Thursday, February 02, 2006

Greetings From Italy

Gastronomic bliss, electronic culture shock

by Carla Diana

February 13, 1997 -- As a person who's lived in [Image]
New York all her life, I knew that moving to Rome
for five months to study design would require some

Emotionally, gastronomically and linguistically, the past
few weeks in the land of sweet wine and majestic statues
have been close to blissful. Electronically, however, I
haven't acclimatized so well. Despite being only one
generation removed from my Italian roots, the appliances
that came across the Atlantic with me are a nagging
reminder of how much of a foreigner I really am.

Eleven angry Italian neighbors don't make for a fun
night, as I discovered the first time I plugged in my
laptop (which can run on either 220 or 100 Volts).
"Maledizione! Porca miseria! Cosa successa?!" It seems
that I broke a circuit that controls lights for the
entire apartment building. Before sheepishly emerging
from my doorway and 'fessing up, I practiced my
apologies, and then introduced myself as one of the new
group of Americans that just moved in. The situation was
resolved quickly; I've decided to use the laptop with the
power converter I brought, and my neighbors have reverted
to the smiling buon giornos that I've grown fond of

A pre-trip visit to the local Radio Shack was all it took
to get the converter that changes 220V to 110V, which
gadgets like radios, razors and laptops can more easily
digest. But I was upset to see what a bulky box it is,
nearly three inches long. (That's a small deal in most
situations, but every cubic inch counts when you're
packing for five months in two suitcases.) I crossed my
fingers and hoped this baby would do the trick, and it

But I'm continuously unplugging, moving and replugging it
to maintain a supply of juice for my American appliances.
As if an oversized power converter weren't enough, I had
to toss in an assortment of plug adapters to change two
flat prongs to three cylindrical prongs, two horizontal
prongs and a vertical one to two cylindrical ones, three
cylindrical prongs to two, etc. Ideally, a converter and
a set of adapter plugs for each appliance would have made
life swell, but the cost held me back (about twenty bucks
for each converter and adapter set). An extension cord
was on the "to bring" list that my four apartment-mates
and I compiled before taking off, but still there is a
limit to the number of appliances we can use

We'd planned on setting up shop as comfortably as
possible by carrying over a telephone/answering machine,
but we still found ourselves out of luck. Either the
AC/DC adapter that came with the phone doesn't work with
the converted frequency, or it's broken. In any case, we
can't replace it here, so we just hope that our friends
and families, accustomed to leaving messages at the beep,
will still love us when the phone rings off the hook.
Also, the phone jack doesn't accept a standard American
modular plug, but we found an adapter at the Sunday flea

Every day we discover another way in which we fail to
connect with our Italian counterparts, be it the little
stud that screws into the camera to attach it to a
tripod, the different videotape format (good thing none
of us brought copies of our favorite Simpsons episodes),
or the fact that most Roman homes don't use clothes
dryers (I don't think that pair of jeans will ever be

Our failure to feel like members of the European
Community has made it a little harder to adapt than we'd
expected, but we're not complaining. Minor frustrations
are a small price to pay for the ever-present aroma of
fresh-baked bread, the delight of discovering an
interestingly shaped doorknob or light switch, or the
thrill of strolling along marble ruins once trampled by
great emperors. The small details that we take for
granted in the rituals of everyday life at home provide
daunting challenges along with a heightened sensitivity
to cultural differences. As designers, this is the best
education for which we could hope.

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This column is an exclusive.


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