An Italian Drama

“You called me a liar, and I don’t like this,” said Graziella, the shop manager, looking hurt.

“Look,” I said, “I never called you a liar and I didn’t mean to insult you, but I can’t see with these glasses you sold me.”

I was standing at the counter of an ottica in Lecce, Italy, trying to diffuse an international incident over a pair of glasses I’d bought that seemed to be the wrong prescription. As soon as I tried the glasses on that very morning, the whole world looked a bit blurry. But Graziella, a 30-something woman whose father owned the shop, was insistent that I just needed to keep wearing the glasses.

“This is a new prescription,” she said, holding up the scrap of paper I’d been given at an ophthalmologist in Falls Church, Virginia weeks before. “You need time to adjust, please wear them at least for one day and come back tonight to tell me how they are.”

It seemed crazy- if I couldn’t see at that moment with the new glasses, how was I going to be able to see with them later on? But she was so insistent that I agreed. I wore the new frames for a couple of hours and had a splitting headache- it was clear that there was something wrong, but I was unsure who made the mistake- the glasses shop in Lecce or the ophthalmologist in Falls Church.

So before heading back to the ottica with my dodgy new glasses, I stopped in at another ottica and asked them if the prescription was correct. The woman put the glasses underneath an old machine that resembled a microscope and announced that the prescription was off significantly. Feeling vindicated, I took her business card and marched back to the otticato confront Graziella.

As soon as I walked in, Graziella scolded me for the fact that I wasn’t wearing the new glasses.

“But I can’t see with them,” I protested.

“You need to try them for at least six days,” she announced.

I told her about the other ottica’s conclusion and she accused me of calling her a liar. After I protested, she snatched the new glasses and placed them under a more modern looking machine, which registered the numbers written on my prescription exactly.

“You see,” she said triumphantly, “This prescription is perfect!”

We went upstairs and she insisted that I try to read the eye chart with the new glasses. The bottom two lines looked very blurry but I gave it a shot. She claimed that I had read the chart correctly and that I was seeing 20/20 but when I put my old glasses on, I could see that I got 1 letter out of 4 wrong on each of the bottom two lines.

“Yes, but E and S and B and D, they are almost the same,” Graziella protested. “You see fine.”

It was a pointless, unwinnable argument and Graziella, like most Italians, was an actress worthy of an Academy award nomination. If there’s one thing Italians do well, it’s drama.

I couldn’t see properly but she was insisting that if I wanted them to put my old prescription in the glasses, I’d have to pay another 170 euros, the original cost for the lenses all over again. At this point, my head was spinning and I still wasn’t clear where the mistake lied- with Falls Church or Lecce. But Graziella eventually got tired of dealing with me and eventually she began to angrily count out 280 euros, the price I paid, slamming the notes one by one on the counter before us.

“Here is your money back,” she announced when she was done. “Please take it and just go.”

I think she was expecting me not to take the money, but I called her bluff. I felt bad about the whole situation but also a tad relieved to get my money back, so I sheepishly grabbed the money, apologized and left the place. A week later, I found a pair of glasses I liked in Bari and after an eye exam, the opthomologist insisted that I did indeed need the new prescription. I thought about playing it safe and asking him to just use my old prescription but ultimately decided to roll the dice and have them use the new prescription.

Five days later, I got my new glasses, with the new prescription and could see well right from the get-go. There was no need to wait six days to see and I finally knew that Graziella was full of shit. I wished that I had called her a liar.