Wednesday, 3 July 2013

Obstinate builders, extortionate prices and racist slurs - just another day trying to fix up a house in Puglia!

I have to apologise ancora ("again") that it has been so long, dear readers.  It is my sincere intention to find something to write about on this dear blog at least once a week but these weeks have been hectic.  I have moved out of my English house and been hurriedly sorting so many last minute items to include in the grand shipment to Italy that I haven't had much spare time at all.

Today however was a day that I need to share with you and get off my chest!

To start, I was nearly brought to tears in frustration and disappointment when confronted with certain aspects of the house not being as I had been told they would be and my builder's insistence that I will have to pay €hundreds (=£hundreds!!) to rectify them.  Such examples include the paving of the roof terrace where both the material used and the way it is laid are different to my expectations, and most frustratingly with the paving on the stairs where I had drawn a picture in order to ensure there were no language complications, and my Italian friends had explained and reiterated the importance of how it should be and how it shouldn't be, and yet still it is wrong and he is adamant I must pay a lot of money to cover the cost of his time to have it how I wanted.  I really felt quite sick throughout these discussions.

Following this difficult start to the day, the discussion with the kitchen company included my incredulous shriek at the suggestion that I pay a genuinely discounted price of €500 (£420!) for a standard stainless steel sink, equally ludicrous prices for ovens and taps, plus an unintended but still offensive racist slur thrown in for good measure!  These were good people, well-meaning and I still can't quite believe it happened.  Thankfully my architect was kind enough and sensitive enough to realise how shocked and mortified I was and offer her sincere apologies over and over again immediately following the meeting, but I still feel rather concerned that such thoughts and practices aren't unusual here.  I can't help but wonder how my (hitherto unmentioned but oh-so-wonderful, and as it happens, of Chinese heritage) marito ("husband") and I will handle such ignorance in future.  Will such incidences make him feel uncomfortable here or will it be me, having witnessed virtually no racism, that will be more affronted and angry?  How do you explain to someone in their hometown and in their language what you, as a foreign outsider, find unacceptably offensive?  Today I certainly didn't have the right words and didn't even try but I hope my reaction was enough to make him realise he had been inappropriate.

In addition to all this I learnt more about the shopping process today.  Following the kitchen appointment where my jaw literally dropped on several occasions, I asked whether it is considered rude to talk a lot about price and make decisions on this basis!  My architect's diplomatic answer was to explain that it isn't a bad thing but usually an Italian would nod and accept the price, not wanting to show financial concern, then complain at home!  She added that my explaining that in England I could buy a sink for a quarter of the price and the same tap from the same Italian brand for less than half price was okay (I wonder whether it was really?!), but to openly compare prices between competing shops is a big no-no, considered very offensive and the affronted owner might well just tell you to go the other shop then!  Mental note: do not follow instinct to negotiate hard or ask someone to price-match in Puglia!

All in all, a tricky day and I'm quite relieved it's over. I'm just hoping that tomorrow my builder will have softened somewhat and started to rectify his mistake without further confrontation.  I know it was very clear to everyone around me today that I was not at all happy.  I used a tip I've read of sounding off in your language to convey your emotions and it worked.  Plus it felt amazing after being so constrained by the Italian language and the overriding sense that I can't appreciate how strong certain strong words actually are or how they may come across when spoken by a woman to an Italian man!!

Mamma mia!  What a day!

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