"Preconceived Notions" by Yulia Izbersky
This book is about the pressure women feel from society to settle down, but what they really end up doing is settling for something far less than they deserve. In a quest to live up to society's standards, and hopefully find love in a process, some women, like Rachel Meyer, have to endure the torture of being set up on blind dates, not to mention, to suffer through the woes of internet dating. It’s about defying certain stereotypes men and women may have about one another as well as themselves.
About the Author
Yulia Izbersky immigrated from Eastern Europe in 1988. She has a master’s degree in clinical psychology and is currently going for her MBA degree. She lives in Milwaukee, Wisconsin with her family. Writing books is her passion and she considers it her calling. She hopes to continue to write in the future.
A CHANCE ENCOUNTER
Rachel Meyer always loved her hometown of St. Paul, Minnesota. Everything was familiar and she knew half the town by name. She felt safe there. One of the disadvantages of living in Minnesota, though, was that it had a transcontinental climate. It got freezing cold in the winter, but became scorching hot in the summer. There was no spring either. Winter-like weather transitioned into the smoldering heat of the summer. And who could ever forget the famous Minnesota blizzards where one couldn’t see anything for miles and everything transformed into a white blur? During the summer, however, there was another nuisance in a form of mosquitos big as birds aiming to suck the blood out of you, followed by unsightly red bumps all over your skin and accompanied by mind-numbing itchiness and irritation. There were countless times when Rachel dreamed of making it big and leaving Minnesota someday for San Diego, Los Angeles, or Miami.
Another disadvantage was the limit of choices where a single girl like Rachel could go to unwind on a hot summer day. There were places she liked to go with her friends and family, but unlike New York or Los Angeles, the possibilities for entertainment and meeting new people were rather scarce. While Rachel rarely had any problem making new friends, lately she found it difficult to meet quality guys. In this town, everyone knew everyone else and had dated them already. In addition, being a counselor in psychology, trying to earn her three thousand hours in order to become a licensed psychotherapist didn’t present her with too many opportunities to meet men. More women went into the psychology field these days anyway. As a result, most of her colleagues were women, much older men, or younger men who all seemed to be enjoying wedded bliss.
As luck would have it, Rachel had a lot of friends who always tried to get her out of the house, so that she would not have a lot of time to spend alone to ponder the perils of being single at twenty-eight.
Rachel and her friend Gia Sangianni had made plans to meet that evening. Although Rachel tried to keep in close contact with most of her friends, she did not see this particular friend often.
Gia was slightly younger than Rachel and still had two years to go before she finished college. In fact, for the last six months before the girls met on this July evening, she went to Italy on a study-abroad program from her university. The two friends had a lot to catch up on. Gia had picked Rachel up around six in the evening. They were both in a mood for seafood and especially clam chowder soup. Also, over time, both girls became weary of always going to the same place, ordering the same food, not to mention always running into the same people. Rachel hated to admit it, but it would seem she and her friends had become creatures of habit and their outings began to lose their luster and excitement. Therefore, they desperately wanted to break this routine and try something different. After all, “Variety is the spice of life!” As a result, the girls felt they were definitely strong enough to subdue their cravings for the sake of getting what they really wanted. They wanted to go somewhere they haven’t been in a while. After some deliberation, they had unanimously decided to go to Seafood Gourmet, which took Rachel and Gia quite a while to get to, but it was worth it because Seafood Gourmet made the best clam chowder around, at least in their opinion.
Rachel’s friend was a college student. Gia was modeling for the local department store’s catalogue to make ends meet and could have made a real career out of it, if you were to ask Rachel. However, Gia was adamant about the fact that while modeling was a fun hobby and the way to make some money, what she truly wanted to do was become an advertising exec with a considerable say in what goes into creating fashion, instead of simply smiling for the camera and doing whatever other people told her to do. Not many people can argue with this kind of logic.
With the angelic, flawless face, huge dark brown eyes, a perfect nose--not to mention flowing locks the color of the crow’s wing that went down to her shoulder blades, the 5’8’’ slender frame with no excessive fat to be found anywhere on her body, long legs, and the warm smile--Gia embodied the stereotype of an “Italian beauty.” While Rachel was pretty in her own way, with her petite figure, brown hair and brown eyes, there were times when she felt like an old shoe compared to her gorgeous friend, even in terms of clothes they wore. Gia was always dressed up. Rachel thought her friend got dressed up even to go get the mail. On the other hand, Rachel’s idea of a dressing was pulling her jeans and a sweater on. Her mother always told her that she will never get a guy looking like this. Rachel insisted that clothes does not make a woman and a right guy will love her for herself, and not for the way she is dressed.
Rachel’s friends send her tons of jokes via e-mail. One day, Rachel had opened her e-mail inbox and there was an e-mail from one of her friends with the Subject line reading The Guys’ Side of the Story. Naturally, Rachel became intrigued by this topic, and what woman wouldn’t? Among the countless interesting quips aimed at differences in logic between the two genders, there was the one that jumped out at Rachel straight away: “If you want us to treat you like those sensitive hunks from the soap operas, we expect you to look and dress like those models from Victoria’s Secret Ads.”
While initially this line had served as a huge comic relief for Rachel, it had also provided food for thought. It made Rachel aware of the fact that while what’s in a person’s soul is much more important than what they look like, most women feel obligated to dress in a certain way, to keep their men interested. The simple truth was that nice clothes made people feel more alive and more attractive. Gia was a living, breathing testament to this philosophy.
While Gia certainly possessed the looks of a supermodel, luckily, for as long as Rachel knew her, Gia had never pulled a “diva” attitude, which can unfortunately be a negative side effect of being so beautiful. In fact, Gia had always gone out of her way to do well by others.
Fortunately, when they got there, they were not forced to sit around for hours waiting for a table, as usually happens at Seafood Gourmet, especially on the weekends. The interior of the restaurant was made to look like inside of the fisherman’s boat. There was a stuffed fish mounted on the wall. Different sized compasses were dispersed all over the walls. Instead of stairs, there were hang bridges put in. All the waiters and waitresses were made to wear striped sailor shirts. The scene had reminded Rachel of the time she was vacationing with her family in Key West, where every pub had the Hemingway’s The Old Man and the Sea feel to it. The smells and sounds of the place were simply intoxicating. The whole place emanated the aroma of dishes that tasted as good as homemade.
The sound of succulent white snow crab legs cracked in two was mixed in with the sizzle of the calamari being fried on a skillet. A hustle and bustle of people coming in and going out indicated the place was always busy. Every time the front door opened, a puff of hot air would swoop in from outside and remind the patrons how lucky they were to be inside. On a day like this, everyone thought the air conditioner was the greatest invention since sliced bread.
There was a huge lobster tank placed in a corner, full of unsuspecting lobsters, which made some patrons sad because they knew these little cuties’ fate. The little kids were mesmerized by the odd-looking creatures, moving around in the tank. They were tapping the glass, trying to make the lobsters acknowledge their presence, leaving smudges all over the lobster tank with their little fingers and palms. Every time the inhabitants of the tank moved in their direction, the children squealed in delight and sometimes fear. The kids ran back to their parents to tell them all about it.
Rachel and Gia were had a good time listening to the children’s babble. When asked where the two friends would like to be seated, the girls said that they would prefer a booth to a table. Once they were seated at a booth, the waiter came by to take their orders.
“Welcome to Seafood Gourmet! Hi, my name is Jeff and I will be your waiter tonight. What would you like to start with, ladies?” He got out his pad and prepared to write. He seemed a little nervous, like he was new at this. He wanted to get it right.
As sad as it may sound, Rachel noticed that sometimes restaurant patrons get so busy, self-important and snobbish that they consider it beneath them to look at the waiter while ordering the food. As a result, they end up staring straight into their menu the entire time, treating a waiter or a waitress as a nonentity or a nuisance at best, continuing their meals or conversations without ever bothering to look up and somehow acknowledge the person who is cleaning their table or bringing them food. Rachel and Gia were definitely not of that persuasion. In fact, they were always appreciative of any effort of good will made toward them. Therefore, they had looked up and smiled, as soon as the waiter approached the table. Jeff looked friendly and good-natured. What’s more, his entire look matched his good disposition. He was a chubby, youngish-looking guy with shortly cropped, blond, curly hair: a big nose and a freckled face and glasses with big black rims. What was most endearing, though was that he smiled a lot and seemed to genuinely care about the well-being of others.
Rachel didn’t really remember what she and Gia had ordered that night--come to think of it, maybe it was two bowls of clam chowder soup and a seafood combination plate for each of them--but what Rachel did remember is that this waiter was being attentive. Too attentive at times.
Once Jeff the Waiter left with their order, two friends thought they would get a chance to chat.
“What’s been happening in town while I was gone? What did I miss?” Gia purred while running her fingers through her luxurious mane of hair. Gia’s hair always looked as if she spent the whole day in the salon. Rachel, on the other hand, was happy when her hair didn’t look like she went driving in a convertible with a top down on a windy day.
“You know nothing exciting ever happens here,” Rachel responded, “Same old stuff. I would much rather hear about what you’ve been up to on your travels.” She rested her chin on the palms of her hands and was getting ready to listen to her friend.
“Well, let me tell you…” Gia’s voice trailed off as Jeff was approaching their booth again.
“I feel so silly. I didn’t even ask your names.”
Gia took the initiative. “My name is Gia and this is my friend Rachel,” she said pointing at Rachel.
It’s great to meet you both,” Jeff said shaking the girls’ hands one after the other. Rachel expected Jeff to ask Gia out. This was a regular occurrence on outings with Gia; guys asking Gia out with Rachel sitting there, feeling completely invisible. Much to Rachel’s surprise, Jeff didn’t do that. Instead he asked them a question.
“Is everything okay here? Can I bring you ladies more biscuits while you’re waiting for your food?” The bread basket full of cheesy biscuits he brought over to their table before remained untouched. Rachel and Gia were so wrapped up in trying to catch up, they hardly even noticed the biscuits before. Jeff seemed to be looking for an excuse to talk to them. As he said that, he was getting ready to go bring the girls whatever they wanted.
“No. Thanks. We’re fine…,” Rachel was getting annoyed, “We have enough biscuits for now,” she said pointing to the bread basket.
“Okay then…Please let me know if you need anything else.” The guy was not easily deterred. He left once again.
“You were saying…,” Rachel said, leaning across the table, “I think this waiter is being so attentive because he is trying to impress you.”
“How do you know he is not trying to impress you instead?” Gia couldn’t believe how insecure her friend was sometimes.
“Oh, please…,” Rachel rolled her eyes, “Maybe in some alternate reality or something.”
Not a minute passed when they saw Jeff again and they were forced to stop talking.
“I’m sorry for interrupting again, but do you girls live around here?” At this point, Rachel wanted to object somehow to his new intrusion, but Jeff looked so vulnerable and good-natured. She decided against it.
“No, we both live in the suburbs,” Rachel didn’t want to divulge any more details than that, hoping that it will make the nosy waiter leave faster.
“Wow, that’s impressive. I love the suburbs. You girls must both live in beautiful houses,” After Jeff saw both girls nodding their heads in agreement, he continued, “My family and I can’t afford a house right now. We live in an apartment building.”
For a while it seemed as if Jeff was being envious, but then Rachel and Gia figured out that this was his way of showing admiration and keeping up the conversation.
Jeff disappeared into the restaurant kitchen only to reappear five minutes later. Obviously, there was more he wanted to know about them.
“Are you students?”
“Yes. My friend here is a college student and I’m a graduate student.” Rachel was hoping this response will be satisfactory. Unfortunately, Jeff was in a chatty mood. It was kind of odd that he neglected to ask the girls what they study, though. For some unknown reason, it bothered Rachel. She was very proud of her own and Gia’s academic accomplishments. She wanted to speak up.
“In case you are wondering my friend here is a business major and I’m going for a Master’s in clinical psychology.” Some guys get scared off by this information. Rachel was wondering if Jeff was one of them.
“Wow! You are a couple of smart cookies. Business and clinical psych. How interesting. You’re not going to analyze me, are you?” He looked over at Rachel, somewhat worried.
“You don’t have to worry! You’re safe.” In reality, Rachel was thinking that Jeff the Waiter would in fact be fascinating to psychoanalyze.
“Thanks. I’m not sure how I would rate,” Jeff swiped his hand over his forehead in relief and smiled, “Do you come here often? I don’t remember seeing you here.” Jeff was getting comfortable, leaning against the table.
“We were here two or three months ago, I think…,” Gia couldn’t remember exactly how long it had been. As soon as she said that, Jeff got the knowing look on his face as if he was about to solve a difficult puzzle or something.
“Now I know why I haven’t seen you. I’m new here. It’s only my third week. I like the job and meeting new and interesting people everyday, but being a waiter is a temporary gig for me,” Jeff was practically bubbling over with excitement, “Currently, I’m taking some computer classes at the technical college. I have big plans for my future. I want to get an MBA degree and become a computer analyst. And who knows, maybe eventually I’ll become a mogul and set up a global computer network with the head office in Japan or some other happening place.” Jeff was talking so fast, he needed to catch his breath when he was done.
The two girls came to the restaurant to socialize with each other and not the waiter. It almost seemed as if Jeff saw his job not as a public service, but as a bar scene where he could practice his social skills and meet women.
In fact, at times Rachel and Gia were extremely annoyed by his endless habit of popping up out of the blue and interrupting the private conversation between the girls. There were occasions when Rachel was dining out when a waiter or a waitress would be extra attentive for the simple reason that they wanted to be tipped well. However, this explanation didn’t fit Jeff’s behavior. What’s more, it was too apparent that this guy’s attentiveness was most likely not attributed to his desire to be tipped, but instead his desperate need to be liked. Rachel and Gia had decided to play along.
The two friends have tried to smile and nod, to indicate the “Good for You” attitude, but deep down inside they knew that it was probably a lot of hot air on Jeff’s part to try to impress them. Then again, who knows? Maybe it was possible for Jeff to achieve all of his dreams? After all, where is the harm in letting the guy talk for a while, especially if it made him feel better about himself?
There was another reason why Rachel didn’t feel like being rude to Jeff. This guy had treated them both with such respect and reverence that they couldn’t help but feel a little flattered and overwhelmed.
Gia and Rachel have never been in a competition with each other and one of the reasons why they were on such amicable terms was due to the fact that the two friends seemed to complement each other’s personalities.
While Gia was the one who was a more outgoing, adventurous, artistic and creative person, Rachel was a lot more grounded, conservative but open-minded and what one might call an incurable creature of habit. Rachel always thought Gia even had a more exotic name than her and that’s a whole other story all in itself.
Gia was named after one of the first supermodels back in the 1980s, Gia Carangi, a stunning Italian beauty with a dark side that eventually claimed her life at a young age.
Gia happened to be the whole package with a pretty wrapping--that is, she had a kind heart, a great sense of humor, an incredibly strong sense of family and belonging and a good head on her shoulders, much unlike her famous and tragic namesake.
Although everyone found it unbelievable, Gia was single, and not from lack of attention and flirtations from many guys. The truth was that while Gia enjoyed these flirtations and going out on dates from time to time, she had never taken these guys very seriously. She still hadn’t found that special one. Gia was never one to settle for less than she deserved.
However, even if her life lacked real love, which everyone considered so important, much to her friend Rachel’s awe, Gia lived her life to the fullest. That was something that Rachel had to learn how to do.
Gia went over to Italy for six months and treated it as if it was no problem at all. She managed to adjust beautifully to the culture and had learned how to manipulate the little Italian that she spoke to her advantage. As a result, she has traveled all over Europe.
Rachel and Gia were almost ready to give up on having a conversation without interruptions from the super friendly waiter. Fortunately, a party of twenty people showed up and Jeff was assigned to be their waiter. The girls thought that should keep him busy for a while.
“Phew! Now we can really talk. The waiter is a nice guy, but he is trying too hard. Gia? I had been meaning to ask you about your trip. I bet it must have been amazing for you to have a chance to visit Italy. In some ways, I bet it was like going back home for you. Back to your roots. I know your parents were born here, but what about your grandparents? When did they get to the States?”
“Let’s see…,” Gia was scratching her forehead, “I believe grandma Gina and grandpa Sal, my mother’s parents came here from Palermo in 1951. Now, my paternal grandparents, grandma Anna and grandpa Ricardo have emigrated from Rome in 1946, right after the war had ended. My parents met in college and were married in 1976.”
“Before I left, both sets of grandparents gave me a detailed itinerary on what places I should visit while in Italy. Needless to say, the itinerary ended up to be a mile long. I should tell you that at first I resisted against their advices and suggestions and was especially unhappy about being told what to do, even when I was on the other side of the ocean. When I first got to Rome, though, my grandparents’ bits and pieces of wisdom came in handy because without them I wouldn’t know where to go and what to do. As a result, I had an opportunity to visit beautiful villages, museums, restaurants and antique shops that I wouldn’t even know existed. I had a great time.”
Rachel was always mesmerized by the tales of far away places. She was happy for her friend. At least one of them had fun. Rachel wished she could travel more. She recalled her last trip to Italy. Long time ago. Another one was overdue.
“I’m glad to hear you had such a wonderful time. I’ve been to Italy myself, but it was such a long time ago that I don’t remember all the details of the trip that well anymore. What I do remember is that it was absolutely amazing. Warm, friendly and noisy. People were talking with their hands a lot and were kind of loud all the time. Also, I had noticed even from observing people of the Italian heritage here in the States that, on average, they engage in longer and more meaningful conversations with each other than the Americans usually do. They can never say goodbye to each other. I don’t mean to say anything negative about the way Italians talk, though. Jewish people are the same way.”
“Oh, don’t even mention it. Why would I be offended? As a matter of fact, I know exactly what you mean,” Gia said, reaching out across the table and patting her friend on a shoulder, as if to reassure her, “Whenever my friend from California and I start to try to end the phone conversation, it’s virtually hopeless. Every time we try to interject a goodbye somewhere in there, some new issue always pops up and we end up talking for another hour.” Gia was not the one to be easily offended.
Rachel nodded in agreement.
“This happens to me all the time as well. Did you ever hear that Jewish joke?” Rachel looked as if she was trying not to laugh at her own joke.
“What Jewish joke?” Gia was always happy to hear a good joke.
“It goes something like this: What is the difference between Jewish people and English people? And the answer is: While the English people leave without saying goodbye, the Jewish people say goodbye but don’t leave.”
“That’s funny. I will have to remember that one. Same could be said of Italians.” Gia started laughing as she was trying to imagine the scenario presented in a joke. Rachel was happy she could make her friend laugh. She waited for Gia to catch her breath before she started speaking again.
“I had another question for you,” Rachel was wondering about something for a while now, “How come you say you only speak a little Italian? Don’t your parents and grandparents speak Italian at home all the time?”
“No, not really,” Gia signaled for Rachel to give her a minute because she hated to talk with her mouth full, “While my grandparents on both sides were always proud of where they came from and tried hard to hold onto their heritage, my parents were rebelling and wanted to become American to their bones. They resented having to dress in a certain way, having to eat big and hearty Italian meals--instead of a hamburger or a peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, like the rest of their peers were doing. Most of all I think they both despised the fact that their families were always doing something together and were in each other’s business all the time. In other words, they craved more privacy. What’s more, I happen to think that this feeling of resentment of their culture had bounded my parents together in the first place…
Rachel decided to interrupt her friend’s story to express her feelings.
“I apologize for interrupting you Gia, and it’s not like I’m trying to kiss up here or anything, but Italian culture is so fascinating that I’m having a difficult time imagining someone not wanting to be a part of it. Are your parents still rebelling against their culture?”
“Fortunately, they’ve mellowed out a bit as time went by.” Gia smiled. She was playing with her napkin.
“That’s good”, Rachel thought that the knowledge of psychology sure comes in handy during social interactions, “I was just about to say that people tend to want to go back to their roots as they get older. I read it in my Social Psychology textbook, I think… I didn’t mean to interrupt. Please go on.”
Gia resumed speaking.
“Unfortunately, from what I hear at least, back then, before my parents decided to embrace their culture, my poor grandparents were always so saddened and disappointed by my parents’ lack of respect for their heritage that they gave up hope of ever having someone carry on family traditions. That is, until I came along. I should be honest with you. I felt completely torn. On one hand, I had my parents who wanted to make sure I was raised as a true American. On the other hand, my grandmother was singing Italian lullabies to me while I was in my crib and as soon as I was able to comprehend what was being said to me, she would try to explain to me that being an Italian as well as American is certainly not something to be ashamed of, but something to be embraced and treated as a beautiful privilege to be cherished always.”
“As a result of this conflict going on between my family members, I had not learned as much Italian as I should have. The thing is, whatever I would pick up at my grandparents’ house, I would forget sometimes, because my parents always insisted I speak English at home. However, as much as I’m ashamed to admit it, with time, I have learned to manipulate my grandparents in the worst way. What I have learned early on, is that I could make them do anything I wanted by trying to speak Italian. They were so deeply touched by my efforts that they have tried to reward me by granting my every wish. Eventually, they caught onto my treachery but although I hate to admit it, I milked it for all it’s worth and it was fun while it lasted!”
“I never figured you for such a sneak.” Rachel only pretended to be surprised. Gia was giggling.
Rachel had to stop and think for a moment. What Gia had said about her grandparents had triggered in her mind what Rachel has been trying to figure out for a while now. Rachel’s educational background in fields such as psychology and sociology as well as her own life experience had helped her develop some interesting potential theories as to why the grandparents behave the way they do toward their grandchildren. What’s more, Rachel was overjoyed about having an opportunity to share these theories with her friend.
“Of course, your grandparents absolutely adore you and that’s why they are so easy to manipulate,” Rachel said, “Not only because they would love you no matter what, but also, because unlike your parents you are trying to respect them by paying homage to their and your own culture. Also, while it does happen, it’s extremely rare to see grandparents who don’t adore their grandchildren. As a matter of fact, I have heard somebody say once that grandparents love their grandchildren more than they love their children because they view their grandchildren as another chance to get things right and fulfill whatever dreams they may have had for themselves. Also, have you ever noticed that grandparents are a lot more lenient with the grandchildren because they let them get away with more, not to mention, at times grandparents go as far as becoming their grandchildren’s accomplices by trying to cover up their misbehavior? I know it sounds Freudian, but maybe the main reason behind them condoning these behaviors is because they may view them as punishments bestowed upon their children for whatever their own children may have done to make them worry and lose sleep in their own time. What do you think?”
Gia looked puzzled for a second, but then her expression changed to the one of amusement.
“It does sound Freudian, not to mention interesting and innovative. However, no offense, but I never knew you had such wicked ideas. Basically, you took someone like my good-natured, old-fashioned gran and gramps and made them into these evil creatures who don’t love their grandchildren for the sake of loving them, but in reality, use them in their demonic plot to get punishment on their own children?” Rachel was always very careful about not offending others and was glad that Gia didn’t look like she was mad at her for the outrageous remarks. She decided to explain anyway.
“You are reading way too much into what I had said, Gia. That was not what I meant at all. I didn’t mean to imply that the grandparents purposefully want to punish their kids, although for some of them it may be their true intention. What I did mean to say is that the process that takes place deeply in the person’s unconsciousness and they are not aware of what they may be doing. I totally agree with you about your grandparents being good people and helpful too. Sounds like you have a lot to be thankful to your grandparents because they tried to make you hold onto your roots, which I think is important. Also, it seems as if it wasn’t for them, you may never have gone on that trip. However, you still haven’t told me what I really want to hear.”
“What are you talking about?” Gia was grinning from ear to ear. She knew exactly what her friend was referring to.
“You know exactly what I’m talking about,” Rachel leaned over the table and slightly tapped her friend on top of her head. What about those gorgeous Italian hunks? Did you get romanced a lot or what?” Rachel was anxious to get the skinny on her friend’s love life. Partly because she missed having a big romance in her own life, Rachel sometimes liked to live vicariously through her friends, as well as movies and romance novels.
“Ouch!” Gia tore the piece of her napkin off and threw it at Rachel in retaliation, ”Yes, I was,” Gia confessed to her friend playfully, I should admit, though, it became predictable and boring after a while. See, the thing is while I’m sure there are plenty of gorgeous, sensitive and wonderful guys in Italy, I’m sorry to say I didn’t get a chance to meet anyone with such an unbeatable combination of good qualities. I do have to say, however, that I did meet some guys that were drop-dead gorgeous. There were Luigi, Marcello, not to mention Salvatore, to name a few.”
“Sounds very intriguing,” Rachel said as she was about to take another bite of the biscuit, “I want to hear all the juicy details.”
Gia had to smile at her friend’s eagerness.
“I don’t deny that it was incredibly exciting to meet these guys, in the anticipation and hope of finally stumbling onto someone great and romantic, especially for about the first five minutes into the conversation. Unfortunately, once I started to get to know one person or other a little more, it didn’t take a genius to figure out what they were about or what they were really after.”
“On top of everything else, because they knew I was from the States, they automatically assumed I was rich. As a result, couple of times, when I went out with a guy to dinner, I had to pick up the tab, which was extremely annoying, not to mention humiliating. In fact, this rude behavior on their part came as a complete shock to me because both of my grandmothers had always filled my head with these elaborate stories of how gallant, generous, and romantic Italian men are. Sort of what we see in movies. Who knows, though? Maybe it was true in their time when “chivalry” was still alive or maybe it was always not so great, but my grandmothers had somehow managed to find the right men to socialize with and thus have made an incorrect generalization.”
“Besides, some Italian men seem to have this other preconceived notion that American women are starved for some male attention and as a rule of thumb travel to Italy for the specific purpose of experiencing sexual escapades. I don’t even want to begin to argue that it may not be true for some American women, but certainly not for all. Just because a woman thinks that it would be awfully nice and romantic to fall in love with a mysterious foreigner in a distant land and be whisked away on the adventure of the lifetime, does not at all mean that she is supposed to drop her panties for the first pretty face she sees. What was even worse for me, these men would have these smug expressions on their faces and act as if they were the ones doing me a favor by acting like damn gigolos. Oh, and another thing that has annoyed me is that while most of the people there were trying to be understanding and patient about my difficulties with Italian, some of these guys I had met would laugh in my face whenever I would say something wrong.”
Rachel couldn’t believe her ears.
“Come on, Gia. I’m sure some women get treated as you have described. You have to forgive me, I don’t think you’re exaggerating or anything of the kind, but I find it difficult to believe that the same rules would apply to someone as stunning as you. You are absolutely gorgeous and I would have thought these guys would be drooling and falling all over themselves for a chance to take you out and to treat you like a princess.”
“Thanks for these compliments, of course, but I’m sure you are more than a little biased because you are my friend. As much as I wish what you had said were true after a while it became painfully obvious to me that they have only heard half of the things I have said because they were too busy staring down at my cleavage.”
After taking a sip of her Cola, Gia continued with her tale.
“Fortunately not all of my guy experiences in Italy were horrible. There was this one guy, Giovanni, who I met while I had stayed in Florence. As it turned out, he was an art student from Rome, visiting Florence for a day. Thankfully, he was defying all of these stereotypes I had told you about. We had spent a great day together when he took me sightseeing and showed me various spots all over town where Michelangelo used to live and work at one time or another. That was truly magnificent. Afterwards, we had exchanged phone numbers, and had agreed to contact each other on the weekend, when I got to Rome, which was incidentally my next stop,” Gia put up the palm of her hand because she could see how excited Rachel was getting, “Don’t get too excited for me yet, though.”
“Why not?” Rachel shrugged her shoulders in puzzlement.
“Trust me. There is really nothing to get excited about,” Gia replied knowingly,” When I got to Rome, which is even more beautiful than people say it is, the first thing I did was to call Giovanni. For whatever reason, he didn’t seem too ecstatic about hearing from me. When I had asked him if there was anything wrong, after much persuasion and coaxing, Giovanni finally admitted that although he feels extremely bad about it, he is afraid he will not be able to spend any time with me this weekend after all, because he has to study for exams.”
“While I was more than a little disappointed, I told Giovanni that I understood and that there is always next time. Giovanni has thanked me for being so sweet and understanding. He had promised to call me in a couple of days after his exams were over and done with. He never called, though! Go figure!”
Rachel was literally spellbound by stories of her friend’s experiences over in Italy. At the same time, she was baffled.
“Men. Can’t live with them, and can’t live without them. I should tell you Gia, that while on one hand it makes me feel a little better to know that I’m not the only one struggling with relationships, on the other hand, after what you told me, I’m starting to doubt if there is any hope left for us. What’s even more frightening, though, is that this virtual inability to find good men seems to be a universal problem. I was hoping that this terrifying shortage of good guys is the problem specifically found in the city of St. Paul, state of Minnesota, or the United States in general. That way, this guy predicament could be more easily resolved. We could move. Unfortunately, it sounds a lot more serious.”
“Yes, sad, is it not?” Gia said. She was mumbling because her lips were pursed together. She was reapplying her “cherry blast” lipstick, looking into the small mirror she took out of her purse. Only time will tell whether it’s a fixable problem or not.”
Finally, they were done with dinner and it was time to leave. The second they were finished with their meals, the guilt about overeating and the great necessity of having to go on a diet had kicked in.
“I can hardly move and my pants feel too tight. We simply cannot pig out like this anymore.”
“I agree,” Rachel said, “I think we will need a fork lift to get me up.”
Rachel couldn’t believe she let herself go like that. The problem was that the conversation between the two friends was so stimulating and the food was so delicious that the girls hardly had time to notice how fast they cleaned their plates.
One also has to keep in mind that Rachel was Jewish and that factor alone meant that these feelings of guilt in Jewish people is at least double or triple more than the rest of the population.
“Actually, I always wondered about the possibility of higher prevalence of obesity and unhealthy eating habits overall in Jewish population. It made sense to me to make that assumption because the Jewish mothers and grandmothers, much like the Greek or the Italian ones, seem to be making it their only true mission in life to make sure members of the family and everyone else who may come into their house, eat to their heart’s desire. There is no greater offense against a Jewish mother or a grandmother than to refuse to finish your plate, or, God forbid, to flat out refuse anything cooked especially for you with so much love in her heart. As a result, if the threats and the not-so-subtle hints and persuasions do not appear to make the person eat, an ever so popular dish of a little guilt on a side always does the trick.”
“Believe me when I say this,” Gia chimed in, “Italian families are obsessed with food: cooking it, eating it, thinking about cooking or eating it, or the possibility of other people not eating enough. It’s as if every dilemma existing in this world could be resolved by eating a healthy meal.”
The girls started giggling after they gave each other understanding looks. Rachel couldn’t stop herself from recollecting more and more examples of an obvious obsession with food in her family.
“Baby, why don’t you eat?” Rachel said, trying to emulate how the Jewish mother would talk, “Look at you, you’re all skin and bones. How do you think you’ll get married, looking like this? A real man likes a little meat on his woman’s bones. Maybe you don’t like my cooking anymore? I slaved over a hot stove the whole day today, and you don’t want to give your mama a little satisfaction?”
“What’s more, even if you are in your twenties or thirties and married with the couple of children of your own, you still get treated as if you were two years of age.
“There is another one. Would you like to take one more spoon for momma’s health? What about for daddy’s health?” Next thing I’m expecting are those paper airplanes to be zooming in front of my face, which were used to distract me when I was a child while I open my mouth in amazement and my mom or grandma would shove down my throat spoonfuls of hateful oatmeal or cream of wheat with an obscene amount of butter added in. Due to this not so pleasant association from my childhood, to this day, I get nauseous whenever I hear about or see a bowl of hot cream of wheat.”
Rachel had to take a sip of her soda before she was able to continue because she made herself feel sick to the stomach by bringing forth these vivid memories from her childhood. She went on.
“What’s even more fascinating, in my family, when you became an adult, your family and friends could not quite be that forceful when offering you food. However, if you dare to refuse, you will never hear the end of it. Enormous guilt trips went into play again:
“So now I know. My health doesn’t mean as much to you as I thought it did, my mother would say to me. After such an emotional blackmail, I found myself emptying out the plate by gulping down the contents so that I would not be considered a bad daughter.”
As was mentioned before, Gia never behaved like a stereotype of a “supermodel.” There was one more thing that distinguished Gia from a lot of other of these beauties. Surprisingly enough, Gia had a very healthy appetite. Thankfully, Gia was lucky to remain slim after being able to eat whatever she wanted because of extremely high metabolic rate and a regular exercise routine.
Rachel, on the other hand, could exercise for days nonstop and still gain a few pounds. What’s more, Rachel seemed to have a genetic predisposition to gain weight easily, which she had probably inherited from her mother’s side. She was sensitive about it too. She could eat one candy and literally feel the sides of her body expanding to immeasurable proportions.
“I think we should go before we are tempted by dessert. What do you think, Gia?”
“I totally agree. I don’t think I could eat anymore even if I wanted to,” Gia said with her hand on her stomach, “Let’s just get a check.”
“Check, please.” Rachel raised her arm and signaled to Jeff as soon as she spotted him. Jeff was there at their table at the speed of lightning. Unbeknownst to herself, she started thinking that more than thirty minutes had passed without Jeff coming up to talk to them. Could it be that she wanted him around?
“Leaving so soon?” Jeff the Waiter had said with obvious sadness in his voice, “Could I offer you ladies some dessert?”
“Thanks, but no. We are too full to even think about having dessert. At least I am. What about you, Gia?” Gia nodded in agreement, “Besides, I’m on a diet. I’m trying to watch my figure”
Just as soon as these words had come out of Rachel’s mouth, she started wondering why she had to offer an explanation at all. She guessed it was a reflex.
“What diet? You don’t need to be on a diet,” Jeff dismissed the whole idea as absurd, “You both look beautiful.”
At this point, Rachel didn’t know if it was her mind playing tricks on her or what, but for a moment there it had seemed to her as if Jeff held his gaze on her when he was declaring how beautiful Gia and Rachel were. This was a highly unusual occurrence for Rachel. The thing is, she had simply accepted the fact that Gia was more beautiful than she was and as a result always ended up the recipient of the guys’ attention and preference. Rachel pulled up her hair in a pony tail most of the time. She almost never wore make-up, much to her mother’s and Gia’s dismay. In fact, Rachel considered make-up an unnecessary nuisance and when it came to clothes she chose to wear, more often than not she favored comfort over glamour. And here was someone who was treating these two women equally and even seemed to give Rachel preference.
“Thank you for the compliment, but I’m sure you are being too kind.” Rachel could feel herself starting to flirt.
“Not at all,” Jeff replied, “I call it as I see it. I’ll be right back.”
Jeff the Waiter had disappeared for about a minute and came back to hand them the check. Rachel paid with her credit card, although Gia protested. Jeff was trying to be helpful again. “Would that be all?”
“Yes.” Two friends said that in unison.
“I hope you have a good night. Please visit us again soon.” Jeff had reached out to shake their hands. As he was holding Rachel’s hand, Jeff had smiled.
“Hopefully we will.” Rachel truly meant it.
“I would not give up on romance just yet, Rachel, if I were you. You seem to have an admirer here.” Gia had winked at her friend as she dropped her off at her house that night.
When Rachel got home that night, she felt incredibly light and uplifting. She didn’t know exactly why, but it most likely had something to do with the fact that for the first time in a long time, that night she was treated like a lady.