And just like that, I said goodbye to Cinque Terre. My time there was way too short, but that’s how it should feel when you fall in love – like your time together is never enough.
I arrived in Florence with a newfound optimism. Despite a wheel breaking on my suitcase and having to drag it three blocks from the train station to my AirBnB, I laughed it off and made a mental note to buy a new one from a street vendor later.
My AirBnB host is out of town so his neighbor let me in. She didn’t speak English but between my fluent Spanish and minimal Italian, we completely understood each other. Long story short, I have a three-bedroom flat in central Florence all to myself – buonissimo!
It’s amazing that AirBnB hosts will allow complete strangers into their homes, especially when they are out of town.
I’ve noticed hospitality is different in every country. In England, France, Ireland and Holland, my hosts were fairly hands off. It was their way of giving me privacy. But in Spain and Italy, my hosts treated me like a member of their household.
On my last night in Barcelona, my three flatmates and their friends cooked a huge dinner and invited me to join them.
In Cinque Terre, my host called me down to her kitchen to eat dinner with her and her daughter. And on my last day, she dropped me off at the train station so I wouldn’t have to drag my suitcase onto a bus.
In Rome last year, my host took me to a cooking class at Eataly and then we had lunch and chatted all afternoon.
When I was stranded in Ventimiglia during the train strike, a group of friends saw me sitting alone at a cafe and invited me to join them for dinner and bar hopping, during which the men insisted on paying for everything.
Seriously, who ARE these people?!
This sort of blind, unconditional welcome is foreign to me. It’s foreign to most Americans, I think. We tend to begin new relationships with a wall built up, which we lower slowly over time. We often keep people at a distance until we get to know them.
I had to learn that not everyone who does something nice for me wants something in return.
Sometimes we focus so much on protecting ourselves from the “wrong” people that we prevent the right people from getting close to us, too.
But living life on the defense only works when you’re under attack.
When you’ve been hurt a lot, you get accustomed to wearing that armor every day. I know that all too well.
I tend to say things like, “This is why I hate people.”
But what I really mean is, “I hate being disappointed so I would rather expect the worst from people.”
The truth is, I’m so sensitive and easily hurt that I’ve mastered the art of using cynicism and sarcasm as an emotional bulletproof vest..
…although I prefer to call it my sense of humor.
And you know why sarcasm is f*cking awesome?
Because you can say whatever the hell you want without being held accountable…because you were obviously kidding.
Or because you can break the ice in awkward social situations and make people laugh…or offend them. It’s their fault if they don’t get it.
Or because nobody can hurt you because you never really told them anything real about you. You can’t hurt me because you don’t know me. Haha I win.
I’m so sarcastic that people who know me expect it from me. It’s part of my personality. In fact, I’m pretty sure some of my non-American friends think I’m either a complete idiot or a total bitch based on my Facebook posts…
Just kidding. They think that because I really am a bitch.
See? I can’t even tell the difference between sarcasm and my real thoughts anymore. And that’s bad.
I instantly bond with other sarcastic people but I have probably pushed a lot of others away or given them a bad impression of me.
It could be because of the language barrier, but I’ve stopped using sarcasm during my travels because it is often taken literally. It’s refreshing because I can’t use it as a shield anymore. I’m getting comfortable speaking genuinely, even if it makes me feel vulnerable.
This experience has opened me up so much.
Being spoken to with sincerity makes me want to be sincere.
Being trusted by strangers makes me want to prove I am trustworthy.
Being invited to the dinner table makes me want to welcome new people into my life.
Getting hurt is not the worst thing that can happen. In fact, the bravest are those who have had pages torn from their lives yet remain an open book. They are the ones I admire most.
So lower your armor.
Until you do, you’re living life from inside a bulletproof case. Sure, people can’t get to you. But you can’t get to any of them either.
P.S. I went off on a tangent and didn’t talk about Florence at all in this post, but I will next time. Here are a few photos from my Instagram (instagram.com/maaridee), but I promise you it’s more gorgeous than anything I could capture.