Exploring life and the world with wide eyes and curiosity.

Language and Shopping

The most complicated thing I’ve (tried to) shop for is an Italian cell phone. It’d be easy to simply get any old cheap phone, just something that’ll make and take calls, and do SMS… But I’m a tech junkie. I want a nice interface and good design. I want bluetooth. If it’s going to have a camera, it might as well be higher-res than low. How big are the numbers? Can I read them without my glasses? All of those things are easy to decide on without speaking, and by just looking at the tech summary posted, but asking the young, impatient, non-enunciating guy about the pros and cons of dual-band vs. tri-band and its potential use in the U.S…. Ha! Do I pay the higher price so I can use it when I’m back in Seattle for short visits? Hmm. He wouldn’t let me handle the phone much to check out it’s product design. And asking him about the rechargeability and interchangeablity of the SIM card in my very limited Italian and his non-existent English made me just cut the visit short. I bought a SIM card to get started with a borrowed phone, and I’ll figure the rest out later. At least now, back at home, I can review the tech specs online, then go back forearmed with information. (And besides, it’s hard to shop when I’m hot, tired and feeling stretched!)


Mr. Ferramenta


I also needed to buy a few screws so I can repair the hinge on my kitchen cabinet door. I removed the old ones, put them in with my coins and carried them around with me. When at the student bookstore at NABA, I said to Paolo, in Italian “where can I buy some of these?” I didn’t even have to know what screws are called in Italian! He told me to look for the Ferramenta on San Gottardo. Shopping on San Gottardo today, I couldn’t remember the term “ferramenta”, so I tried the same trick after walking into a little store that sells clocks. The Ferramenta was just a block away. Very cool! Floor to ceiling bins of fixtures, attachments, handles, screws, small hand tools, and other metal hardware. That’s all the guy sells. Again, I just pulled the screws out of my coinpurse and showed them to him. A little crude Italian spoken by me, a flurry of Italian from him. He pulled 8 screws out of a bin, tore a page out of a magazine and wrapped the screws then taped the little package closed. Cost: 30 centessimi, about 45 cents, and he allowed me to shoot a couple of pictures of him and his many bins.


Ferramenta Bins

Electrical Components

Or there’s the question of power and electrical plugs. Some things are dual-voltage and just need different prongs. Some need voltage conversion. Others should have both of the above plus a surge protector, like my laptop. Figure all that out, and get recommendations when you don’t speak the language! The guys in the Mac department at the big store near the duomo were moderately helpful, and I checked out what kind of surge protector they use on their display machines. But the simple plug converters like I had ordered last year from a company in the U.S. were tough to find… Until, also on San Gottardo, I walked past a little hole-in-the-wall store that just sells electrical components. He had exactly what I needed and I bought 3 of them for about 1,50 Euro each.

I like these little, highly specialized shops! And the proprietors know exactly what they’re selling.


Gisella, from Sicily, is a pleasure to be greeted by. I stepped into her bakery yesterday, then went back today. She’s more than happy to tell me about her different breads and foods. And one, her food was good. Two, her friendly warmth will make her a pleasant part of my regular community within the neighborhood around my home. She was very patient and accommodating with my limited Italian and I want a good bakery. She’s got bread loaves, sweets and some lunch/dinner items prepared by her Mom.


I went to the post office yesterday to gather up the paperwork for my “Permesso di Soggiorno”, “Permit to Stay”. The women in the office at NABA were invaluable for giving me pointers for filling out the paperwork and telling me where to get the pieces I needed. All those things in hand, I returned to the post office today to submit my formal application. I was there for about 20 minutes, and they clarified a few things here and there, but in the end, they gave a quite forceful stamp on all my papers and handed me the infamous “receipt”, which shows that I’ve jumped through that hoop. Now I wait for final papers.

All of these things I’m doing without carrying around and Italian-English dictionary. My stumbling Italian, for the most part has been enough to get me by. I generally walk out the door with what I need.

  1. LynnKJune 23,09

    Maureen – it took me a while to catch up on all your adventures. After you have spent the morning hunting for screws, and being run-around by the phone guy, perhaps “adventure” is not the word you were going to use. But to me, in the land of Fred Meyer and Costco, just walking into the screw store sounds like a trip into Oz.

    I remember the same little stores in Taipei. For all the conveniences in the US, we loose a lot by not having the walking districts of little shops. I hope the photo is coming soon!

    Thinking of you,

  2. AprilJune 23,09

    Pretty cool post. I just found your blog and wanted to say
    that I have really liked reading your posts. Anyway
    I’ll be subscribing to your feed and I hope you post again soon!

  3. ScottJune 24,09

    Coooooooooool! Love the picture Maureen!

  4. ScottJune 24,09

    Very cooool indeed! I love the photos.

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