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Luigi and Italian Servants 16/01/2011

Posted by florencecapital in Uncategorized.
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c. 1910

Luigi is a cheery soul, and, having been apprenticed to a cobbler in early youth, follows naturally in his master’s steps, and does his work to the accompaniment of ‘Laudi’ and Ave Marias. He possesses all the virtues of Italian men-servants, who are generally far less high-and-mighty, more ready to adapt themselves to circumstances, and to help in emergencies than English; and there is little which Luigi cannot or will not do. He excels in domestic service, and waits at table with cheerful alacrity; he is prompt and entirely trustworthy in the execution of commissions; his management of a garden or of poultry is masterly, and he can ably supply, at need, the place of cook. I fear he thinks my list of acquaintances woefully limited, and fancies my life must have been a retired one, as, though several of his relations have been in service in English families, few of these have been known to me, even by name. In response to the question whether I know the ‘Signor Clar-r-rk-e who stays at London,’ or the ‘Signora Adam who has a house in Wales’, it grieves me to reply in the negative, and, seeing Luigi’s rising eyebrows, I hasten to explain that, England being a large place, there still remain a considerable number of people whom it has not been my privilege to meet’. ‘Well, did the Signorina know the Signor Georgio Augusto Sala, a gentleman much distinguished, to whom his cousin Torquato had been butler?’ Ah, at last fate was kind ! I had heard of him, though, being still in my nursery at the time of his death, I had been denied his acquaintance. Still, even so, it united us with the pleasant sensation of a ‘mutual friend’, and Luigi often seizes the occasion for exchanging a few words on the subject of this eminent man.

Luigi, with all his virtues, is by no means an exception, Italian servants being for the most part a cheery, bright-mannered race, as well the women as the men. The demure English maid, in her black dress, capped and aproned, is unknown in Italy except in those houses where foreign mistresses have introduced foreign customs. The Italian maid dresses in whatever colours please her taste – and her taste is usually gay. She wears an apron, but would scorn the innovation of a cap. She chats pleasantly with her mistress, is not blameless of hearty laughter as she waits at meals if the conversation happens to amuse her, and carols cheerily at her work about the house. But it is all done in sheer good spirits and lightness of heart, and the Italian possesses an innate courtesy which never degenerates into familiarity, and, talk as much as one will to a contadino or servant, there is little fear of being taken liberties with or treated with less respect. Adelina or Domenica will, as a matter of course, comment admiringly upon your clothes, and probably ask where you got them and other details, wishing thereby to show a friendly interest; in reply to your remark that the weather is beautiful, will come, not unlikely, the charming rejoinder, ‘Anche lei, Signorina’ (You, too, Signorina) – little amenities which are assuredly productive of good-temper and oil the wheels of life, and no servant, unless in a very ceremonious family, would think of passing through a room while a meal was in progress without a ‘buon appetito’ (good appetite), to the company, or see you leave the house without wishing you ‘good diversion’ or a ‘pleasant walk!’ The lower-class Italian, especially of peasant birth, is, in fact, a fascinating person, and although in these modern days his costume as a rule is painfully prosaic, his name is usually sonorous and high-sounding, more befitting a hero of romance than a domestic servant in a work-a-day world. A burly ox-driver will, for instance, answer to the charming title of ‘Angiolino’ (the little angel); the cook, a cunning old soul, who robs his mistress on the marketing, but serves dishes fit for the gods, will probably inform you that his name is ‘Innocente’, while it is most likely ‘Paradise’ or ‘Narciso’ who waits at table and cleans your boots.

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