On Romans, Berliners, Amsterdammers and Istanbulites
As the title of this blog may have given it away, the concern of this entry lies not so much on places, but rather on people, and what they are, feel and smell (?) like.
You see, unlike Anna and Vinny’s experience, I arrived to Italy last month, only a day or two after they did, but my Italian experience was short-lived, as I decided to tour a bit around near vicinities prior to starting the semester. I had not been to Rome before, but getting here felt cozy and strangely familiar.
Italians have a way of being that reminds me a bit of Venezuelans. They may be more gestural and smell more like cigarettes and wine and sweat, but they certainly are just as loud, outspoken and warm-hearted as people in my country. Of course, this is no coincidence —many Italians have indeed lived in Venezuela since after the war, so millions of Venezuelans have direct links to this country, and genuine pasta and pizza is almost as celebrated there as it is here.
Anyway, back to my sequence, as I got this first taste and glance of Italians and their culture, I was quickly confused for one of them, perhaps for facial gestures, or dark hair, or my not-so-American look. I was talked to in Italian a few times, and may I say, I felt thankful for knowing Spanish and the language’s Latin roots, because without having ever studied the language, I saw myself understanding most of what I was told, and then, of course, left with a confused face as I tried to reply back. It really took the same amount of time for people to think I was Italian, as it did for them to realize I was not, since my Itañol gave me away as a foreigner quite promptly.
I was quick (though I should also say jet-lagged) to leave Rome and arrive in Berlin, where I saw a whole city under construction, and monument, after monument, after pipes and cranes and new buildings. This place was truly impressive because of its history and preservation and contrasts, and though my German is not too great, I found myself understanding quite a bit during my stay there, and also able to defend myself with it on the streets.
Berliners are not necessarily cold, as people like to tag Germans as, but they are a bit distant, and it feels to me, proud enough of their land and culture to have a preference for those that at least make an effort in understanding it. I say this because I experienced weird vibes from people when it was evident I wasn’t trying to be anything other than a tourist, but every time I would approach locals in their tongue and carry on conversation with something that could make them feel at ease about themselves, it seems I would get the best treatment, and most attention, in comparison to my friends or surrounding tourists, anyway.
Berliners are also blunt, though, and a bit impatient at times. The hotel receptionist had no problem telling some guests that were also staying there to open their eyes and look for things before they asked her irrelevant questions. She, I must say, wasn’t probably the nicest of Germans, but somehow accurately represented a certain part of the people that we saw on the streets day after day.
This bluntness, however, is in no way compared to that of Amsterdammers. They are indeed so proud of their Kingdom, that with or without the language, they’ll be disrespected by naïvety, and will not blink twice before saying no, raising their eyebrows, or rolling their eyes at you. They’re also funny though, and very straight-forward… and at least some of the ones I met, very much in touch with a good sense of self-deprecating humor. They could make fun of themselves at will, if only to alleviate the first aggressiveness of their lack of tact.
Despite all this, the people from Istanbul were the ones that impressed me the most. They are as trustworthy as they are sneaky. They smell as much of tea as they do of coffee and döner and cat hair. Istanbulites embrace folks from everywhere: they speak to you in virtually any language at the Grand Bazaar, but even when not there, and surrounded by Turks who speak nothing but Turkish, they’ll engage in any type of mimicry if only to make you laugh. They’re Muslim, and Christian, and Jewish. They’re orthodox and unorthodox. They frown upon your uncovered knees, and also whistle at you when you seem exotic enough for their type.
They reminded me of Venezuelans, too, and of course, we also do have many Turks there, but what really impressed me was the earthiness of all of them. They seem to be unpretentious and proud of their ways, although they mock these, too, if ever they get a chance.
Now I’m back in Italia, and I’m happy to be here. Italians are friendly and welcoming. I discovered they embrace you as one of them as soon as they know you’re living here. They know you at the coffee shop that you visit frequently. They remember what pizza you like at your local pizzeria. They casually get haircuts next to you on their wedding day, and promise to include you on their photo album (yes, this did happen to me, and I’ll make a point of uploading a picture of it, if I ever get one of this moment). They’re, as I said earlier, loud, and gestural and outspoken, but all those in a caring way, and with ‘Mamma Mias!’ and ‘Ciaos’ in between.