Sharp Monica

An honest voice in Italian paradise.

Firenze: People and Places / Gente e Locali

It has been three weeks since I moved offices to The Student Hotel, out on the viale and close to the Fortezza.

The move has been positive. I love the rooftop gym, and the bathrooms are spotless. We have two dedicated office managers who resolve requests (internet stuttering, air conditioning too strong), place fresh water and fruit in the kitchen, and in general provide a friendly, calm presence as other professionals come and go in the space. As a shameless lay cultural anthropologist, I am also very interested to observe the dynamics among my new coworkers.

The space is divided into desks and offices, with a general work area out front that can be leased more cheaply. I am in a desk, as are three others – all British men. There are a few Dutch people who float in and out, and a small clutch of Italian women who are designers and architects on the back row. They keep to themselves.

The small glass offices are occupied by Italian startups or small companies – it is set up to be an incubator situation. One office is truly overfull of Italians. I don’t know what they do, but they are beautiful people. There are eight of them in that small room, wearing headphones, and having what appear to be client meetings in the shared workspace out in the front foyer area. They have purchased their own Lavazza espresso machine, and walk over to the kitchen with tiny cups and saucers and espresso pods. The man who appears to be somewhat in charge of the group is named Marco.

One morning last week Marco approached me in the kitchen, and under the assumption that I actually speak fluent Italian, unleashed a small monologue about “Dangerous Dragons” and his friend Simone. I looked at him for the duration, mostly making sounds like mmm, oh, and si, while trying to look intelligent, and when he turned and walked away I realized he had been talking to me about Jason’s D&D group in Italy – I heard only Dangerous Dragons, and was certain he was telling me about a soccer league or something, which didn’t make sense because aren’t all dragons, by definition, dangerous? Oh, Dungeons and Dragons, not Dangerous Dragons. In any case, Marco is friends with Simone, the Italian Dungeonmaster who Jason plays with weekly and who owns an agriturismo with a pool in Arezzo where we will relocate with the children for the final week of August.

Jason’s adult study abroad curriculum.

The space hosted a cocktail hour last week, and we came with the kids, after promising they could swing on the giant swings, and Victor could look for Pokemon with Jason’s phone playing Pokemon Go. I also brought a soccer ball to play with in the piazzetta, because Italy.

Victor and Eleanor played with the soccer ball in the huge internal courtyard. We spied the pizza being brought out from the restaurant to the work space. A huge bucket of cold Nastro Azzuro beer on ice was placed on the counter. The pizza was hipster pizza on foccaccia, with anchovies and jalapenos and foamy ricotta – hardly the fare of the school-aged set.

I found a piece of margherita for Victor, and he nibbled at it. “What’s this leaf here for? Where is the cheese?” he wanted to know. He put it down, and five minutes later Eleanor was wheedling about her empty tummy.

Jason picked up the piece of hipster margherita pizza and showed it to me, asking “Did Victor lick the top of this all over?

“No,” I said, “it looked like that when it came out.” The kids looked glummer and glummer. Jason finally took Victor back out to play more soccer.

Eleanor meanwhile had met Marco’s two young sons, bilingual Britalians, and quickly formed a play group of three, crawling among the adults and giggling. Jason and Victor came back in, and I introduced him to Marco. They had a long conversation about Simone and Dangerous Dragons and the agriturismo. Marco took a picture of him and Jason and immediately WhatsApped it to Simone the Dungeonmaster.

We still cannot work out how Marco initially began talking to me about Simone and Dangerous Dragons and my husband’s RPG hobby – eventually it will become clear. What I can say is this: in true Italian fashion, as my gens here increases, my social capital becomes more firm. Now all Marco’s coworkers in the small glass office greet me warmly, engage in small talk in the cucina condivisa (shared kitchen), compliment me on my Italian (um ok thanks), and share their coffee with me. Thanks to Dangerous Dragons and Simone and Marco and my husband, I can now be placed in the vast Net of Indra that is Italy. Adding this to Andrea, whom we know from the kids’ school, and Maria, friends with our friend Megan in Turin, and it’s feeling like a proper workplace.

The added amusement of cross-cultural puzzling is easily my favorite activity, and it is available in spades with the Brits. The anglophones in the area have all spread out to opposite corners, where we are not looking at one another; in contrast, yesterday an Italian man made himself at home across from me, while his colleague, an Italian woman tapped away at my right elbow. Were they close enough? Were they cold? Did they need something?

Hey? Kinda tight here.
Do you see all the space here in this huge space?
Can you please use some of that space? Grazie 


Britain and I have discussed our disappointment in the coffee situation (not great espresso by any measure in the coffee bar on premises; not free in kitchen as advertised; no pods available) so this past weekend I picked up three boxes of Nespresso-compatible pods at the IperCoop in Novoli. I am pleased to have coworkers after two years of working in near solitary confinement in the Sprachcaffe on Piazza della Repubblica, and planned to share the coffee.

One of the Brits was raised in Italy, and thus is very calm and culturally proficient. I hear him with the Italians and it is clear he is a native speaker. He completed his schooling in Italy. He works on fintech and has a product that is pretty cool – it moves money around international accounts at the current exchange rate with no wire fee. Take my money Giorgio!
I shyly pulled out the coffee pods that I had put together for the Brits. When I handed Giorgio the coffee, he politely pointed out that he had already acquired his own pods over the weekend. I should have thought of that – he is britaliano. He put my pods on his desk next to his pods, and pronounced me “a legend.”

The second Brit is a sweet Mancunian who does film.
He confessed to me that he accidentally jammed
the fancy Lavazza espresso machine of Marco’s workgroup. He said he did not know that different pods go in different machines, and had stuffed a Nespresso pod into the Lavazza machine, resulting in a loud Lavazza alarm and a bright flashing red alert light.
“What did you do then?” I asked him, intrigued.
“I left the area,” he said. “I came back to my desk and sat down. I asked Oscar the office manager to go have a look at it, but by the time he got round to it they’d fixed it, hadn’t they.”
“Clever,” I nodded. “I don’t see how or why they bought that machine for the kitchen – the Nespresso is just fine. Plus it takes up an outlet, and is huge.”
He agreed.
We chatted briefly about coffee pods versus espresso machines – it really is something you need to know in Italy.
“Here’s some new pods,” I said, handing him the small sack of espresso pods and sugar packets. “They go in the small machine only. Don’t stuff them into the Lavazza machine.”
“Right,” he said.
I relayed this anecdote to Jason later on in the day, and he was highly amused by the level of tamper protection built into the Lavazza machine. Do not screw with the Italians’ workplace espresso machines!
Perhaps Manchester would like to write a treatment of this episode for an indie short. Plenty of action, plenty of farce.

OF COURSE the model is called Espresso Point. 
In Italy, if you make a thing or a business, make sure you append “Point” to the branding.
That way, people will know it is a thing you use.
Imagine this with alarms and red lights going off, and a jammed pod in the chute.

A third Brit showed up a week after Giorgio and Manchester and I had settled in to our dedicated desks. He came with a duffel bag, looking around in a preview with Maria, and five minutes later came back with a key and immediately set to work. He eventually slipped that he is from Bristol. He owns his own tech firm and was very quiet his first week. When I gave him the coffee pods yesterday, he asked me what they were for.
“You don’t drink coffee?” I asked. “Oh, no – are you a tea drinker?”
“I drink both,” he said.
“I do too,” I quickly rejoined. Agreeable American! “Tea in the morning, and espresso after. Coffee is not hot enough for me. I need a … a mug of builder’s brew.” (Note to Yanks: this is Brit argot for a very strong cup of tea.) “I cannot drink the tea in Italy,” I added. “It’s awful.”
“Yes,” Bristol mused. “What we really need is some loose tea.”
“Oh, there is a shop in town, it’s local, called La Via del Te. They’ll have it, and loose.”
“I like Assam and Darjeeling,” he said. “I’ll bring a teapot.”
I laughed. “A teapot! I never know how to drink it all fast enough so that it stays hot. I hate cold tea.”
He looked at me. “It’s called a cosy.”
“But you wouldn’t take a teapot and a tea cosy to work, would you?”
He nodded. “People would.” He thought again. “They would.”

Oddio, will some inglese please bring this to work and set it next to me.
Yes, I find this quite a normal item to have in the workplace.

It’s really nice to be in a workspace where people know I am working, and who are working along similar lines. I often felt the suspicion in the Sprachcaffe – what was I really doing? How could this possibly be work? Where were my coworkers? Did I work at all? No, it seemed I worked too much. I get none of that here. Everyone bikes in, taps away, works out, does a few conference calls. Types some more. It’s good.

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