One of the cutest things I encountered in Italian class was a misunderstanding. Our teacher would say, “chiaro?” often. This went on for days until finally one of my classmates asked what does “chiaro” mean? She thought that it meant “honey” or some other term of affection and that our teacher was calling us this several times an hour! Our teacher was asking us if we understood what was being said! “Chiaro?” means “clear?” in Italian.
The title of this blog posting refers to a Danish movie from 2000, and my current activity. “Italian for Beginners” is a lighthearted entertaining movie about Danes who want something a bit more interesting in their lives so they go to Italian class. Romance and “viaggio” to Italy ensue.
Learning Italian is a bit topsy turvy for me as Italian is, in many ways, the opposite of English and Spanish. For example, the “che” is a “kah” sound and the “ci” is “cheh” sound as in “ciao.” The double ell in Spanish is spelled with a “gli” in Italian but the double ell like in “bello” is a really forceful ell sound. The ñ in Spanish is spelled “gn” in Italian so that “gnocchi” is “ñ-o-key” — and so on.
Actually, the phrase I’ve learned the best is “attenta su pronuncia” – watch your pronunciation.
But, it’s most important to say hello, goodbye, please, and thank you. So far I’ve learned that the Italians are very formal so one should not use “ciao” unless you are family or you are close friends. (Also, “Ciao” derives from an old Venetian saying for “I’m your slave.”)
Hello: “buongiorno” (bwon-jorno) until sundown and then it’s “buona sera” (bwon-ah sarah)
Goodbye: “arrivederci” (a-riv-eh-dare-chi)
Please: “per favore” (pear fa-vore-eh) or “per piacere” (pear pah-chair-ee)
Thank you: “grazie” (gra-ts-ee-ay)
Excuse me: “scusi” (skoo-zee) is the formal form and “scusa” is the informal.
One thing I have learned about Italian is how to say “good luck!” Contrary to direct translation, it is not “buona fortuna!” Instead, it’s “jump inot the mouth of the wolf!” Or “In bocca al lupo!” This is the equivalent to “break a leg” in Italian.
This year I see the rise of artisanal bread. Last year, I predicted the popularity of poke. I predict next year is the bubbling of kombucha and homebrews: from kombucha, beer, wine, and other concoctions.
In one year, the trend went from zero-carbohydrate to full-on gluten party. For many years, San Francisco has been famous for its sourdough bread. But sourdough or “masa madre” (mother yeast dough) is one of the most natural ancient forms of raising agent. It occurs naturally if you leave some flour out in the free air. The sourdough made in Lima is less sour than the bread in San Francisco.
There are several artisanal bakers in Lima who give lessons on making bread and sourdough starter. They even give classes in English. Amelia of Buda Bakes (uses sourdough for pizza bases, pretzels, and babka to name a few) and Francisco of Masas Salvaje (they have nine varieties including Andean grains, kiwichi — don’t know what it is either!, parmesan, chocolate, and turmeric) are two that I can think of off hand. The extremely stretchy artisanal bread at El Pan de la Chola is one of the reasons that El Pan de la Chola continues to maintain its place at the top of my list of best restaurants in Lima.
Lima’s bread artisans make good use of Instagram and Facebook to share visuals of their bread as smello-vision and toucho-vision has not been invented yet. One of the delights of bread is that warm bready aroma and squidgy stretchy texture.
Having now lived in Lima past the honeymoon phase, I thought I’d write about some of the “realities” of life here as a foreigner (as I did about Dhaka and Bogota. An aside: I continue my search for the perfect “chaleco”.). Most of the daily annoyances that I go through are due to my own personal peeves, but, as the song says, I yam what I jam.
Indirect communication: that is the modus operandi here. As a direct person, I sometimes get tired of the indirect route. I like to ask upfront and not have to guess what is being asked. To the locals, being up front is rude. The twain shall never meet.
Formality: The Limenos are formal people. They like things to be formal. It ties in with being “respectful” which I think might be more important to them than being “nice.” They like to dress formally. They like formal. Have I made it clear? If you can add more gold and more formality, the better.
Class: Yes, they have classes here. Yes, there’s racism. This is not unique to Lima. I still find it annoying to watch people treating others differently simply based on where they live, or their accent, or what job they have. (Let me get off my soapbox… aaaaagh…)
Time: There is the standard comment that people are “late” for everything. If the invitation says 8 p.m., then people will show up at 9:30. But, time, in another sense that I find culturally different, is that Peruvians are night owls. Therefore many things are not open until 10 a.m. and some businesses aren’t even open for lunch on Sundays until 2 p.m.! Also, many restaurants close for a few hours in the middle of the day. Sometimes I like to eat dinner at 5:30 p.m., and there are very few dinner restaurants open at that time.
Paying upfront/business deadlines: I recently had a reminder of this cultural lesson. I like to pay for things upfront so when I had something custom made at a tailor shop, I paid upfront. This was wrong because it meant that the shop no longer had any incentive to get the job done or get it done in a timely manner. To top if off, when I got the item, it was not done properly.
Making a scene: Peruvians, due to their preference for indirect communication, do not like it when people make a scene. I told the tailor (see above) that I thought he had terrible service, that I did not want to hear his excuses, and that I would not recommend him to others. This was a scene. But, the tricky part here is… that they were embarrassed for me that I lost my cool. Not embarrassed for themselves for their sucky service. So it’s a no-win situation. One has to simply use the “withhold payment” method (see above) to ensure that you get what you paid for (or will pay for.).
Calling: Peruvians love to use the telephone. They call to double check that the email went through, they call to make sure that what one ordered online is actually what one wants, they call to tell one that things are not going to be ready on time, they call to tell one that things are ready on time, they call, call, call, call… and call. Eventually, you will too.
The weather: In winter, there is no sun. I’m not sure one gets used to it. One gets through it. This may be one of the things that is unique about Lima (maybe also San Francisco, Seattle…)
The air pollution and food poisoning: The air is bad. It’s clammy and almost everyone gets colds related to the clammy air or suffers from other lung related issues. It’s worse closer to the coast. Food poisoning or “intestinal” issues are sort of surprising considering the reputation of the Lima as a foodie city. But, it happens, and it’s not special to Lima. And it happens to the locals too.
Security: Yes, it’s a big city of nine million. (The photo is actually from a place south of Lima, but I like the security measure for one’s purse. Or is it for the chair?) What I miss most is being able to wear a backpack in peace. If you wear a backpack on your back, and you walk in a crowd, you will most likely find that the outermost pockets have been picked. That’s just the way it is. It might not happen. But it might. Also, when paying by credit card, don’t let the card leave your sight. Most restaurants will bring the machine to you, but once in a while, you will need to go to the machine (usually at the bar or cashier).
Traffic: Every city seems to want to win the “worst traffic” award. Lima too. Yes, the traffic is bad. It is what it is. I still think that the traffic in Dhaka wins for badness. It is rare in Lima that you will sit in one place for 90 minutes, swarmed by 500,000 bicycle rickshaws, all while being eaten by mosquitoes. In Lima, as the locals say, “se mueve” or “it moves” — which is true. The traffic is bad in Lima, but it does actually move, even if it’s only at five miles per hour. Glad that I could end this on a positive note.
Another time, I’ll write about the best things about living in Lima.
****Updated address on May 29, 2021**** El Cacaotal has always been located on Jirón Colina, but it’s been in three locations. Currently, the address is Jirón Colina 111.
Chocolate tasting class? For as little as 60 soles (20 bucks) or 120 soles (40 bucks), you can learn all about chocolate, where it’s grown in Peru, where it comes from, how to taste it, what it should sound like, snap like, smell like, and so on… but, no fear, the class is not intimidating. AJ is clearly an expert (she really is — see below), but she is so warm and friendly that you hardly feel like you are sitting on a school bench.
AJ is an American anthropologist who did her graduate degree in chocolate! Then she opened up a shop to share the knowledge and help Peru’s chocolate field. Her shop is called El Cacaotal (cocoa field) and it’s decorated with dried cacao tree leaves and everything chocolate (or items in support of non-chocolate small entrepreneurs). The shop is located on Jirón Colina 111 in Barranco (two streets west from the Metro grocery store on Grau, down the street from a yellow corner building).
AJ’s chocolate tasting classes can be in English or Spanish and at the end, you will be in situ to buy chocolate! The chocolate is sustainable small batch delicious healthy dark chocolate, but you can ignore that if you want and just enjoy the delicious varieties of chocolate from all over Peru.
I emailed to set up a class for seven of us (she can fit up to ten in a class). Her email is: firstname.lastname@example.org. Make it a thing you do when you visit Lima.
I’ll be too busy eating chocolate, because, did I mention that I don’t even really like chocolate? So I’ll be trying to find one that I really do like… And not just the world champion from last year… I’ll give them all a try! Even the (healthy, sigh) spreadable version.
The “colmado” is a thing there in the Dominican Republic. It’s like a corner drugstore or a bodega… basically, what you need, or want, you can get at your local colmado. They deliver. The important thing is that they deliver beer. Really cold, icy, beer. “Bien fria” is the phrase for an icy cold beer. That’s easy Spanish. So, if you find yourself at an Airbnb or some other place here, get the number of your local colmado, and learn the phrase “bien fria” so that you can get your beers delivered. The colmado will deliver anything they have to your home. Even a single egg.
There are colmados on every street, which is hard to tell from my blurry photos out of the car…
For the Dominicans, this is their local pub, bar, local watering hole, hangout, a place where they go after work, on the weekends, to get a “bien fria” and chill. Maybe followed by some dancing. Not your stuffy organized “dahnce” but just the pop-up impromptu salsa that happens because your feel it in your feet, your arms, your soul. The music is in your DNA. And it wants to get down and express itself.
The Dominicans will turn any place into a party, from their local gas station, barber shop, corner store, and so on — into a place to chill with beer and dancing. Not just their colmado.
This may be a class thing… not sure, but I don’t think that the “upper” class hang out at their local colmado… but I could be wrong.
It was a surprise to me to learn that Colombia has a class system. They call them strata, with strata six at the top. Apparently, the strata system determines the cost of utilities etc. and has nothing to do with class.
Expats are considered strata six. This makes me think that there is a strata seven — as I’ve seen many “strata seven” types out and about in my neighborhood.
May 1 is not such a big deal here in Colombia. Neither as international workers’ day nor as a spring festival.