March 4, 2008

"Dis Is Not Elegant"

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Italian men are direct. They say what they mean and are not afraid to communicate their thoughts in a straightforward manner. For example, an Italian man desired to fornicate with an American classmate of mine. He simply followed her and her roommate home one night and when she arrived at her front door he asked, “Do you want to sex?” When she vehemently refused, he generously extended the same offer to her roommate. He saw no need to beat around the bush in attempts to get it. The girls, once indoors, found the proposition humorous and somewhat endearing. Had they been in America, they would have called the police.
Another instance of Italian frankness occured when the director of my abroad program was addressing potential dangers in Florence. He made the effort to preface his blunt statement with “Now I’m not racist…” before continuing, “but stay away from the Albanian immigrants; they are robbers and rapists.” No one, not even the most PC Cornellian in our group, batted an eye.
Oddly, this widespread proclivity for speaking without a mental filter is accepted and rarely deemed vulgar or disrespectful. The Italian men, with their designer clothing and accent, can seemingly do no wrong — at least in the eyes of visiting American women. And as Sergio, my fashion marketing professor, has made blatantly clear, this bizarre charm does not diminish with age.
Sergio speaks on whatever comes to his mind for the two hours and 15 minutes he teaches and does not like questions or interruptions. Now in his late 60s, he has been part of the fashion industry since he was 19; he began as a shopping guide and translator for the sole purpose of meeting young, rich and beautiful foreign women. He is currently married to his fourth wife (each from a different country), runs in elite circles and has a take-no-shit attitude. Were I in a fraternity, I might describe him aptly as “the man.”
Soon after I arrived in his classroom this past Thursday, I was joined by my friend Courtney who exasperatedly slumped into to the chair beside mine. Removing her oversized aviators and turning toward me, she made a pathetic “I’m dying” facial expression. Sensing that she was in the same state she is in every time we met for this 12pm class, I obliged her and asked if she had had a fun night and if she happened to be hung over. In one breath she replied,
“Oh my god, I think I was roofied last night. My Italian boyfriend had to carry me all the way home because I was unconscious! I like to party, but I never go so overboard that I cannot walk, you know? Do you think Sergio will think I’m a fat ass if I go and get a sandwich and a coffee? I feel like he will judge me. Oh, fuck it, I need it.” Before I had a chance to react or respond, she was on her way out the door.
A few minutes later Sergio began class with his signature move of pounding twice on the desk and then shouting, “Okay, shut up!” He had just finished explaining our midterm assignment when Courtney disrupted the class as she returned to her seat. Sergio stopped talking, looked at her disapprovingly for a few moments, and said,
“I will repeat for you the assignment on one condition.”
“Huh?” Courtney quizzically looked up at him from her Blackberry.
“I will repeat for you the assignment on one condition, yes?”
“Um, I guess so…?”
Sergio then went to her side, reached into her hair, and removed the white plastic clip holding it together. Her hair fell around her shoulders as he lifted the object for all to see. The hairpiece could be best described as one that had been popular in 1992, and, after falling out of favor with four to six-year-old girls, was marketed and sold as a fastener for potato chip bags. It now lives again as a hair accessory worn by trendy JAPs.
“Dis” he paused, with a disdainful look, “Dis is not elegant. Dis is not beautiful. Dis is ugly. You are much too pretty to wear dis. Promise me you will never wear it again.” Eyes wide, she said nothing. Sergio slowly and purposefully set the clip on her desk, returned to the front of the room, and, as though nothing had just happened, repeated the midterm assignment.
“Could my day get any worse — honestly?!” Courtney whimpered. I could only laugh.
Sergio, though, like so many Italian men, was found charming no matter what he did. Therefore it was somehow acceptable that he had publicly mortified a student by stating that what she was wearing was heinous. Even Courtney, by the end of the lecture, no longer was upset. I knew this because she reaffirmed via writing on my notebook what she had told me the week before at bar: “I don’t care how old he is, Sergio could have me any day.” I knew that she was still drunk from the night before, but I doubt her sentiments would change once she sobered.