“Signora! Sig-NOR-a!” It’s the market trader’s call. It’s not directed at anyone in particular, as I thought when I first started going to La Fiera, as the daily market in Catania is known, but more a general call to arms. It’s specific enough to make people think that they’re being spoken to directly so it pulls in the customers, and it may be sexist, but the plain fact is that most of the shoppers at the market are women, so there’s little point in the stallholders shouting the masculine form.
On the other hand, the traders themselves are mostly men, so there’s plenty of flirting and charming that goes on. It’s always worth putting on make-up to go to the market, I’ve found: it gets you much better service. They’ll still sell you short weights if they think they can get away with it, but at least they’ll do it with a friendly smile and some flirtatious chat. And even at short weights you’re still getting better quality at a cheaper price than the supermarket, as well as the whole experience being about a million times more fun, so it’s worth it.
The other day I wanted to buy a pineapple. I spotted a stall that had lots of good-looking specimens, so stopped to look closer. As I was eyeing them up, the guy behind the stall started doing the market trader spiel. “Only €1.50, each one!” I picked a couple up to check for mould or bruising and he spread his arms wide with a disingenous gesture. “Aw, c’mon! They’re all the same – all delicious!” I bantered back, “I don’t have the slightest doubt!” Then, with a grin, I handed over the best pineapple. “I’m taking this one, though …” Recognising that he’d met his match, he laughed. “Where are you from?” We chatted for a little while, and as I left he pulled out possibly his only English phrase: “Bye bye!”
When I walked through the market two days later there was a yell. “Ciaoooo!” I looked over to see the pineapple seller grinning and waving. You’d almost think I was a local.
Earlier today: another day, another pineapple seller. I haven’t noticed him before – maybe he’s new – but he’s young and good-looking and I’m wearing a short dress, so he goes on full charm offensive as I walk past his stall, even so far as calling me signorina, which is a surefire way to win my heart. “Pineapple, miss?” I smile. “Not today, thank you.” Having got a response he grins and starts the hard sell. “C’mooooon! They’re really good …” I enter into the banter. “But I’ve already got one at home!” This isn’t a lie. I’m eating pineapple like there’s no tomorrow at the moment. He is unabashed. “Throw it out! Buy one of mine instead!” He roars with laughter, as do I, but I carry on walking; I’ve got vegetables to buy.
Ten minutes later, after a chat with two traders on neighbouring stalls who turned out to be brothers in law – the one who I eventually bought from was hilariously smug that he’d beaten the other to my custom – and weighed down with bags full of vegetables for the princely sum of €4.50 all told, I pass the pineapple seller again. He shouts across at me, “So, have you decided to buy one yet?” I call back, “Not today. Maybe tomorrow?” He grins and winks. “I’ll be here, waiting for you!”