Il Straccio e L’Asciugamano: Linens and Life in Italy
Straccio is a somewhat common word meaning ‘dish towel’ in Italian. Banal, I know. Asciugamano on the other hand is a rather lengthy way of saying ‘bath towel.’ So why exactly have I chosen to write about Italian linens? Because as an American living outside the United States, they serve as a perfect way to add humor to the sometimes stressful transition that comes with living abroad for an extended period of time.
I first heard of a straccio when I was in the kitchen of the apartment I currently share with my Italian roommate. I asked, “come si dice towel in italiano?” I realized that no one had ever mentioned this at university. “Straccio. È per i piatti,” he said. I then proceeded to commit the word to memory lest some random Italian were to come up to me at the tram stop asking for a straccio.
When I arrived in Milan to teach English for a scholastic year this past September, I felt a complete mix of emotions. Those who have lived abroad will agree that it is both an exhilarating and a terrifying experience, all rolled into one. For me, it has been my dream. But it came at the price of having to leave all of my friends and family behind for a year in exchange for a school full of boisterous Italian students and a single twin bed in an apartment with a roommate that I had never met.
Now back to our Italian linens lesson. Employing straccio and asciugamano is how I have come to categorize my days in Italy. If it was a good day, or I learned a new word, it was an asciugamano kind of day. If I got lost or had trouble communicating, it was a straccio day. It probably sounds ridiculous but for me it keeps the situation light when I begin to feel overwhelmed linguistically or see things that remind me of home and feel tinges of homesickness.
Luckily, most days have been ‘bath towel’ types of days–and by that I’m referring to the kind that is comforting and makes you feel warm inside, like nice, fluffy bath towel. The straccio days happen too. Those are the days where you just want to throw in the towel, excuse the pun, and start afresh, like a dirty dishtowel that is worn out from use and needs to be replaced.
I have found that the only way to remain sane while transitioning abroad is to employ silly metaphors such as these. You are going to look ridiculous and out of place at some time or another so you might as well embrace it. On the bad days, I imagine myself running around Milan, twirling a dish towel over my head and dancing through the streets as the Italians shake their heads and mutter to one another, “there goes another American off her rocker. When will they ever learn….”