by Melinda Gallo

Purchasing a new sbattitore

One thing I would never accuse the Italians of and that is favoring Italians over foreigners in shops or at the open market. After going to the same places for over a year, I've come to the conclusion that they try to keep track of who is generally next in line unless there are huge lines and then, you have to do it yourself. And if you don't keep track, usually some of the other customers will. Of course, things are a little different in some open markets, like San Lorenzo here in Florence, but that market is mostly for tourists.

I had to go and buy a new sbattitore (hand beater) since my other one died when I made bagels the other day. I went into a few shops yesterday downtown and found two: one only had two velocitÓ (speeds) and the other was in acciaio (stainless steel). The first one cost 28 Euros and the other 60 Euros. I don't mind spending money on something of quality, but the last one I had held up a year and it only cost me 11 Euros.

Today, I went to a ferramenta (hardware store) in via dell'Agnolo where I've been a few times, but she only had one and it was 28 Euros. I wasn't impressed with it, so I'd figure I'd try my luck at another ferramenta.

I went to the ferramenta near the Mercato di Sant'Ambrogio. I go there quite rarely since there are always crowds of people and it's also where I got my umbrella stolen not long ago. Generally, you tell them what you want and you follow them while they get it for you. Some of it is self-service, but mostly people tell them and they get it for them.

I took my number and waited near the counter with about ten other people. There were two women standing in front of the counter near the cash register looking quite upset. I finally heard them talking and realized that they were British. I told myself that I would help them if they needed it, so I kept my eye on them.

The older man called out the next number, "diciotto" (eighteen). I was content that I would be next. A man in back said that he had that number and they walked off to get him something in another room.

One of the British women started talking very loudly to anyone that would listen, "Hey, we've been waiting here for a long time and you keep helping everyone around us. What is this? You don't help us because we're not Italian?" I was startled by her words and the younger man who worked there looked up at them and said, "Un momento" (one moment). He looked at anyone who was looking back at him to say that he didn't understand why they were so upset.

Since he was just about to help them, I figured it was too late to tell the women that they were supposed to pick a number. I know it's not obvious because the ticket dispenser is hidden on a shelf a few feet behind from the counter where they were standing.

I wanted to tell her, but I also knew that no one there had understood a word she said except maybe the "Italian" part. I know they knew she had insulted them, but I guess they weren't completely sure. The older man who worked there said slowly, "Non parlo inglese. Parlo solo italiano." (I don't speak English, only Italian), as he passed by the cash register still helping a customer.

This got the woman fired up some more and here I thought she'd be satisfied that the younger man would be helping her before helping the next person in line, which was me. With that she said, "I don't speak Italian. What's going on? You don't help us because we're not Italian?!" By now there were a lot of people around them and I couldn't get to them in time. I wanted to tell her about the numbers, but she didn't look like she would have been happy to find out how wrong she was.

When the younger man came to ring up what they were waiting to buy, the woman asked, "How much is this?" The man responded, "Dieci Euros" and showed her the price tag on the box and a bill from his cash register. "OK," she said, "I'll give you ten Euros." And with that, they picked up their purchases and walked toward me.

As they passed me, the younger man called my number, "diciannove." I was hoping to explain the system in this shop, but I didn't get a chance to tell them anything. I felt sad that they left with such a bad impression of the Italians.

I told the younger man what I wanted and he showed me all the sbattitori (hand beaters) that he had and I chose one. I certainly wasn't going to buy the same one I got from them last year. I thought I'd try my luck on a different one even though it's pea green!

As I walked outside toward the Mercato di Sant'Ambrogio, I felt bad that I let those women leave the shop without saying anything to them. I did hope that I would bump into them, but I didn't see them again. So, if you're ever in a shop in Italy and no one is helping you, look around and see if anyone is holding a number.

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