Tuesday, February 14, 2006

“Prego,” “Grazie,” “Prego”

I went to Catholic School. From what I hear of Catholic Schools it seems it was the only one on Earth where all of the nuns were beautiful, sang like angels and had perfect handwriting. They also had impeccable manners. The Sisters made sure to teach us those manners. It was their duty.

Manners, they told us, were a sign of respect for other people. So we learned them well and formally. We said things like “Pardon me,” whenever we passed in front of someone and stood whenever a grown-up entered the room. I didn’t realize that the manners I was learning weren’t the manners of everyday people.

I guess I lost my formal manners the day at dance class when I asked my dance instructor, “May I please use the lavatory?” She didn’t know what I was talking about. I was so embarrassed I could hardly get the word bathroom out. Luckily I made it there in time to get my leotard down.

Years later I went to Bologna, Italy. Bologna, where the 6’5” black haired, blue-eyed cab driver drove all the way back with a smile because I gave him to many lira. I said, “Grazie,” He said, “Prego.” My adrenaline made my heart beat faster. Eye contact is something in Bologna. Go there. You’ll see.

My Aussie friends and I went to the little bar in our hotel, where our young bartender, Luca was. He was 30. He had no English. He needed none. He welcomed us. “Prego,” said Luca. “Grazie,” we said. “Prego,” he said again. There went my adrenaline. Eye contact one more time. I started to realize that Americans don’t say, “You’re welcome,” anymore and thinking it was a shame, because I was liking how good it felt to hear it.

We got out the phrase book and shared simple phrase. I pointed to my head and said in Italian, “The battery’s dead.” Luca laughed. He got us a drink. “Grazie,” we said. “Prego,” he said again. Adrenaline. Eye contact all over again.

It was the same in every restaurant, coffee shop, art gallery, taxi cab, bar, bookstore we visited. “Prego,” “Grazie,” “Prego,” with an occasional Scuzí, if you happened to bump someone on the way in or out of a doorway. Each one always came with a smile and that eye contact. Go there. You’ll see.

I lost my manners in dance class and found them in Italy.

How they got there I’m not sure. But I made a point to bring them home with me.

—me strauss Letting me be


mergrl said...

Wonderful my friend, just wonderful, love going on these trips with you (hugs)

ME Strauss said...

HI mergrl,
You would have loved that cab driver! He was VERY handsome indeed.

Billy said...


ME Strauss said...

Thank you, Bill

zilla said...

So simple, holding a gaze and behaving graciously, yet they happen so infrequently in the States that people have become uncomfortable. Eye contact, a warm smile might be mistaken for something other than friendliness. We need a revolution of warmth and kindness! Thank you for starting it.

Grazie! Grazie!

ME Strauss said...

Hi Zilla,
So glad you're home safely. You were missed. Thank you for your kind words.


Jennifer said...

I was taught good manners. Always say thank you. Always acknowledge someone thanking you...use please, excuse me and I'm sorry (if the occasion calls for it)

I forgot those manners while in college, (well not totally, but enough to stop and make me realize I'd grown lackadaisical)

It was one event that really embarrassed me and made me realize this...I've never forgotten my manners since.

Manners are under-rated these days don't you think.

More people need to learn just how far a please and thank you can go.

ME Strauss said...

Hi Jennifer,
Yeah, it's almost as if manners are consider uncool or a sign of weakness. I'm all for bringing manners back.

Trée said...

Liz, this post has a wonderful magical quality about it. Can't quite be my finger on it. I just keep thinking magical, this post is magical. Happy Valentine's Day. :-)

ME Strauss said...

Thank you Tree,
Maybe it's that Bologna is a very magical place. :)

Jennifer said...

Okay had to come back and say that this post stayed in my mind all day and I listened to people, and I was suprised at the number of thank you and you're welcomes I heard and received yesterday :)

It was quite pleasant.


ME Strauss said...

Ah Jennifer,
That is so cool. It is nice when people are polite. It makes us all better for it.
YEA for you. YEA that you noticed.

Rain said...

I went Catholic school and I said lavatory too! Thanks for the flashback :)

ME Strauss said...

Hi Rain,
You're welcome!
Lavatory. It's such a mysterious, mystical word.

fineartist said...

Well mannered humans give life a gentle smooth flow.

Eye contact is a wonderful way to convey warmth and sincerity.

I’m with Jennifer, manners are underrated.

Thanks for the post Liz.

ME Strauss said...

Thank you, Lori,
Gee you never know which ones will touch folks just in the right way. This one was special to me too.