Saturday, July 17, 2010

You've gotta have your "Guys"

Today's post is a bit more of a cultural lesson, something suprising we've learned about living in Italy. Many of the neighborhood businesses around are small family-run businesses. When you shop at the same place a few times, you find that you see the same people, and they get to know you. And a remarkable thing happens when they get to know you, they treat you like an old family friend. They give you discounts, freebies, extra items because you are a regular. And they become your "guys," the ones that you know you can go to and get a warm welcome. You go back even if they don't have the absolutely best food or the best prices, because you are part of things now.

Case in point: Today I went to the art store I always go to in Monza, Colorificio Manzoni, for some new paints and brushes. I first went to this store about a year ago when I wanted to start painting in acrylics. I knew nothing of painting in acrylics, even less of how to ask what I needed in Italian. My English-Italian dictionary was of little help. The owner called his son in (from home nearby, presumably) because he spoke some English and could help me. They got me hooked up, and I've been going to them ever since. They remember me every time, and now I can talk with them in Italian a bit and even know the names for what I want. And every time they add up my purchase, they knock off a few Euros. (Today I stole the paper just to prove it!) They're my art guys.

This is not unique to this store or these guys, that's what is amazing about it. This is Italy. We get heaping gelatos from our gelato guy, at least one size bigger than what we order because he piles it on top. Patrick gets free meat from the butcher at the local market because he knows he's an American and wants him to try something new. Can you imagine that at your local Safeway? I can't. In our giant box store, inventoried and always balancing American culture that just wouldn't fly.

It's just one of the amazing and wonderful things about Italy. I don't think you could ever get this experience quite this way without living here, and it consistently amazes and delights me while also making me a loyal customer. So, if you ever find yourself in Monza, stop in at Colorificio Manzoni on Via Manzoni 54 and say hi to my guys.


  1. I totally know what you mean. I think it's the small town mentality... most business are family-owned here. Everyone is family, they chit chat and really want to know the's pretty cool - at least once you learn enough Italian!

  2. I really love small family-run businesses ~ they are usually very friendly and the shops are usually very cozy! I love your story and i really do love it when we get to know the business owners. Reading your post makes me feel cozy and warm. Have a lovely merry happy weekend and love to yoU!

  3. This is one of the many things that I love about Italy. It is still my favorite country... When we still lived in Germany we would simply drive down for a long weekend and spend lazy days at one of the lakes and wander the narrow alleys in the villages and towns. This is what I really miss here!

  4. That is an awesome store! Not that I don't appreciate your story...but holy cow! I could spend days just perusing in that store.

  5. oh kat..what a beautiful world you get to explore...

    thanks for sharing this link at SS.

    xxo, Kim

  6. Hipptiy Hop, around the blogs, and I land here! So daughter leaves for a study abroad program as an art major tomorrow to Florence! Do you know of any "guys" in Florence by the University of the Arts?
    Wonderful blog...


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