Saturday, October 17, 2009

Hi-Tech Italian

So I gave up a gorgeous day of riding today, to go to one of Italy's largest shopping malls (a relatively new phenomena here) to shop for a new laptop computer. After taking a 1/2 hour bus outside the Florentine suburbs, I arrived at the mall and headed for Mediaworld, an enorrmous computer and appliance mega-store, kind of like Best Buy, but larger and more inviting.

I had asked my Italian friends' advice where to shop for a new computer. And as is usual, everyone has a "friend" in the business. Well, that made me feel real warm and cozy. Until I ran all over downtown Florence seeking out all of these "friends". .Who, as I discovered, either didn't sell computers, didn't know anything about them but can "get you one for a good price" or, here's the of them nearly convinced me that I really don't even need a computer. What I really need is an espresso machine. I almost walked out of the store with a stunning, feature-packed De Longhi with all the bells and whistles. Until I stopped in my tracks, laughed at myself and as I pulled out my credit card, I looked at the cashier and said "Do you know any large stores around here that sell computers?" She said "No, but my cousin can get you one". I said "Grazie, e arrivederci." I left the espresso machine behind.

So I contacted my American friend, Melinda Gallo, writer and author of the best blog about Florence, Living in Florence. She knows every inch of this city, and she recommended Mediaworld. She was right. I should have just asked her in the first place.

I was really pleased by the experience. I had expected to hunt around and beg for sales assistance. But there were twice as many salespeople than there were customers. Available, passionate, animated, endlessly helpful, patient and very knowledgeable. I found exactly what I wanted. I was so welcomed with the atmosphere and assistance, that I decided to stay and shop around for a new camera. My last camera was damaged by water, months ago and I had never replaced it. So, while I was in Mediaworld, I bought an underwater camera that I don't even intend to use underwater, but it was small, light, virtually indestructible, and is perfect for the pocket of my cycling jersey.

I was having such a great time learning about all the Italian appliances, that I ended up spending a leisurely afternoon getting personal demos of espresso machines, vacuum cleaners, and unusual Italian kitchen appliances like pasta machines, pprosciutto-slicing machines, while expanding and practicing my Italian vocabulary. It was indeed an entertaining day and a great learning experience.

I usually hate malls. But I loved this one. I loved the people and the pace. Neither as rushed nor as aggressively chaotic as a New York mall and not as boring and antiseptic as a California mall. Nobody pushing and bumping into you, everyone smiling and yeilding, a very happy energy. It had an uplifting, dynamic, positive feel.

I also loved the salespeople. Except for the small touristy stores in downtown Florence, it has been my experience that Italian salespeople are the best. They are proud of their work, they are inherently passionate about their products, they love to give advice, want to make you genuinely happy, they enjoy talking to you, are not putting on an act, do not expect you to buy, are never pushy or assuming. They are just having fun. I don't know how many times a salesperson and I exchanged personal phone numbers with the intention of getting together socially. And in one case, we did.

Well, today was another milestone for me. Buying an Italian computer with an Italian keyboard with Windows Vista in the Italian language, instead of waiting for an American one. Everything happens for a reason. The more I have to make decisions like this, the more I realize that I have no doubts about digging myself deeper and deeper into the culture. I was really elated, having been able to conduct the whole buying process in Italian, technical jargon and all.