I grew up with spaghetti and meatballs, lasagna once in a while, and an occasional trip to Olive Garden-as most Americans do. When I thought of Italy I thought of the Colosseum, the Roman Empire, men whistling at everybody, and small streets. Culturally I never thought of anything else. I heard stories about Italian men and how they lure women, and how Italian mothers are overbearing. Other than that I didn’t know Italy, Italy was never my bullseye. Ironically, I grew up with a passion for France and dreamed of visiting and moving there. How humorous that I ended up marrying an Italian who loved me enough to take me to Paris despite the hatred between the two countries.
After living here for two years I’ve realized that there are so many cultural things about THE peninsula that everyone is missing. People just aren’t familiar with modern day Italy, if anything people are stuck in the Roman days and come to Italy surprised. So, I’m writing this post to tell everyone about what I find fascinating in modern day Italia.
1. So advanced for such an oldie
What could be so advanced in Italy that America doesn’t have? Their beds. No springs, hidden storage, and comfortable housekeeping all in one. I’ve never seen anything like it.
They are definitely the kings of energy conservation. Re-cycling is a law. Every day the trash guys come to pick up a different type of trash. Mondays are regular, Tuesdays are plastic, Thursdays alternate between glass and paper…etc. It’s turned me into a re-cyclist. Now that I’ve gotten into this habit I see how much people throw away in America, it’s unbelievable. Not only do Italians re-cycle, but seeing windmills and solar panels everywhere is quite normal and is definitely not considered visual pollution. This cultural wonder isn’t necessarily because they care so much, it’s because energy costs are so high and Italians prefer to keep their money in their “tasca.” Even the gas stations are generated with solar energy!
Another advanced aspect is fashion. Fashion is constantly evolving in Italy in clothing, cars, and interior design. Their expectations are high, they have to be as Milan holds the world leading position in the industry. Overall, the Italians’ idea of beauty is something white and sleek, elegant but simple, with spurts of extravagance.
2. Gelato is just as important as their coffee, they eat cookies for breakfast, and everyone else’s cuisine could just go back to where it came from.
They eat so much gelato that they almost don’t consider it dessert. In the summer it’s almost every day that my husband says “well, let’s go out for a gelato.” You’ll see men walking together down a street with gelatos and it’s totally normal. If people don’t go out for gelato then they sometimes have it in their coffee as an “espressino freddo” and don’t consider that as dessert either. Yes, cookies for breakfast are allowed in this country! Those kids just don’t know how good they have it. They dip their breakfast cookies in milk, or their parents take them to a cafe to have nutella filled croissants. Sweets are the breakfast norm, the only thing salty they would have is…nothing.
Italians don’t really know about other cuisines, if they do they’re definitely not an average italiano. If you go to a Chinese restaurant they don’t even have an Italian word for noodles, so they say “spaghetti di riso” rice spaghetti, of course. They convert all foreign dishes into things that are familiar to them because they just don’t have multi cultures and therefore don’t have a multi-food culture. Today I made stew for lunch and they translated that into minestrone soup. I make scrambled eggs and they call it frittata-which is not the same. My mother-in-law made an American apple pie today and covered it in powdered sugar like any normal Italian woman would, she just doesn’t know how Italian that is! I’m a teacher here in Italy and sometimes have classes with food themes. Here is a typical conversation in my class:
Me: Have you ever heard of curry? Student: No Me: What do people eat for breakfast in Asia? Student: Ummmm, toast with jam? Me: if you didn’t eat pasta for lunch what would you eat? Student: why would I not eat pasta for lunch? Me: end of conversation for today.
They’re proud of their food and rightly so because it’s so delish, so healthy, makes people fall in love, and settles all disputes-why would you need anything else? My husband often says “why else would you see Italian restaurants all over the world, if anything you can always find a Chinese place and an Italian place.” He has a point. Regardless, I brighten up when I meet an Italian who knows something of other cuisines.
3. You can have an entire conversation in gestures
I’ve never seen so much body language in my life. You can have an entire conversation just in gestures! This is great for the deaf I first thought to myself.
4. If I could choose one word to describe their entire culture it would be “chill”
They like to relax and once they relax they like to relax just a little bit more. This carries out in all sectors of their culture, most obviously in food as they have a “slow food” culture. Their work schedules often revolve around food. Their idea of vacation is always a place to relax.
5. They can’t decide if they’re young or old.
For everyone in their 20s they’re so young, have so much life ahead of them and would never think twice about getting hitched or settling down with a family. As soon as someone turns 30 they say “I’m SO old.” BAM, out of no where they’re old, yet feel no hurry to get hitched or have kids still. They then have kids around their 40s and think they’re young. It’s confusing…”boh” To make things even more confusing the old look quite young in comparison to Americans. I think what I’ve learned from this is to lie about my age?
6. Obsessed with white
The furniture is white, the clubs are white, the restaurants have white decorations, everything is white! I guess they associate white with elegance and simplicity which represents their culture well.
7. They are the kings of spa treatment
This may be obvious to some, heck Pompeii was famous for its turkish baths and spa dipping . If I were to think of the spa, “mediterranean” would definitely pop up in my mind. People ask me from time to time how Italian women stay so thin or stay so young. I never thought about it until now, but they indulge in spa treatment or know a lot about it overall in comparison to Americans. I never knew much about waxing or cellulite science until I moved to Italy. The first spa I went to the lady described to me the dangers of waxing your eyebrows in that over time your skin will sag and make you look older and tired. The same woman described to me the benefits of waxing versus shaving your legs. She said that overtime waxing will remove all hair from your legs and your skin will not have as much damage from shaving constantly, and therefore your skin will retain its youth longer. I was amazed from just that information. As I looked around I noticed different posters around the room of mud treatments, salt body-massage treatments, and so forth. After that day I started talking to girls my age and women of different ages, and would you know that I didn’t find one woman who shaves! They ALL waxed. Maybe that explains the lack in razor variety in Italy…Later I learned that cellulite massages exist, and that Italian women around here actually go have these treatments. I have to admit, after only 2 years of living here I have learned quite a lot about body treatments and the benefits.
8. The old ladies
If you’re on a street and you try to open the door of a store but it doesn’t open you could be confused. The lights are on, there is no sign, the store should be open you think to yourself. There is no number written on the door of who to call but luckily “nonnina” (granny) is close by. If you look up surely you will find an old lady looking down on you from her balcony. If you ask, she’ll tell you the normal hours that the store is open, if the owner left for lunch and anything else you want to know about that street. Sometimes without even looking, little nonnia is watching out for you and will just yell across the street everything you can’t figure out ahead of time! Che donna, brava! We all love the little grannies in Italy, but FYI she isn’t always on your side. She expects goods in return for her balcony service to you-which is letting her in line first at the grocery store no matter how many people are ahead, and you better let her use the restroom first and skip everyone else! If you ever come into close contact with an Italian nonnina just lie when she asks if you make pasta from scratch and I assure you will have raving kisses and pats on your hands 😉
That’s all that jumps out at me at the moment of things I didn’t know about Italy. Ciao for now ~