Four years after the untimely death of Stella, our adorable German Shepherd, I found a huge dust-ball of her fur under a bookshelf. This is testimony to my poor housekeeping skills indeed! I got a bit teary-eyed actually, because it was kind of nice to find that furry reminder, although I also felt quite ashamed that it had escaped my notice for so long.
I admire Italian housewives enormously. Often, as I sit at my computer, staring out of the window while waiting for inspiration to strike, I notice the morning rituals of the women in the houses around me. They bustle around, flinging open windows, shaking out bedding and vigorously whacking at carpets tossed over their balconies.
My husband is a great window opener too. Each morning he opens them up all over the house, even when a freezing wind is howling, because Italians believe that the air in their houses needs changing frequently. I scurry behind him, closing everything up and suggest feebly that the draughts under the windows would do the job for us quite easily, to which he just raises a patient eyebrow. He does not seem to mind me being a bad housekeeper, or maybe I have done a great job of training him to do the jobs I dislike?
Italians are also constantly at war with germs. Every surface; floors, kitchen work-tops and bathrooms; get thoroughly disinfected on a, for me, far too regular basis. You see this obsession on TV adverts where, before a baby can be allowed to crawl across the kitchen floor, someone has to whisk around with a mop and disinfect the tiles. I am convinced that kids need to fall, scratch their knees and roll around in dirt a bit in order to develop a decent immune system, so was constantly the subject of indignant criticism when my son was small.
Visit any supermarket, big or small and you will find a huge range of cleaning products to choose from, as well as the extensive selection of wonderful cold meats, cheese, pasta and fresh vegetables that you expected. They even have things I never knew existed when I lived in the UK, such as umpteen additives for your washing machine; to make your clothes smell nice, your washing machine smell nice, your whites stay white and your coloureds not fade, as well as stuff to clean out the lime-scale. It is true that I have not lived in England for 25 years, so maybe this is just modern life and not Italian excess!
I was really tickled the other day, when I decided to check out a new Di Più supermarket which had opened up nearby. They have a whole range of body pampering products with a very bizarre brand name – TWIT. I was very tempted, believe me. I could imagine having a shower, surrounded by TWIT Shampoo and TWIT body lotion. It would certainly ensure starting the day with a laugh!
So, when on holiday here you can rest assured that your hotel rooms or apartments will be scrupulously clean when you arrive. You will have booked your holiday already expecting to eat amazing food and sample fine wines but now you also know that Italian hygene standards are extremely high.
If a group of Italian ladies start fussing around when your children are playing with some interesting dirt in the park or at the side of the swimming pool, just smile, they are only showing concern for the children’s welfare.
As for me, my lovely Italian neighbours have no idea how bad a housekeeper I am. Before anyone comes here for dinner I rush around like a lunatic, attacking any dust or stains I can find, polishing the lime-scale spots off my wineglasses and sweeping the floor. I can never get things to their standard of perfection but I have a great strategy to get around this. As I greet my guests at the door, after a day of frantic cleaning, I can often be heard to say,
“Please don’t look at the house, I haven’t had time to clean up.”