of Europe to finally admit that I needed to visit her country at least once before leaving. We planned a weekend visit to Venice, and we would stay at her mother’s home outside the city.

Mama was a short plump woman, everything I pictured of an Italian mom. I was told she even made her own pasta.

“But of course for an Italian this is normal. It is you Americans who have lost the art of cooking,” I was reminded. I was to find that we had lost the knowledge of many things.

“Come, I will show you around the house,” Dona guided me through the kitchen, the heart and soul of the home, and up the stairs. We went down the hallway and passed the bedrooms, a glimpse of where Dona and her brothers passed their childhood.

“Here is your room, and the bathroom is just there. Why don’t you get settled and then come back down to the kitchen?”

After hanging my cloths, I went to the restroom to freshen up. There in front of me were two toilets; one standard toilet, and the other a very curious looking bidet sitting casually next to its neighbor.

Curiosity always gets the best of me, and I find that there are few questions I am too shy to ask. Back in the kitchen I lean close to my friend and ask, “so how are you supposed to use the bidet?”

Bursting with laughter, Dona looks at me, “Ah yes, this is one thing you don’t know how to use. You just wash yourself dear.” Mama was looking curiously at our animated laughing discussion as we went over some of the finer points of bidet etiquette. Finally, she turned to her daughter to ask for a translation.

Hand gestures are an important form of dialogue communication in Italy, and I saw a few from Mama that signified shock, disbelief and confusion. Finally, laughing and slightly red, Dona turned back to me to translate.

“She doesn’t believe me that you never used a bidet before. So she asked me why I never showed you how in Paris. I tried to explain to her that they don’t have them in France. She did not believe me so she asked why I never showed you how to use it in the office. I again told her that there isn’t one in the office. She asked why I don’t show you in my apartment. I told her a third time that I don’t have one in my apartment. Now she is upset because she doesn’t know how I keep myself clean.”

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