In the past week I’ve been asked the same question by two middle-aged Sicilian women – Are you pregnant? Come on ladies, get with the program, we all know that you NEVER ask unless you are absolutely sure. Right?
I once made the mistake of asking a co-worker the same question and was very embarrassed when she told me that her youngest child was 10 years old. I am sure I turned a bright shade of pink while I profusely apologised, not really knowing why I’d actually asked in the first place, especially when I remembered that only about a month earlier while waiting for the train, a Vietnamese woman wanted to know how many months gone I was. Grrr, not pregnant Ms I’ve-never-eaten-pasta-or-bread-in-my-life, but thanks for pointing out the belly fat.
Several days ago a new student who’d I’d only know for a week dropped the ‘p’ bomb on me. I was already a little grumpy that day, having had to deal with Italian bureaucracy and archaic business practices so wasn’t in the best frame of mind when it happened – her query was met with shock and fury. Even though we were on a first name basis, without being aware of it I slipped into formal Italian and promptly told the Signora that I was most definitely not! While she was complete oblivious that she’d upset me, she herself took offense to being called Signora and told me her name was Angela and that I should use it in the future if we were going to continue with our lessons! As I was waiting for my only other student to arrive – her husband – I couldn’t think of a valid reason to stay in the same room as her so I stormed off to the staff room to sulk.
Why was I so upset? Because (obviously), as was the case with the Vietnamese woman, it implied that I was fat. Okay, so I know I’m no skinny-mini, and while some of it I can attribute to my Italian diet, the rest is purely genetic… isn’t it? When I look at photos of my grandmother, all my aunts and uncles and my parents it’s blatantly obvious – we are somewhat thickish around the middle. There’s no escaping it, we are apples.
The following day, while I was (ironically) buying some bread in the new panificio that’s just opened up around the corner, the lady behind the cash register asked me if I was ‘incinta’. ‘No Signora’, I’m not. Why did you ask?’ ‘Err, umm, because you look pregnant’.
I didn’t quite know what to say so I just stared at her with a disapproving look on my face. Then it dawned on me, she WANTED me to be pregnant. She was dying to engage me in conversation about my unborn child, itching to ask when it was due, if it was going to be a boy or a girl, if I’d chosen any names. These women don’t inquire out of malice because you don’t look like Monica Bellucci, hell they don’t even think that it’s impolite, they just want to share in the joys of your impending motherhood.
I thought for a moment, put a hand on my belly and responded. ‘Signora, I have a carbohydrate and chocolate baby in here’. At first she just looked at me blankly. I’m sure it was because she was trying to understand what I’d said in my funny Italian accent, but then she began to giggle. This in turn made me smile. Happily I realised I’d succeeded in diffusing my anger with a little self-deprecating humour.
As I was leaving I turned to look at her and noticed she was still smiling. So was I.