Mangio la Bicicletta

Looking for a used bicycle online in Florence was useless. I found a few new bike shops walking the city but they were more for fancy road bikes. A friend suggested looking for a sign-less bike shop walking up Via dei Serragli in the afternoon. I did and sure enough there was a tidy corner shop lined with old bikes. The man at the bike stand in the middle of the room was working patiently at a derailer hanging off a beat up frame.

Not knowing the language makes beginning any interaction very awkward. I had learned just a few days ago that I had been greeting everyone at all times of day with a hearty, “good morning!” So after standing in the doorway gawking at the bikes,  at least I knew to greet the bike mechanic with a time appropriate, “buonasera.”

I pointed to a bike on the wall, an old Campagnolo branded one, and thanks to a short Italian lesson from Chris was able to grunt, “quanto costa?”  The guy raised an eyebrow and said something while gesturing with four fingers. Only forty Euro!? I thought, a great price!

“Sì, sì,” I said, taking out my wallet and patting myself on the chest like a fool, “I’ll buy it, yes.”

The man smirked, shook his head and said four something and “originale,” while gesturing four and then wrote on a small piece of paper, 4-0-0.  Ah.

Then I pinched the air like I was squeezing something (like the price) down to be smaller and looked around pointing at other bikes. He showed me some newer looking ones, but there was one ratty red one in the shop that I liked the look of. Lugged frame, flat tires, probably too tall for me, perfect.

I quanto accosted him again and was pretty sure he said sixty euro, which sounded like a fair price. Again I patted my chest and took out my wallet. He looked at me over his glasses. This is the universal response to dealing with an idiot who does not know what is going on. If some one looks over their glasses  at you it communicates the doubt that person holds for your ability to make it in the world.  He then left the shop and walked out into the street.

He called out to a younger man walking past who then came over laughing at me. They had a brief conversation and the younger man turned to me and explained in English, “It’s sixty euro for that bike, but the tires are flat. It’s late and he doesn’t want to work on it today, but come back tomorrow at 11 and it’ll be ready.” I agreed, thanked them both, and felt equally proud  and embarrassed for myself. But I can live with that, because today I’m riding around the streets of Firenze on my new bike with a foolish grin on my face.


11 Comments so far. Comments are closed.
  1. Colleen,

    Eccellente! Congratulazioni per la sua nuova moto.

  2. mike,

    allura, be bene molto bene mio figlio, papa

  3. Sara,

    Ah! That’s great! And well told. I laughed aloud twice while imagining you throughout the encounter! Thanks for posting again! Love your sister!

  4. Chris,

    Bravo Fratellino! Una bicicletta bellissima e sono sicuro che hai fatto il giorno di quello signore.

    P.S. Brava Colleen per il tuo Italiano!

  5. Anna,

    Ah, I am embarrassed to even respond, since I know no Italian….but that story is so wonderful and descriptive! What a beautiful world that we can buy a bike without any common language! I love the pinching motion to symbolize less money- is that a mime trick?

    • Anna! Your comment was stuck in the spam que for a few weeks. Oops, fixed now, and you shouldn’t have problemos posting again.

      And to answer your question, pinching to mean less money is a very famous mime trick. Yes, most mimes have to learn how to do it early in their careers. It’s the origin of the phrase to pinch pennies.

  6. Addy,

    Congrats, Kevin! I know that commerce in a language that you barely know can be rather intimidating, and feeling foolish is a large part of that. Every little encounter ends up being a conquest and I hope that it comes easier and easier as you go through it more!

  7. Aunt Colleen,

    I am smiling as I read this and am picturing you riding that red bike with a big grin! Enjoy Kev!

  8. Tisher,

    The foolish chest pat was great. I can see it. Ha ha ha.

    The biking sounds great.