All this week I have been writing about how different the food and the whole dining experience is in Milan - wonderful textures and strange new flavors that drift just slightly away from familiarity. There is a genuine pleasure in dining here. People stop what they are doing and gather together for several hours to eat and drink and socialize. Restaurants do not insult you by presenting your bill before you ask for it. And wine or beer is expected as it aids the digestion (or so my new Italian friends tell me). Even a caffe from a vending machine is consumed not at the desk while you are working, but in the hallway or outside in the open, and you stop what you are doing to relax for just a few minutes.
The most important things you can learn before traveling is how to greet people in their native language, how to say "please" and "thank you", and how to express gratitude. Even though I have been the recipient of the slower-and-louder-but-not-in-my-language method of translation here on several occaissions (and sometimes it does work), a few simple words of gratitude go a long way - "buono" after a meal means "that was good", "grazie" and "prego" for thank you and the acknowledgement, and "scuzi" when you are obviously in the way or otherwise do not know what you are doing. These things all helped me manage through simple interactions with the people here.
Mostly what I noticed this week, though, is really how similar we all are. Everyone responds to a smile and a genuine effort to connect. The people here seemed to appreciate my enjoyment of Milan and helped me with my limited and feeble Italian (they also understood the slightly more advanced Spanish I was able to throw into the mix). My first trip out into the larger world has shown me that it is a beautiful place inhabited by wonderful people. Everyone should leave their own country at least once if possible to cacth a glimpse of this.
Today I go back to the US. I'll need to relearn English as I have been speaking a mix of basic English, Italian and Spanish with even a little of my college French emerging from the depths of my memory. I will need to pay attention to traffic when crossing the street. If I eat out, I will need to remember to finish in an our or less to make way for the next customer. I will need to remember the deep political and cultural divisions at home and curb my opinions which have been soo free-flowing this past week. But mostly I will get a home-cooked meal to share with my spouse and my cats, and this will be the best part of all and everything will be quasiasi again.
My final shot of Milan is the similar-yet-very-different coffee vending machine that was right outside the training room we occupied this week on the campus of the school we have been working with. Watch for the little stir stick that gets dropped into the cup and you can hear me laugh.