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Tuesday 12 November 2013

Weird Italian Landlords

Those of you who have read this blog before will know I don't very often write about my own life. This is because the only people who care about my life are my friends, and they can read my mundane Facebook status updates (that's a callback to my last article). However, it was this or write about the John Lewis Christmas advert, and that would have just been several paragraphs of jokes about how Lily Allen singing Keane is a horrible abomination and whoever came up with the idea should have to go to prison.

In any case, people unaccountably love those stories about how someone they don't know moved to Italy and had lots of hilarious, adorable misunderstandings as they came to adjust to the local way of life, all that Under The Tuscan Sun dreck. Because I'm a writer and I live in Italy, people keep telling me I should write one of those books because publishers eat it up with a spoon and people who watch those stupid TV programmes where a smug couple buy a house abroad buy the crap in droves. And I might just do it. But to give you an idea how different my book would be to Under The Tuscan Sun, which I have admittedly not read because it sounds boring, but am certain contains absolutely no sexual harassment, I am going to talk today about my landlords.

For the past two months or so I have been living in a really nice apartment in a small town by Lake Trasimeno (revealing my location may not be wise just in case there are still any people left who want to murder me for what I wrote about Liverpool FC at the start of the year, but fuck 'em). I am bored of explaining why I moved here from Seattle, where I was living before, so now the only explanation you'll get out of me is that I saw iCarly do it on TV and I want to be just like her. My apartment is huge, has many balconies where I can smoke or pretend to be Juliet, and because it used to belong to an old lady who died, is full of really weird stuff. It's like a museum of old lady crap up in my crib, I'm telling you. There's a statue of the Madonna that changes from blue to red when it's going to rain. The first time it happened I thought it was a miracle and was wondering if I ought to inform the Pope or try and exploit it for financial gain, but it transpired, rather disappointingly, to be more a kind of 'mood ring' type arrangement. Even so, moving into a place fitted with glittery colour changing religious statues is fucking awesome. I like it very much. There's a bar over the road, too.

So, you might imagine I am living quite the life, writing, drinking wine, watching Serie A and waving my hands around a lot when I speak in Italian. And I would be. If it wasn't for my fucking landlords.

They are a fairly old couple, mid sixties I would say, and they live in the apartment upstairs from mine. Their apartment, like mine, has tiled floors, and I'm convinced they rearrange all of their furniture every single day just for the sheer fuck of it, because it sounds, from dawn till dusk, like there is a fucking squash match going on up there. 'Just sit the fuck down!' I plea in my head as I try and drown them out with MTV Italia, which plays the same four terrible songs over and over again. Oh good. Robin Thicke. I haven't heard Robin Thicke for 20 minutes. I was starting to forget how that song went. What rhymes with hug me?

But the noise is the least of my worries.

At first, it was just the constant disturbances (as opposed to the genuinely 'disturbing' stuff that has started happening since). I'd be minding my own business trying to write something or dancing around to Robin Thicke (nobody 'wants it', Robin, you look like Justin Timberlake's dad), and my buzzer would go. Because the lady who lived here before was 172 years old, it is very fucking loud, and scares the b'jaysus out of me. Once I spilled my sambuca. It would usually be 'her'.

She has a weird fascination with my eating habits. I always thought one of the upsides to being an adult was that you could eat whatever you want, whenever you want, and if that happens to be nothing until 11 o'clock at night when you might fancy some Pringles, then so be it. But no. She notices if she doesn't see me go to the supermarket for a couple of days (which usually means I have enough wine), and has to come down and bother me about whether I have eaten. This usually results in being force fed pasta and cake. I know this doesn't sound that bad, but it is a fucking pain in the ass when you have plans. It is impossible to say no. No excuse will be tolerated. I tried saying I was on a diet or going out for a big meal later or I'd already eaten or I was doing Ramadan, and none of it stopped the feeding. Being English, I couldn't cause offence by saying 'fuck off! I am 30 and have mastered such things as eating!', obviously, but I tried everything short of that.

While force feeding me, they would sit there and chatter away at me in Italian, and because I only understand about 50% of what they are saying I found myself nodding politely as I wondered if what he was telling me about a Romanian guy with two wives was a story, a joke or a racist tirade.

Of course, this stuff isn't that bad, it just sort of makes me feel like I have moved into a 1970's sitcom about European stereotypes, and that's quite a laugh in some lights, after a few Peronis or some of their God awful home made wine. But the disruptions to my day piss me off. I find myself in a catlike state of readiness throughout the day, just so if the buzzer from hell goes off I don't jump so much I drop my cigarette and burn the place down or poke my eye out with my mascara wand. It's stressful.

I have therefore tried to make it look as inconvenient as it is in the hope they'll think 'hey, maybe she's busy, let's not go round and ask her if she's happy with the curtains in the guest room she never goes in, maybe it can wait until the next time we see her on the stairs or something'. I spun some bullshit about working for American clients and needing to work at night and sleep during the day and then pretended I had been asleep every time they came round for about a week, but that meant I had to be completely silent all day and I missed my MTV Italia. So I started opening the door with a towel on my head in my dressing gown so it looked like I was in the bath when they disturbed me (because they don't actually go away if you don't answer or shout that you're busy, they just keep buzzing), but that just meant spending all day dressed like I was at a spa. Next I think I might get a man to come round and just walk around in his underwear and be all like, 'hey, you totally cockblocked me, bro' when they show up. Though I'm not sure how that translates to Italian.

In any case, the disturbances were just the start of what has become a far creepier problem. Not to put too fine a point on it, the old man has become a bit of a sex pest. To begin with, he would just sort of stoke my hair in a creepy way while he was talking to me, which I didn't like (really, you should only be touching my hair if you are my hairdresser or my boyfriend. And I don't currently have a hairdresser or a boyfriend), but which you could take as just being affectionate. Rather than kissing me on the cheek twice as is the custom in Italy, he'd do it about fifty times. This was annoying, and made me uncomfortable, but I thought hey, maybe I'm just being uptight and British and this is normal.

Then he started telling me weird stuff like how he and his wife hadn't had sex for 20 years because of some gross health problems I did not need to know about, and going on about how important it was to 'make love'. In a flash of inspiration I at this point announced that I was deeply religious and had no interest in such matters but that seemed to work as well in putting him off as that old ruse of pretending you and your best mate are lesbians when some douchebag wouldn't leave you alone in a bar worked – i.e., not at all. It was at this point that the ass grabbing started. Whenever he'd say goodbye, he'd try and grab my ass.

Now, I could give him the benefit of the doubt over the hair stroking and the cheek kissing and the 'too much information' conversation topics, but when you grab someone's ass that sends a very clear message, and the message is that you are a lecherous little monstrosity. You can't pass that sort of shit off as fatherly affection. You can't pass that shit off as anything but ass grabbing.

I was so genuinely shocked the first time it happened that I didn't do anything, but since then I have attempted subtle evasive maneuvers of the kind probably normally employed by men in the showers in prison.

So now he keeps trying to grab my boobs, which is worse. I'm not sure why, it just is.

Now, I'm not actually scared this is going to go from your kind of Carry On film level of sexual harassment to something worse, because the guy is a tiny little old man and I'm a 5ft 11 young woman, I am pretty sure I could take him in a fight or at the very least out run him. But I'm not really sure what a good approach is to stopping it. I can't really move out, because I only got this apartment despite not having residency and whatnot (in Italy, even if you are from an EU country, which I am, you are supposed to get residency before you do anything, and it's quite the faff) because the estate agent is my friend, and I can't really say, 'hey, can you do me another solid because that really nice landlord guy you think is great keeps molesting me'. And I can't really slap him, because that might cause problems. Also, he's ex-police, so probably not someone I want to be on the wrong side of.

I therefore think I am going to have to solve this sitcom style problem with a sitcom style solution, and so I am planning to get a friend to pretend to be my new boyfriend and glare at him, in the hope that some mild intimidation from another man will work. I got the 'fake relationship' idea from every sitcom ever, and it almost never leads to misunderstandings and terrible problems. It'll be fine. It's happy hour at Shenanigans again, people!

Still though, this brings me, finally, to the point of today's article. What the fuck is with old Italian guys? It's not just this guy, it's not just Berlusconi, there are loads of them that seem to think it isn't at all unlikely that women a small fraction of their age are going to be happy to be felt up by them. In England if an old guy talks to you in a pub or wherever, you assume he wants to have a chat with someone. You do not assume he has some weird idea in his head that you want to sleep with him. Since I moved here I've been hit on by more people who look like they went to school with King Herod than I can count, and where, when a young guy hits on you and you're not interested he generally accepts it and goes off to try someone else (sometimes calling you a lesbian first), these guys are weirdly persistent. Some of them even offered me money. Now what the fuck is that all about?

I just hope it's a generation thing because I am now concerned I may stay in Italy forever, marry some awesome guy, and then one day, when we're in our sixties, he'll suddenly turn into some kind of creepy sex criminal. I'll do you a deal, future husband – you don't do that, I won't start shuffling around in a dress like a sack.

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