As you all know, it has been quite rainy here since I arrived. There is a definite etiquette associated with umbrella use, which I find fascinating so I thought I would share it with all of you. First of all, if you are caught in the rain without an umbrella, you might as well be running around naked for all the stares you will get. I learned this in Venice, and have not repeated that grave breach of Italian etiquette. The streets in Italy are narrow, and two passersby, both holding umbrellas, cannot possibly squeeze by one another. The solution? One person raises his umbrella up high while the other simultaneously lowers his. When performed correctly, a beautiful dance of flashing color is born out of the grayness. Think flamenco skirts. However, in order for this dance to go on without a hitch, each partner must be in step. There is no conversation, no signal from one person to the other to tell who will lead and be led. It’s an internal compulsion, muscle memory from the times of childhood. Don’t ask me how, but they just know. If you don’t raise or lower your umbrella in proper accordance with this unwritten, ancient tradition, you are scoffed at violently, and may even be spat upon if you’re not careful. Though I don’t know many Italian curse words, I am sure more than a few have come my way since yesterday. As with all things Italian, there are many rules for this dance, but for every rule there are two exceptions to the rule. As best as I can understand, it goes something like this:
♣ If you are a young or middle-aged woman and a very tall man is walking towards you, he will raise his umbrella over yours.
♦ If that man is more than 50 years old or is in any way infirm, including
if he has a head cold or similarly minor ailment, you must raise your
umbrella over his, even if he is eight feet tall.
♣ If two women between the ages of 30 and 50 are passing one another, the one who raises her umbrella is (or at least considers herself) more Italian than the other. This usually comes down to who is better dressed than the other.
♦ In this instance, you will always lower your umbrella, because no
matter how much Gucci you are wearing, you can be sure that she
is wearing more. Plus her panties are by Prada.
♣ If you are a girl and are passing a young man between the ages of 18 and 30, chances are he will not raise his umbrella, but tilt it such that it barely grazes yours.
♦ If you are a young man and passing a young man of similar age, you
will play chicken with each other. Whoever moves his umbrella first
is less a man than the other.
♣ If an older gentleman (under 50) is passing a younger man (between 18 and 30), he will not engage in the silly games of youth. He will raise his umbrella over that of the younger man because, let’s face it, he is Italian and has places to be.
♣ If two older gentlemen under 50 are passing one another, the one who is walking faster will raise his umbrella.
♦ Be aware that upon approach the man you are passing may suddenly
begin to walk more quickly. If his speed exceeds yours at the time of
passing, even if he just changed from a Sunday stroll to a brisk jog,
then he will be the one to raise his umbrella.
♣ If you are a young woman between 18 and 30, and passing another young woman of similar age, whoever is taller or in higher heels will raise her umbrella, but just barely so as not to disturb her sexy saunter.
♦ You must be prepared for the last-minute umbrella tilt. Don’t let the
tilt verses the raise throw you off, of she will definitely curse the
ground that you walk on.
♦ Similarly, you must not tilt your umbrella over her such that it drips
on her designer clothes. Obey this rule at all costs, even if it puts
your umbrella into a brick wall.
♣ If you are a young woman, middle-aged woman, young man, or middle-aged man, you will always, always, always raise your umbrella over that of an old woman. Believe you me, she has the ear of God himself and will not hesitate to have a chat with Him about your place in this world.
♦ The only exception to this rule is this: if you are an old woman passing
another old woman, you will stop in the middle of the sidewalk. She
will also stop, and you will have a two-hour long conversation about
the ways of the world and how everything is going to hell in a
But not to worry, because anyone else who is passing you will risk their
lives and step out into the crazy Italian traffic in order to avoid
running into you, or even dripping on you. Also, if you get tired and
there is not another old woman around with whom to converse,
feel free to stop in the middle of the sidewalk any time you like. It
is your God-given right, after all.
♣ The same rule applies if you are an old man. However, if an old man passes an old lady on the street, the old lady will raise her umbrella over the old man’s, not because of sexist reasons, but because old women are always stronger than old men. However, they also have the option to stop and chat for an hour or so, provided that the morning markets are closed. If they are still open, even if the old woman has already done her shopping for the day, she will always say that she can’t talk because she has to go to the market.
♣ If a young man or woman is passing a young or middle-aged couple who are huddled under the same umbrella, (s)he must just get the hell out of the way!