Love thy Neighbor

I’m starting to get the feeling that experience with expat life in Italy can turn the biggest sweetheart into a stone cold cynic.   I, however, spent 6 increasingly disillusioned years in LA, so I have to admit that I moved to Rome with a healthy dose of cynicism under my belt.

But I also have to admit: I fell for the “La Dolce Vita” urban legend.  I thought Italy was going to be 98% magic and 2% real life. Language like honey; tall, dark and handsome men; all-you-can-eat pizza; small, cozy, old world apartments; neighborhood grandmas that I would befriend and then slowly imbibe all their secret recipes.

Yeah.  Ok.  Let me tell you about my cute old world apartment and neighborhood nonna (grannie).

My neighbor is crazy, and not the fun, eccentric kind of crazy.

A sample out of her insane repertoire:

1. Hanging out in the stairwell to ask people what time it is.  I can barely understand her, so when I open my door and she’s standing there directing words at me, I assume she’s asking what time it is.

2. It’s 1 o’clock.  It’s always 1 o’clock. Even it’s 11 am or 6 pm, it’s 1 o’clock. I don’t know why you’re supposed to tell her it’s 1, but you are. Everyone says “1 o’clock”, and so I parrot that back… too terrified to tell her the real time lest the consequences be unpleasant-er than usual.

3. If she’s not standing outside my door, it’s easy to tell if she’s been there recently.  Oh, how can I possibly know? Hints include:

  • Orange peels ripped into impossibly small pieces
  • Pieces of paper ripped into impossibly small pieces
  • Large pieces of paper balled up and scattered
  • Bags of trash
  • Urine

Did you get that last one? Yeah? I’ll give it a second to really settle in.

4. Excessive doorbell ringing.  I don’t know if you could tell from the last bullet point above, but I’m pretty sure that I am *not* crazy lady’s favorite person.  Nonetheless, in truly desperate moments, she will ask me to do something for her.  She does this by ringing my doorbell about, oh, I don’t know, 30 times.  Then when I get to the door, she’ll thrust something in face, shaking it, not saying a word.  This means: “Dearest neighbor, kindly open this bottle of sauce and/or drain cleaner for me.  Many thanks!”

5.  Mail stealing.  And before you ask- no, I have never seen her committing the crime, but please see items 1-3 and consider the following suspicious circumstances: the mail stealer doesn’t. actually. steal. the. mail.  Instead, the thief seizes it momentarily, rips it into tiny pieces and then stuffs it into my mailbox/neighbors mailbox, or scatters is across the mail room floor.

6. Speaking of the mail room, there used to be a garbage can to toss your junk mail into.  A mysterious trashcan fire put an end to THAT convenience.

In the Americas, I would complain to someone.  But here, I complain and people shrug and go “Yeah. Signora Adriana. Don’t talk to her.” And I want to scream “It’s not the TALKING that bothers me! It’s the URINE, people!!”

But here’s the kicker: I was sitting on the bus last week, minding my own business, when the man in front of me started speaking English.  Because I can only understand the slowest of Italian conversations, I have this awful new habit of instantly eavesdropping if someone speaks English. It’s like my brain switches gears and is like, “YO! You know those words! ALL of them! You GOT this!” and I have no choice but to listen in.

This dude was regaling his seatmate about an awful neighbor he used to have. I listened for 0.3 more seconds before I knew. Then I broke Rule #1 of eavesdropping, I said: “Hi. Sorry for eavesdropping.”

“Did you used to live on {insert my street here}?”


No one is safe. Welcome to Rome!



5 thoughts on “Love thy Neighbor

  1. Dena says:

    shame to say but dont you think when your some place long enough it becomes 98% real life and 2% MAGIC , love your blog , keeps me in touch with my obsession with italy

  2. paula says:

    yup, there are some interesting reality checks living in Italy…only bad part of your story is the urine…diversely the madness is accepted as a part of the world’s humanity and as far as humanity is concerned Italy is really a world class place…

    PS: there are home renters associations which can tell you what to do in your situation.
    there should also be a means to speak to your landlord about the situation. Though I doubt you will get anywhere with them since they already knew about the lady in question. In any case just buckle your seat belt and enjoy that wonderful apartment…the world is full of nut cases only yours is in the Belpaese! and not the Big Apple where I guarantee you there are plenty

  3. Liz says:

    I say, next time crazy nonna comes to your door, or is in the stairwell, and ask for the time…surprise her, tell her it is time for a HUGE HUG, and then give her one…It may help stop the nonsense…she just needs some lovin’…I bet you’ll never have a problem with her again…It can’t hurt to try…the situation is already as goofy as it can get…And you never know, it just may solve your problem…Remember, Love thy neighbor!

  4. Pingback: Escape to a Tuscan Villa | An American in Rome

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