February 2007 Archives

The Italian Pharmacy


Living in another country means living around a bunch of people you're not used to, and also living around a bunch of germs you're not used to. Lately I've been feeling a bit sick, but I can't really tell if it's a cold or just allergies. Sometimes I think there's just something I'm allergic to because it's worse in the morning. I also think it's just allergies because the prevalence of cigarette smoke has been bothering my nose (not that it has really bothered me before, though). The office often smells like smoke because a few people like to light up inside, sometimes directly underneath the sign that says "vietato fumare." I'm sure you can figure out what that means from the context.

To try to control my runny nose, I sought out a pharmacy last night. Apparently you can't buy medicines at the grocery and convenience stores in Italy, or at the very least, not at the ones I've been to. I'm not sure if all drugs are considered controlled substances or if there just wasn't any room left on the shelf for Tylenol after they stocked all the pasta noodles.

Pharmacies are easy to find around here because they all have a largish green neon plus-sign jutting out perpendicular to the store, in the same manner that many US barber shops once had the candy-cane colored barber poles out front. As my luck would have it, the pharmacy I found wasn't the cornucopia of pain relievers, decongestants, and q-tips I was expecting; but rather one of those new-age hippie homeopathic places. Although I couldn't read many of the labels, I immediately recognized the root-extracts, 100000X concentrations, and pixie dust that scream "alternative" cure. If they have an FDA over here, the whole store would need wallpaper repeating "What you're buying is not intended to treat, prevent, diagnose, or cure any disease."

Instead of giving up and walking out, I decided to ask the exceedingly nice people behind the counter if they had any cold medicine. Unfortunately I wasn't as prepared as I should have been, so I couldn't muster the Italian words to describe what I wanted. Doubly unfortunate was that neither of the pharmacists spoke any more English than I spoke Italian. Therefore I resorted to acting out a cough and massaging my throat while saying I was feeling bad. Or maybe I said naughty. I hope they didn't get the wrong idea.

What they produced from under the counter was a pleasant surprise. I was able to purchase real, laboratory-researched medicine developed by none other than Pfizer. With three active ingredients, including Pseudoefedrina (which I'm going out on a limb to assume is Pseudoephedrine), I knew I was in business.

And sure enough, it worked wonders today, though in trade has turned me into a zombie. Although right now I'm just walking around slowly and kinda spaced out, I'm still only craving the usual foods and not brains. At least I think. I had some really good meat at lunch today that I couldn't identify, and it's sounding good again now. Could it have been ?

Settling In


I've been here for almost 3 weeks now, and I've just finished unpacking. I've been living out of my suitcase, for the most part, the whole time. After doing laundry, I actually folded my clothes and put them back in the suitcase, for reasons I can't really explain, unless it was some sort of rebellion against relocation. I guess it was a good milestone for me to dump the contents of the suitcase on the bed and arrange everything in drawers and in the closet. Scandicci is officially home.

In recognition of my new living arrangements, I've been going to the store to get things to make me feel more at home. The most important find was an American-style drip coffee maker. Sure, the espresso is great over here, but it's so small, not even excluding when I order a caffe lungo (tall coffee). Sometimes you just want a big ol' cup of coffee to sip on for a while. And after being told I wouldn't be able to find a drip coffee maker here, I got one, and it's happily making American-style coffee from Italian beans.

Sometimes I buy things that turn out to not be what I was expecting. I bought what I thought was a carton of milk, but it turned out to be cream. The first sip was something of a surprise. I bought what I thought was orange juice, but I found out the hard way I should pay more attention to the labeling. I shook up the "orange juice" really good, and then opened the screw top, only to find the aranciata was orange soda when the carbonated drink sprayed all over my kitchen.

Sometimes I buy things just because I recognize them from the United States. Comfort foods. I don't really even like chocolate, but I saw a bag of M&Ms in the store so I bought them. Not only were they crazy expensive, but they didn't really even taste like the M&Ms I remember. And to top it all off, they melted in my mouth AND in my hand. sheesh.

Now all I need to get is a BBQ grill and some Johnsonville cheesy brats and I'll be set.

Ciao dall'Italia


I've been in Italy almost a week and I'm happy to report that things are going really well here. I haven't done a whole lot yet because I've been so busy with work. I got off the plane at 1:30p and was in the office by 2:00. We've been scrambling to get a product ready for a trade show in Barcelona next week and I think we're finally good to go.

So ! What's it like living in Italy ? Twelve shades of different, I suppose. The whole idea didn't really sink in until I was on the airplane and seeing the city lights of Boston fade behind me. "Goodbye America, see you and the English language in a couple months."

The house I'm staying in is really fantastic. The company rented a little one bedroom place on top of a hill on the west side of town. From my front patio I have a great view of Scandicci and the mountains, and more closely I'm surrounded by olive trees and grape vines. The house is so very Italian-village, rustic, peaceful. I finally made it to the grocery store to pick up some food, cleaning supplies, and miscellaneous things to made home a little more like home. The popular grocery store over here is called the Ipercoop, which is very similar to the American Wal-Mart. I have to admit I'm slightly disappointed that it exists, but then the convenience is very welcome.

My house has everything I need for basic living. A stove, toaster oven, dishwasher, heat, fireplace, bidet, and a washing machine--but no dryer. It seems dryers are very uncommon in Italy (and the ones that do exist are more like dehumidifiers). Washing clothes is an extended process. I put some undergarments in the tiny washing machine this afternoon and it ran for about 3 hours. For the lack of a better drying method, I put my damp clothes on the radiator to dry, which promptly turned the house into a sauna. Oh well, I wonder if they have laundromats in these parts.

Driving is a real hoot over here. I have use of a Fiat Punto, a little diesel manual transmission car that always smells a little like an electrical fire. I'm surprised how quickly driving became old-hat for me, considering how many things are different from what I know. Many of the roads are only one lane, but two-direction. That means when you come upon another car, one of you has to pull off to the side to let the other car get by. You share the road with motorcyclists and Vespa scooters, but they don't share the road with you. Traffic lights aren't as common as "roundabouts," where you drive around in a circle instead of plowing straight through an intersection. And my favorite snarky bit is that stop signs actually say "STOP" on them, instead of the Italian equivalent word "ALT."

I'm still using my regular phone around here. If you call I can talk for a few minutes, but it's a long ways from being cheap (the company is reimbursing me for a reasonable amount of phone charges though I'm trying not to stretch the word "reasonable"). If you do call, please remember that I'm seven hours ahead of you, so when you're getting off work, it's midnight for me.

Pictures will follow soon. Thanks for stopping by, you know I miss all of you (except you-know-who).

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