Itís only when I interact with people in both of my cities on the same day that I realize some major differences. Normally, I accept each culture quite easily and get into the rhythm of the city rather quickly. However, on the day that I travel from one to the other, I stumble through the transition.
Coming from the American culture where compliments can sometimes be a sign of manipulation, I have since been baptized into the Italian way of complimenting for the past ten years. Italians give compliments easily and almost spontaneously. I donít consider it a way to butter me up, but more a way to indicate that I am being seen. A compliment is a sweet validation of my existence. I accept a compliment and thank the person; however, I donít let the compliment change me or alter my self-confidence.
When I was going through security at the airport, I handed the man my boarding pass and my Italian carta díidentitŗ (identity card). I told him that I needed some time because I had a computer in my bag as well as a scarf and belt on. I put my things in the plastic containers and the man rearranged them each time. He then said, ďVous parlez bien le franÁais pour une italienne (You speak French well for an Italian woman).Ē I thanked him politely, but I didnít appreciate his compliment because it didnít really make me feel good like most compliments do.
While I was on the plane, I thought about his compliment and wondered if I wasnít being a bit harsh. In general, the French are less likely to give compliments so maybe I should be happy the man even said something kind to me at all. I have been spoiled by the Italians so unless it feels like a sincere compliment, I just accept the words and move on.
When I reached the front of the taxi line at the Florence airport, the tassista (taxi driver) was on the phone. ďTi devo richiamare perchŤ devo portare una bellissima signorina a casa sua (I have to call you back because I have to take a beautiful woman to her house).Ē He looked at me with a smile and I smiled back. It wasnít a direct compliment, but it definitely felt sincere. He didnít qualify his compliment like the man in the French airport.
I know that some people probably think that maybe the man had an ulterior motive, but I know for sure that he didnít. Iíve been living a long time in Italy and I know that they like to make others smile. And what better way than to give a compliment that you feel is true. A compliment is a small gift we can give to someone to brighten up his/her day even if just for a few moments. That is what I appreciate about the Italians. We can all be beautiful, kind, generous, and warm by just saying a kind word to a stranger.
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