È Gratis?

Here’s another post from Katie. Sheesh.. she needs her own blog.

It’s Katie again. I feel compelled to share about my and Christopher’s recent gratis (free) experiences. The first came when I was returning home from the grocery store, about 2 weeks into the trip. When I walk alone I tend to keep my eyes ahead of me so I won’t get any unwanted “Ciao Bella!”, but this days I was feeling friendly, looking at the shops I passed. As I passed by a cobbler’s shop, I glance up and said Buona Sera (good evening) to the shop keeper standing in the store. He responded in kind, as expected, but then continued to chat, saying “how are you?” in Italian. I was then forced to use all of my linguistic skills, which really aren’t much, to try and keep up my end of the conversation and understand what he is saying. After some initial confusion, I tell him that I am an American and he asks me “which part?”. I say Washington DC, and he gets excited and motions me into his shop. He has a collection of post cards, including some from DC. He motions to one specific DC post card and says that it is from his friend, and then quickly indicates another post card featuring a woman with enormous breasts and declares that this woman is unfortunately not the friend in question. We both chuckle. Then he reaches for his shelf and hands me a small box containing shoe polish. Upon seeing the confused look on my face, he motions to my feet indicating the proper direction of use. I had that part figured out — just not the part about why it was in my hand. Was I supposed to pay him for it? Was it a gift? He then asks if I am a student (No) and I try to explain I am here with my husband- not knowing the word, so we settle on ragazzo (boy) and he seems to understand enough. At this point I am ready to leave, and so I say Grazie repeatedly and head out, with my free shoe polish in hand.

Chris, on the other hand, has been working on his relationship with the owner of La Ch@t — a man in his upper 30’s, maybe — who is always very well-dressed and always talking to the young college girls who come in to use the computers. So he doesn’t really chat with either one of us, I guess I spend too much time hanging on Chris. Anyway, each day, Chris has tried to extract more conservation out of signor La Ch@t. We even went to the 4th anniversary party for La Ch@t at a local bar/club where he recognized us and even said hello. Then, yesterday, while Chris was working on his laptop, as usual, the owner comes over Chris and hands him a neck tie. Of course Chris was confused and the owner mumbled something about people giving each other gifts at easter, or that he has changed his tie and was no longer in need of the services of this one — it is not entirely clear. Of course Chris says Grazie, and we leave.

Ok, I know this is a lame blog entry, but why we we getting free stuff from strangers? Is this just the way of business, like a free sample, just bigger? Are we supposed to give something in return? Are these gentlemen expecting anything more than a thanks? I am so confused… but on the other hand I do love free stuff…

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