November 30, 2023 | Rome, Italy

A proper mayor

By |2018-03-21T19:04:37+01:00February 23rd, 2015|"In the Sticks"|
Texas Rangers and mayors: one and the same.

o the mayor went on a weeklong ski holiday and all hell broke loose.

You don’t really understand what it’s like to live in a small town until you realize you know the mayor’s name and that he likes to spent his evenings parked illegally next to the roundabout watching people drive by.

We live in a town of senior citizens and when they’re not accidentally reversing into the post office, they’re safely tucked into their sofas watching one of the ridiculously complicated Italian game shows my mother-in-law can’t get enough of.

In other words, the mayor probably doesn’t see more than three cars drive past on a good night. I think he does it because he still lives at home with his parents even though he’s pushing 40. I also think it’s because he watches too much “Walker Texas Ranger” (still among Italy’s highest rating shows) and believes that’s what mayors are supposed to do.

If you spoke to me a couple of years back, I couldn’t have cared less what the mayor did. I hate politics. I used to vote in Australia because I had no choice and I always picked the best-looking candidate.

Oh whine on about disenfranchised youth. I’m partially deaf from listening to vulgar rap music on too-loud headphones so I can’t hear you anyway. But my husband won’t shut up about it. You can’t get the man to talk about his day, but he’ll tell you the same story about the latest local council meeting like it was a UN standoff. I hear they finally decided to buy a few extra flowerpots for the main street. Riveting.

I’ve always wondered why Italians have such an interest in politics. For a country that can never seem to maintain a stable government, you’d think they’d have given up trying. Plus, government seems contrary to their almost-otherworldly attachment to not paying taxes. If you ask me, there’s no point caring too much about who’s in charge if you’re not going to pay the dues to keep the whole thing running.

In my town, the senior citizen majority can’t really be bribed to vote anymore. So they pay immigrant Romanians €5 each to vote for their party. Shocked? About the Romanians or the bribes? Or did you really think small town Tuscan life was all rosy-cheeked Italians and stewed tomatoes?

What you really need to know about small town Tuscany is that we have an immigrant problem. I don’t mean we have too many immigrants. I mean we have a problem with immigrants. The population of Romanian or Albanian immigrants is ridiculously low, but if you ask the locals, they’re taking over the blasted town.

And yet they have so many uses: they finish those odd jobs around the house for cash and cut down the firewood that everyone uses. They also take the blame for absolutely every crime that happens from here to Florence.

We were robbed a couple of months back. The Carabinieri walked in, closed a few cupboards without bothering to wear gloves or take fingerprints and blamed the whole thing on Albanians. Case closed. Literally. We never heard a thing about their investigations again.

My interest in immigration is purely selfish. I’m an immigrant, but I’ve never experienced such open scorn. I’m the crazy foreigner who bothers the local craftsmen with ridiculous ideas about city-folk furniture she wants built. I’m that girl who never wears her jacket in winter and who’s house you never want to go to dinner at because she cooks tajines and green curries.

But I get away with it all with raised eyebrows and genuine chuckles because I speak English.

Why do people think they can come to me and complain about all the Romanian children and Venezuelan-born wives as if I was born and bred in this four-horse town?

Immigration is a huge issue in Italy and one that you’d never associate with small town life. But the smaller the town, the bigger the racism.

My parents-in-law have a Romanian employee who earns more than I do and probably also contributes far more to the local community, but he’s treated like scum and I’m not. We both came to Italy with the same visas, so what makes me an expat and him a nuisance?

My mother lived through years of racism and discrimination when she immigrated to Australia in the 1960s, and my grandparents are still treated like they’re deaf and not ESL whenever they go to the shops.

I don’t know how expats live in Italian cities. From all the sickly sweet blogs going around, I assume it’s all hilarious lost-in-translation stories and thin-crust pizza epiphanies. They certainly benefit from living in a golden decade when half of the world is enamored with Anglo-American culture and the English language. Yes, I have my bad days and run-ins with ignorant locals, but on the whole I am liked, even admired as “eccentric,” “worldly” and “exciting.”

But perhaps one day that perspective won’t be so benevolent.

Oh, and why did all hell break loose when the mayor went skiing? The local population was scandalized that he had the time to wish people happy birthday on Facebook. You see, he should have been busy stalking them in his four-wheel drive like a proper mayor.

About the Author:

Australian writer Elisa Scarton wrote the column "In the Sticks" from 2014 through mid-2019.