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by Francesca Di Meglio
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Shopping with the Italians
Get a strategy - and a few laughs - for introducing your Italian guests to America's consumer culture
My family has been calling my house Hotel Di Meglio because in the fall and winter of 2009-2010, my husband and I have been hosting one guest after another from Italy. It's like there is a revolving door on our front porch. I might have to invest in a bell-hop uniform. One guest stayed with us three months, another a week, and another three weeks. We were alone for all of two and half weeks in the last five months. Soon, however, my husband and all his friends will be returning to Italy. But before they all go, they have to shop until they drop. I myself dropped about a month ago. There's no more shopping left in me.
In fact, my husband and one of our Italian friends are on a shopping expedition at an outlet mall right now, and I'm in the food court writing this. I can't take another moment in the mall. (Bet you never thought you'd hear those words from a Jersey girl like me - neither did I.) Thanks to the rising euro and falling dollar, my Italian friends, many of whom come from a small island with few shopping options, can't get enough of American capitalism.
They want to consume all America has to offer - from the Nike sneakers to the McDonald's burgers to the iPods and digital cameras. They prefer brand names, which is why we so often find ourselves at the outlets. Italian guests of ours seem to dream of Polo, Tommy, and Calvin as children do sugarplums at Christmas.
If you're planning on taking an Italian guest to a shopping center, especially an outlet mall, get a map and find out if there are any coupons available. Next, you should put some bottled water in the car because you never know how long the trip is going to take. A snack or two might come in handy as well. Trust me.
I'm baaaaaaccckkk. I went off for a while to shop with the boys. Their eyes get bigger and bigger as we approach a store. And suddenly I lose them. I can't find them anywhere. Then all of a sudden, I see their heads peering out from the miles of racks. Their arms are carrying loads of dress shirts and sweaters and American blue jeans. Levis 501 Blues baby.
Many Italians are obsessed with looking good, much more so than Americans. None of them, for example, would wear sweat pants to the mall. Some of them won't even wear a white T-shirt. Appearance, as I've mentioned before, is very important because of the belief in bella figura, or the idea that your outside indicates what's happening on the inside. Because of this, the Italians with whom I've shopped take shopping very seriously. They try on every item and carefully contemplate every purchase. This is also because it's not like they can return or exchange what they buy because once it's in Italy, it's going to stay there.
I often convince the shoppers to take a lunch break. Fast food. Burgers, fries, or a salad – if the clothes shopping is proving to be difficult with sizes. On-the-spot decisions to go on a diet because they couldn't fit into the Levis of their dreams has been known to happen. When I eat only salad, I get pretty cranky. That's when those snacks come in handy.
After a day of explaining the difference between skinny and slim regular fits, converting euros to dollars, and reassuring friends that they don't look fat in those jeans, I'm usually pretty exhausted. Indeed, right now, I can barely type any longer. And I never ever want to shop again…until the next Italian friends or relative make their way to America and all its shopping galore.
Di Meglio is the Guide to Newlyweds for About.com, and you can read more about her life and career at Two Worlds Web site.
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