December 10, 2023 | Rome, Italy


By |2018-03-21T18:37:04+01:00May 1st, 2009|Lifestyle Archive|
The €4,000 vacuum cleaner.

hen it comes to door-to-door salesmen, I’m the queen of excuses. “Non parlo italiano,” I say from behind the door. Sometimes I try “I already bought one last week” or “I’m not the owner of the house.” If these fail me, I have the almighty and powerful: “Sono straniera.”

That one automatically makes me incapable of important decisions. If all else fails, I hide and pretend I’m not home.

I feel bad about making the excuses because deep down I know these guys work hard for a living. But I also watch too much TV. I hear about the little old ladies who got scammed or robbed blind after opening their doors to nice-sounding salesmen.

This can help explain why I fumed at Fabio the other day when he told me he’d scheduled an appointment with a vacuum cleaner salesman to visit our apartment to peddle state-of-the-art vacuum cleaners.

Ma, perchè?” I asked.

“He’ll clean our carpets for free,” said Fabio.

Just like that. Conveniently, Fabio would be out of town for work that day. I’d be stuck listening to the guy for hours.

I felt a little uneasy about letting the strange carpet cleaner guy in my house while alone. Just in case, I put large umbrellas (in each room, of course) and put out a can of hairspray I could use for mace. I also told Fabio to call me every 20 minutes or so to make sure I was still alive.

The vacuum cleaner representative was named Francesco and I scoped him carefully. He looked about 18. I wasn’t sure if he’d just graduated high school or not, but by my standards he definitely looked far too young to be selling… €4,000 vacuum cleaners. Yes, you read right. Four thousand.

That set me off. “I’ll tell you right away. I’m not authorized to make any household purchases. My husband does that and he’s out of town.”

His face fell a little but he recovered, “That’s okay. I’m here to tell you today how fantastic the Kirby is. How it will change your life and…” Blah, blah, blah.

He told me how his vacuum cleaner stood out from the rest, how my health would improve, how I’d save money on cleaning products and maybe even have a little fun while cleaning.

I laughed. “I doubt that,” I told him.

I happened also to be American, I told him, and I’d never heard of his product. Disappointed at first, he seemed all the more determined to sell it.

Vogliamo divertì?” — “Do we want to have fun…”

The kid had switched into flat-out romanesco. He challenged me to a clean-off, his machine against mine. “Take out your vacuum cleaner,” he commaned. You’ve got to be kidding me, I replied. He wasn’t.

So, there we were, like two peas in a pod cleaning my carpet together. My piece of crap vacuum cleaner versus his magical “Keeerbee,” the “aspirapolvere, or “dust breather,” to end all dust breathers.

After a few minutes, he pulled out a dust bunny the size of my foot. Nasty. Then he went in for the kill. “Do you want to be breathing this everyday?”

Next, he put the nozzle on the mattress. Hold on a sec, I told him. He smirked. “No seriously, I want to show you what you’re resting your head on every night.”

Uffa. Basta. Enough. It had been an hour.

Guarda, non ti voglio rompere le palle. Voglio solo fare il mio lavoro ed aiutarti a vivere meglio ovviamente.”

I’m not sure what kind of training these guys get or even what their standard sales pitch is (aside from telling you that they’re just doing their job), but I’m pretty sure they’re not instructed to tell clients (male or female) that they don’t want to “break their balls.”

But hey, I’m just guessing.

Fabio called. I’m okay, I told him.

Meanwhile, Francesco, whom I’d renamed “Stanley Steamer the Carpet Cleaner,” was deep into the mattress, cleaning away. “Did you know the Keeerbeee also has two NASA licenses? Have you heard of NASA?”

NASA? Moon landing? Nah, never heard of it. Where did they get this guy from?

As I grew antsy, he finally overstepped: “The Keeerbee is so great it’ll even give you massage. Vogliamo provà?” Just a joke, right?

Right. Now, out.

About the Author:

Nicole Arriaga wrote features and a column ("Bella Figura") between 2004 and 2012.