If you find yourself walking down a narrow sidewalk in Italy, prepare to encounter 'The Mamas'. I am not sure if Italian women over 60 used to be taller, but on average it would appear most are just under 5 feet tall. But that doesn't mean they are diminutive. In fact, they take up quite a bit of room. Especially on the sidewalk. And as with all good Italians, there is a lot of gesticulating and deep conversation that takes place while underway. And this takes time.
They are often two (or three) abreast. You'll know them by their quilted jackets, woolen skirts, support hose, neck scarves, sensible shoes, beauty parlor coifs and world weary expressions. And always a stylish, capacious handbag clutched firmly in front.
If you come up behind one of these phalanxes prepare to slow down. Way down. If there are market shopping carts involved change course altogether. And in fact, don't go to the market if that was your plan. Wait until you are sure they are all home making the mid-day meatballs or settled comfortably on a park bench. Otherewise, be prepared to be shut out of the best stands.
If you happen to be heading toward one of these impressive matrons be prepared to be examined from head to toe and back again. This only takes a few seconds, but there is a secret calculation that goes on inside the heads of these women - it makes you stand up straight, smile (but not too much) and mutter an apology for any wrongdoings you may have committed while being in their country.
If you have a small child with you there will be extra scrutiny regarding your parenting skills and whether you have adequately bundled them up against the cold. Or the cold that might be coming. Because it is coming. But also be prepared for cooing and cheek pinching and some tut-tut-tutting. I think they are saying something to the effect of "it's okay Bambino, your grandmother just doesn't know better..."