La Pausa: Just don’t fight it!
La Pausa. Know about it, accept it, and plan your day around it. Above all, don’t try to fight it. That’s all you really need to know. I could finish this article right here and that would probably be sufficient enough advice—but it wouldn’t be any fun, though, would it?
“The Pause,” is the time of day in Italy when all of the businesses shut down and the shop keepers go home for their three-hour lunch break. I suppose it is the equivalent to the Spanish “siesta.” I don’t know where, when, or why this tradition started, but what I do know is that it can be very frustrating to the uninitiated American expat. We’re used to 24-hour access to everything. We expect things to function efficiently and in a timely manner. The world is supposed to cater to our every need or whim. Now that you’re in Italy, you can forget about all of that. It’s time to relearn everything you thought you knew about daily commerce and how it relates to your new lifestyle.
In theory, business hours in Rome–and for most of Italy–should be from 9:30 to 1:00, followed by a three-hour stoppage. Then everything resumes again in the afternoon from 4:00 until 7:30. What’s more, most businesses have “un giorno di riposo,” or an extra half-day that they take off in the middle of the week. To make things even more confusing, this day is different from town to town and can also vary depending on the type of business.
For example, let’s say that you want to buy some fruit at the local grocery store. In Rome, if you show up on Wednesday afternoon, you’ll be out of luck. Instead, in Tuscany the small grocers are closed on Tuesday afternoons. In Bologna, all shops are closed on Thursday afternoons; while in Parma, less than an hour away, “il giorno di riposo” is Wednesday mornings.
This is why you should never take anything for granted when planning your schedule. Often I will leave the house with an optimistic list of five things that I would like to accomplish that day. If I get two of those items crossed off of my list, I consider it a very successful outing. But if you happen to have one very important task that you absolutely must get done, the only reasonable strategy is to devote an entire day to it. I’m not joking. Show up at the place of business at 9:30 and be prepared to make at least one return trip plus two or three side trips. They’ll tell you that you need a special stamp from the tobacco shop, then a signature from the Questura, a blessing from the Pope, a sample of your blood, and your first-born male child as collateral. Inevitably, you’ll get it all together just around 12:55. Then you’ll have to wait three hours for the pausa before you can go back to your original destination. See what I mean?
Thankfully, the one thing that you can truly count on–at least in Rome–is that you can always find an open bar, restaurant or pizzeria nearby. Pick a shady table in a quiet square. Order a panino and a glass of wine and just take a deep breath. Look around. Or close your eyes and listen to sounds of daily life. As the buzz of the wine reaches your brain, you will gradually begin to understand how and why this “la pausa” thing came into being. Maybe you’ll even admit to yourself that it isn’t such a bad idea after all.