There are many things to adjust to when you move abroad. Most of these things I was prepared for: different food, different clothing styles and of course, a different language.
There was, however, something I wasn't ready for at all in Italy: a different way of being "on time".
I don't mean the way we say the time - although, in some ways, that's different, too - no, I mean the idea of when to show up for something, such as when to arrive for a party, a meeting, a dinner with friends or a walk around town.
I'm an American, of course, and so I'm generally used to being on time for things. I can't stand being late (that's not because I'm American, that's just because I'm, well, me), and I always do my best to be on time or even early when possible.
But in Italy, somehow it never quite works out that way.
Here's an example: You tell a friend "Let's meet at my house at eight and we'll go to dinner," and they say "Okay, that sounds great." All the arrangements are made, and the day finally arrives.
So you make a point of getting ready and then you sit on the sofa to wait for them to ring the doorbell around 7:50, as you'd arranged. Only they don't. No problem, you think. They're a little late. You switch on the television and wait some more. After about fifteen minutes, you start to think Maybe I should give them a call to see if everything's okay? but you don't want to seem pushy, so you don't.
Around 8:30 or so, you realize you keep checking your watch and the minute hand doesn't seem to be moving. Probably because you're checking every other second.
So you call your friend and ask where they are. And they answer with inappropriate cheerfulness "I'm leaving the house now!"
The growl comes from the fact that you know they live fifteen minutes away, and you'll have to drive about ten minutes to get to the restaurant, so now an 8:00 dinner has become a 9:00 dinner instead.
When the doorbell rings, they don't apologize for being late. Instead, they start a discussion about anything besides the fact that they're late, and you decide that, rather than make a scene - or even just ask the question at the back of your mind - rather than risk the brutta figura, you'll just roll with it. After all, it's just this once, right?
I've seen this scenario play out over and over again, whether the plans are with friends or lessons with adult students or meetings at work, no-one seems able to show up at the scheduled time. They stroll into the room, somewhere between twenty to forty minutes late, without a word of apology or acknowledgement that others have been kept waiting.
I finally asked around, intrigued by this notion of being so impossibly relaxed that merely making a call to tell someone you're running late isn't possible. Another teacher, an Italian who teaches English at my school, explained that everyone runs on "Professor time", a.k.a. "Italian time". It would seem that, traditionally, a professor has twenty minutes to arrive for his lesson before the students are allowed to leave for the day, the lesson cancelled. As a result, the students themselves arrive twenty minutes late, too - if the professor isn't going to be spot on time, why should they? They have other things to do in their busy, busy lives.
So the habit becomes ingrained, and spreads into the "real world" outside the walls of academia, so that every meeting, whether social, professional or otherwise, is put off, delayed, started late. But not really, because no-one's expected to arrive at the time it actually starts.
And I'm the silly American breaking her neck trying to get to her appointments on time for fear of looking rude or inconsiderate. Old habits die hard.
I've really got to work on that.