Italians are known for their passion, their family-oriented lifestyles, their interest in community. Maybe, knowing those things, I should have anticipated the generosity, but I am certain I expected Romans to be cold towards Americans.
The first time I went to the grocery store on my own was certainly not as disastrous as it could have been. I found my way there - although it was a mile walk and at one point I feared I passed it without knowing - I mostly knew the words for which I was searching, and I eventually sorted out how to purchase fresh vegetables.
While stacking my items on the conveyor belt, an elderly woman looked me up and down with a sweet smile on her face. I did not think much of it. My American street clothes were considerably less dressy than those of the local residents; I looked and felt like an outsider. Presumably sensing my foreignness, the woman took out a small sheet of paper, peeled off eight stickers and placed them on my groceries. Each circular sticker proclaimed "20%", indicating the amount of discount given.
I recognized the coupons from when Clara, my Italian student companion, explained them to me. They were a promotion on the part of the store for every amount of money spent (for the life of me I cannot remember how much, but my head wants to say fifty euros). The woman had earned and paid for these coupons and the gave them to a stranger for no reason that I could understand.
I was, and am, amazed. Even in Texas, the land of the unreasonably kind, I had never unquestioningly received money from a stranger simply for looking out of place - and I can assure you that I always look out of place.
But ultimately Roman generosity is more than a cultural quirk. It means something to them. It is a quiet affirmation that says "you are out of place, but not so much as you think."
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<p>My name is Kelli Hallmark and I'm a Trinity University student studying abroad in Rome for the summer. I first came to Italy when I was in junior high and fell deeply, madly, in love with the warmth and joy of Italian culture. I am currently double majoring in Religion and Art History, with aspirations to go into museum programming. In my free time I like to read everything in sight, write poetry and fiction, and make my own cosmetics.</p>