by Melinda Gallo

Being an outsider

I've had a few weeks to digest the label of "outsider" that I was given in the Wall Street Journal article. The label has made me think about my position in Florence as an outsider and as much as I don't like to admit it, the label fits. When I arrived in Florence, I wanted to be accepted and welcomed with open arms, but Florence is not a city that allows for that. The fiorentini (Florentines) are not the type of people who would welcome others to live here in their beloved city.

The fiorentini put up with all of us stranieri (foreigners) being here, but I'm sure that most of them would be happier if we all just picked another spot to live. But the fiorentini consider anyone who is not a fiorentino a straniero. I had talked to other Italians from other parts of Italy and they too have told me that they were not accepted at first. But now they are accepted more because there are other stranieri who seem to be lower on the totem pole.

Not only do I sometimes feel like an outsider, but I also feel as though I am invisible. Some of the fiorentini see me, but do not take much notice. And, many of the stranieri don't recognize me as one of them. So, in the end I overhear conversations that I'd rather not hear and I understand what people say at times when I wish I could ignore it.

When I was walking down Borgo la Croce yesterday, I saw an Asian woman frantically running around calling out for her dog. Supposedly, the dog ran away from her and toward the mercato di Sant'Ambrogio. An Italian woman started yelling because the dog was jumping on her to get to her own dog that she was holding in her arms.

The Asian woman ran up to the woman to get her dog. She hit the dog in the head and after the dog yelped, she snatched it up. I was shocked, the woman was shocked, and a man that was on his cell phone standing on the sidewalk was also shocked.

The man on the phone said to the Italian woman, "Hai visto questa straniera come ha trattato il suo cane? inaccetabile." (Did you see how that foreign lady treated her dog? It's unnacceptable.) I agree wholeheartedly with what he said except for the way he hung onto the word straniera as if it were somehow dirty.

Neither one looked at me, but I felt as if they were talking about me as well. I continued walking down the street trying to not hear any more of their conversation.

Last year, I was in another situation when an English woman at the mesticheria (hardware store) accused the shopkeepers of not wanting to help the non-Italians. She made it understood that she felt they were racists, but just didn't say the word. I felt embarrassed by her remarks because they were untrue. She obviously didn't know that she was supposed to take a number so that the shopkeeper could help her when it was her turn.

In Florence, I get to walk around almost unnoticed by others. I have the opportunity to watch people and listen to them when they speak among themselves. So I have learned to value my status as an outsider even though once in a while I'd like to not be considered one.

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