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Chapter 15

The work in our Bed and breakfast

We have slowly expanded and increased our work in the B&B passing from 2 to 3 and then to 4 rooms as prescribed by our Regional Law.

In Italy, the B&B industry is regulated by regional Laws, so what is valid in Lombardy, my Region, is not valid in Sicily, for example.

Our business has exploded in 2004 and until 2010 it was impossible to book here unless you would do it a year ahead.

We were constantly full and we had a vast clientele from all continents; we have had guests from all over the world.

One day, just for fun, I put an arrow on each Country I received guests from and I must say with great pride that almost the whole Globe was covered.

I am not going to mention our usual clientele, I am going to tell you about Countries I knew nothing from and thanks to the interaction we had with guests, I have learned so much.

Running the way we do, spending time and evenings with them has been the only way to get to know them.

We had guests from Israel, from Libya, from Iran, from Japan, from Singapore, from Lebanon, from Rhodesia, from New Zealand, from Lithuania, from Russia, from Kuwait, from Saudi Arabia.

I mention these countries because they are some of those I have never been to; thanks to my guests, I know how people are, how they live, how to approach them.

I am not racist and I am very open minded; I can honestly say I was born this way but of course, the fact I have been exposed to so many cultures every day for at least 9 months a year, has induced me to become tolerant, open, gracious and grateful.

Because every time I have listened to Jews or Palestinians from Israel- I have had both guests – I have understood their reasons. I can honestly say that all nation are good, all people are good.

Some become more aggressive or harder on others because of their political beliefs, and some time, unfortunately, because of their religious beliefs.

But I can tell you that, in our home, we have received thousands and thousands of people in these 24 years and all of them have had a sweet interaction with my heart.

I have learned a lot, I have improved, I have become a much better person in these years thanks to my guests.

I would have never liked to run a Hotel. I am not interested in a sterile interaction accepting credit cards at arrival and giving an invoice at departure.

I started to make my living out of my passions: speaking foreign languages, meeting new people, entertaining them and develop my sense of hospitality.

I am grateful and feel fortunate that I run my life doing what I adore and I can make money out of it.

It is a pure blessing.

Of course, it is hard work, because Jacques and I have always done everything: from cleaning the bathrooms, the floors, dusting furniture, changing beds, I also iron and cook and he takes care of the garden.

Jacques is in charge of breakfast and I am in charge of dinners.

We work very well together because we have our own spaces and don’t interfere one with the other.

He takes care of everything early in the morning because my little neurons don’t really work very effectively in the morning but I love staying up late with my guests while at around 10.30, he has to go to bed.

We have become friends or at least friendly with 90% of our guests.

I can tell you the “bad” experiences we had and if you consider it is only 3 or 4 in 24 years, it is strictly nothing.

Some Hotel owners told me this would happen in a day in a hotel!

The first “bad experience” was with a family from Ireland and I consider this extremely strange because Irish people are among my favourite ones and I adore them, also because I was born on St. Patrick’s Day.

It was a family composed of: mother, father and three daughters, the oldest one must have been a teenager.

The minute they arrived and were still walking in my garden, they asked for the most expensive restaurant in town where they wanted me to book for the evening.

I thought I did not understand correctly so I asked him what they liked, thinking that I could give different options according to the style of restaurant and food preferred.

No. They said they wanted the most expensive. They were talking about money, they were not talking about quality, character or style.

Well, I replied that question, but in my heart I felt something would have gone wrong that week.

It was mid-August which is the busiest period in Italy when everyone is on holiday.

The following morning they complained there were not silver cutlery nor sheets of prestige in the room.

I replied we do have lots of silver cutlery but I don’t use them in the morning because I don’t think it makes any difference and my sheets are all in cotton because if I had to use linen - and I am the one who irons-, it would take me two hours every day, so I rather have time for my cooking and entertaining.

The third day they wanted to leave and go to Cortina on the Dolomites, because it was raining!

I told them that they could leave but they had to pay the whole amount. I work on bookings and if you don’t show up or leave before the final date, I lose money and this is my only source of income.

They left without even answering and I charged the card .

I did not feel guilty at all.

They signed my booking form and that is very well explained.

As a matter of fact, they never came back to me complaining I charged them!

The second “bad” experience was with a young couple from Israel who strangely enough spoke terrible English, they arrived, were not smiling at all and when I showed them the room, they asked where Venice was and I asked what they meant. They replied they hadn’t seen any water here.

What?

We are not in Venice, you can’t see any water from here – I replied.

I explained where we were and when I saw they had no clue about anything, I kindly told them to be my guests, showing them the gate.

I invited them to leave and go to Venice. I knew I they stayed, they would have made my life hell.

I want to be happy.

I adore my job and even when we start at 6 and finished at 1 am, if people are lovely and appreciative, I don’t mind.

I can get tired of course, but I never complain because it’s what I love the most.

The third one is on Trip Advisor so if you want to read it, read it there, she drove me crazy for a week and most of all, she became a real stalker on Facebook, Linkedin, Instagram, anywhere. I never ever replied to her. She really tried to drive me crazy.

That being said, I want to tell you some anecdotes.

I have made lots of mistakes approaching people over the years but every time I have learnt.

I am very warm and I hug and kiss everyone, so I had to learn to stay distant from elder English gentleman.

They wanted me to shake hands .

I have learned that!

Another hard thing for me is to understand English humour, I understand the words, I just don’t get the sense, only Jacques thinks their jokes are hilarious. I often get offended.

I am learning, after so many years, that it is just a different sense of humour!

I hate driers so I put my laundry outside all year round apart winter , I have a room for that in winter.

Weather is generally so good that usually it dries very quickly. Laundry, in fresh air, smells awesome so I keep doing this.

It is rather hard for Americans to put their underwear outside on the hangers in my garden, so for years I was used to see them sneaking quickly though my stairs to hang their underwear in their bedroom.

On one occasion, I could not enter the room because guests hung their elastic bands from the door handle to the beams to hang their underwear…

I frankly have no idea why some of you can be ashamed of that!

I suppose we all wear underwear and I can promise you, I have no intention nor desire to go and check your own underwear!

So there are lots of funny anecdotes which come to my mind, but also very sad anecdotes.

Unfortunately I am very empathic and people, when they meet me, want to tell me their life from the beginning. I have learned , during the years, it is not always the best idea because sometimes they tell me very tragic storied and I absorb each detail and when I go to bed, I don’t sleep at all thinking how sad that story is.

Once, I had an Italian psychiatrist here for two months, I never take long term stays because I work only with foreign tourists but this lady was supposed to stay one week only and she was highly recommended by our friend, the Lieutenant of local Carabinieri in Montichiari.

I told him I was not interested in Italian guests but he was a friend and a very lovely person so we accepted her to make him a favour.

Oh my Lord!

She got here as a psychiatrist and left as a psycho!

She stayed two months because she had to follow this course at the local Hospital to become chief of department at her hospital in Sicily, but she never told me that. Every week she would say “ Anna, I am staying just one extra week” and I never had the gut to kick her out.

She used to hang her OWN paintings on MY walls without asking, because if she asked, obviously I would have said no.

She would come home from Hospital at night crying or making me feel guilty just because I existed. I often cooked for free for her and she never ever thanked me.

She always wanted me to carry dinner in her room where we put a nice table with a beautiful table cloth for her dinners.

She was always sick and unhappy apart on Friday when she would leave to go I don’t know where - but she was always away on weekends and of course she could not go back to Sicily.

Magically she would reappear on Sunday saying she would stay one extra week…argh!

After a month, she started coming in my own home to sit on my sofa, like if she was my patient asking for advice about her marriage.

She would come every night, after work.

Her husband was a General of Carabinieri and she was not sure they loved each other and she felt he was not faithful to him – even if I thought it was maybe the opposite.

What? What can I tell a psychiatrist?

It is her job, not mine.

But I was so stupid that I would spend an hour every evening explaining that you stay marry only when there is pure love and I kept telling her all sweets things I believe in.

After a couple of weeks, Jacques made sure I was not available when she was coming home, he saw she was absolutely driving me crazy.

The last day, when she left, she did not pay us not said goodbye – thank God I was paid a month later – and never thanked us for all we did for her.

To be honest, I feel she is the loser, not me.

She only wore Dolce and Gabbana and Armani clothes that, every morning, I would pick up from the floor, often wash for her and hang on hangers, I don’t own anything like that but I respect what I have and would never leave the room like she did.

Every week, Jacques and I had to spend one full day cleaning and organizing the mess she did.

That was awful but another great experience. Never judge a person from his/her title or appearance.

She was a doctor, very elegant wearing clothes I can only dream of but she had no sense of graciousness in her heart nor in her manners.

They way my guests treat us or their own things in the room tell me so much of them.

And the last thing I want to tell you is that I understand the minute I open the door whether we are going to have a problem with the new guests.

I have never been wrong.

If you come unhappy, you will make me feel unhappy and you will leave troubles behind you.

If you come smiling and appreciative for being on holiday – because this is indeed a privilege - whatever may happen, you will be happy, always.

Running a Bed and breakfast, the way we do, has been the most incredible experience for me to discover the world, its people, different cultures, different religions and personalities.

I may state in total honesty I adapt myself to anyone who is gracious and positive.

I cater for Koshers, I avoid alcohol with Muslims, I don’t hug elder English gentleman anymore, I speak for hours with those who show interest in chatting with me, I am extremely reserved with those who like staying on their own.

I see these 24 years as a concentrate of happiness and fun, I have become a nurse, a psychiatrist, a friend, I have really lived all sorts of experiences here and I think I must thank all of my guests for being the open-minded person I am now.

I started cooking when I knew nothing. I grew up with great cooks at home such as my great grandmother Doralice, my grandmother Alda, my Dad Carlo and my Mom Gabriella but never really practiced the first years of marriage.

I was asked my guests to cook because they wanted to experience a real Italian dinner with us at the same table.

I accepted to learn and cook for my guests because I knew it could have been the best socializing part of each holiday stay.

One day, in 2010, I was asked to offer cooking classes and obviously I replied “of course not”.

How on Earth someone like me with no knowledge whatsoever, who has learned to cook on her own could have offered cooking classes?


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