May 20, 2024 | Rome, Italy

You woodhead!

By |2018-03-21T18:19:02+01:00May 1st, 2005|Lifestyle Archive|
People spens the night in line.

When Fabio and I argue, the whole palazzo can probably hear us. And they probably think we’re nuts. That’s because we fight in Italian, English, Spanish and Calabrese dialect. Our arguments are usually pretty entertaining due to our endless amount of grammatical errors. A few weeks ago, our neighbors got a taste of one of our infamous multi-lingual screaming matches. I had just come home from running one of my favorite errands; trying to renew my permesso di soggiorno (temporary residency permit).

Of course, I ended up wasting about half the day in line and never got in to actually talk to someone about whether I had all the necessary documents. I came home and heaped my frustration on Fabio. I was upset and just needed to vent. All he needed to do was listen and maybe throw in a few phrases such as “Mi dispiace” or “I can’t believe that” or “Wow.” Just that would have made me feel better.

But no.

In Fabio’s mind, the answer was clear-cut.

“Beh, basta che torni domani, fai la fila, e loro ti danno il permesso.”

Ugh. If only it were that simple, I told him, and started to cry.

I explained there were people who spent the night in line just to ensure they’d get their paperwork processed the next morning. At my commissariato, the local police station office where I’m forced to renew my permit, they only take in about 10 people a day and the office is only open for four hours daily.

Essentially, the assembled multitudes in line make up their own unofficial list and give you a number based on what time you got there. The person running the so-called list is usually someone that spent the night in line. The best part is that commissariato officials leave the people in line to handle this “list” on their own. They want nothing to do with it. We’re just all supposed to figure it out like civil people.


“Ma dai. Stai esagerando. Che cos’è? Un concerto?,” Fabio said.

Concert? Exaggerating? My nerves snapped, and with it my ability to speak correct Italian, which led to my masterpiece line.

“Sei… sei… sei cattivo!”

OK, my three-year-old niece could have done better. But Fabio’s own comment wasn’t much better.

“Mamma mia,” he said, “You are so pesante.” And he wasn’t referring to my weight. It was hard not to laugh at it all, but I needed to stay on track, to focus on our argument. This, apparently, is why he refers to me as a messicana tanta. In Calabrese dialect, it means I’m a small person with energy to spare.

I shot back, “Non sei sensitivo!”

His sister listening in from the next room probably thought I was crazy for just having accused her brother of not having a Sixth Sense.

At this point, our neighbors were probably thinking, “Will someone please bring in a translator?”

Finally Fabio decided to throw in the towel. He’d had enough. But not before giving me one last piece of his mind, “You wood-head,” he blurted out. Testa di legno.

Now, I ask you, how can you possibly stay mad at someone who calls you a wood-head?

About the Author:

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