Four Lessons I’ve Learned from my Italian Neighbors

Ok, it’s true that strange neighbors are certainly not unique to Rome, or even Italy. When we were living in London, our upstairs neighbors spent so much time hammering we were convinced that their apartment doubled as an art gallery. But in my time living in Rome I’ve had seven different apartments, and along the way have encountered a host of characters and strange situations requiring either careful navigation or just some really thick skin.

Lesson One: Being retired is not as relaxing as everyone thinks.

angry old man hat black and white
If he ever put on a shirt, I bet this is what the angry yelling man would look like. Photo by Arend Vermazeren – click for link.

Our neighbor, who I call Mr. Heart Attack, spends all day screaming into his cell phone. The most entertaining part is that neither myself nor my Roman husband can understand a word he says, except for the insults. It goes something like this:

BLAH BLAH BLAH BLAH MORTACCI TUA (damn the souls of your dead ancestorsBLAH BLAH BLAH BLAH MA VAFFANCULO (fuck you)!” Repeat as needed.

Fortunately, his wife is out all day, because in the evenings when she comes home the two of them shout together. While they’re probably shouting at each other, I can’t help imagining that they are taking turns screaming into the phone at some hapless call centre employee. Though we can always hear him, we’ve never actually seen the guy. I think it’s fair to assume that he’s probably a fat 70-something who exclusively wears dirty white undershirts and a gold chain (which gets buried in his chest hair). We spend a lot of time worrying that some day he will keel over from a rage-induced heart-attack in the middle of shouting.

How to cope: Loud music and a good sense of humor. This doesn’t work every day – since apartments don’t have A/C here, summer is particularly torturous because windows must be left open 24/7 – but is the only real way to deal with a chronically angry neighbor.

Lesson Two: Italy has a TV channel that plays church stuff 24/7. Literally.

angels black and white chorus singing
It sounded like these creepy little guys were filling my entire bedroom with their songs. Seriously, it woke me up at night in cold sweats. Photo by Bill Rogers – click for link.

We also have a neighbor who is a 90-year-old deaf woman. Normally, you’d think this was good luck, as we’d be able to party with impunity as far as she’s concerned. The problem is that for a while, her TV was up against the same wall as our bed, and (being deaf) in order to hear it she had to put it on full blast.  This might be a bit less disturbing if she watched something else (serious, even porn would be better) but she watches exclusively the Catholic channel, and that means 24/7 church bells and ommmnooom latin chanting.

How to cope: In this case, complaining actually worked. In Rome this is something of a miracle which must and will always be cherished.

Lesson Three: Someone somewhere has a statue of Marge Simpson sitting in their garden.

marge simpson statue garden rome cartoon
Best. Neighbors. Ever.

Living in a building full of elderly couples, four female American college students do tend to attract attention. For a while, we became the scapegoats for any and everything that went wrong in the building. Trash left on the street, blame those girls. Cockroach infestation, blame those girls. Cigarette tossed off of a balcony into someone’s garden, blame those girls. (Ok, in fairness that one probably was my fault by way of an unruly attendee at a party who decided not to use the flower pot I turned into an ashtray.)

Perhaps said neighbor was particularly concerned about the potential of cigarette rain due to the live-sized doll (mannequin, statue?!) of Marge Simpson sitting in their garden.

How to cope: Always make friends with your neighbors. Especially the kindly (but kinda grumpy) old man who has devoted his entire retired life to ensuring that the apartment building gets its mail.

Lesson Four: Throwing food objects is not enough to get you kicked out of an apartment building.

This is the note Flavio wrote after the Onion-and-Cleaning-Liquid Incident. It reads:
This is the note Flavio wrote after the Onion-and-Cleaning-Liquid Incident (though we never gave it to the guy). It reads: “Highly respected neighbor, more than anything I would like to thank you for your spontaneous assistance in cleaning my balcony for free. However, it pains me to inform you that the half of an onion which you dropped has now been drenched in cleaning liquid, and so is useless for any potential culinary pursuits.
Kind regards.”

The crowning glory of my weird neighbor experiences involved a jar of tomato sauce being dumped on our front door (for a second, yes, I did think it was blood when I found a pool of red stuff around our doormat). There was also the time he dumped cleaning solution and half an onion onto my balcony. Once I got into a taxi just in time to miss having another onion connect with my head. Fortunately it slammed into the roof of the car instead, making a terrifying sound and leading to taxi-driver rage.

These were the funnier things this guy did. He also followed my roommate in his car and reportedly attacked someone with a hammer.

How to cope: Don’t always make friends with your neighbors. They are sometimes completely insane. If you find yourself in this situation it’s probably time to look for a new house. You should also file a report with the police. Though it won’t have an immediate impact, you will be able to call them when in need, and if enough complaints are filed, maybe someone some day will manage to lock this guy up. Or at least put him in the middle of the forest where he can throw onions at angry bears.

6 thoughts on “Four Lessons I’ve Learned from my Italian Neighbors

  1. Onion throwing guy – classic! 🙂 At least he didn’t attack you with a hammer! How scary! The worst I’ve got at the moment is an old lady who shrieks non-stop. Her voice could break glass. Thankfully, as old people do, she goes to bed quite early so I get a reprieve in the evenings.

  2. Hahaha! That’s gold! So many interesting characters in Rome. I used to jump out of my skin every time the soccer was on because my neighbour would let out a shrill scream every time his team missed a goal lol

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