I have lived in Rome for almost nine months now, and this is a beautiful place with quite a different culture. One of my friends recently asked me what I think of Italy as an expat living in Italy and I couldn’t answer him right away. I decided to write it out considering that this is the best way to express what I am thinking. So I am sharing it here so that everyone can see. What I think is not representative of what all expats think, these are just my observances and opinions. I hope you enjoy!
So anyone who knows Italians knows that they have a very unique outlook on life. Living among them for almost nine months, I have to admit that when I first arrived here, this attitude surprised me, but now I almost seem to be adopting it. Their cultural attitude seems to be a juxtaposition between easy going and extremely passionate. They get passionate about the most random things, and you have to be careful not to step on those landmines. I think that I’m scared to because what looks like anger is often just passion. For example, as a student, I have a limited amount of time to come in to work, and so in the first few weeks I would always tell my boss when my work was done, and schedule when I was coming in next week. When I first started working there he told me that I was always welcome. And so after a few times of me trying to schedule when to come in next he abruptly cut me off and said “Andrea, you are ALWAYS welcome. To keep trying to schedule is insulting in my culture because I have already told you the door is already open whenever, to keep checking that its still open is an insult to my hospitality.” I had no idea that I was insulting him, and maybe this was just an example of me not knowing certain cultural differences, but I have never seen anyone that passionate about being hospitable.
This is a culture of very warm and friendly people, and they are the first to jump into a car and rescue you if you are stranded somewhere. Honestly the friends I have made in Rome are some of the sweetest and most caring people. And for some reason they are always trying to get me to eat something, or checking to see if I’ve eaten a meal recently. Its endearing. But that is only after they know you. Now, these people are quite easy to get to know, but before they do, they are quite similar to cats, and all the expats I’ve met seem to agree with me. If you walk past them on the street, they wont move for you, and will bump into you without a second thought, which is kind of irritating when you aren’t a very big person. Also, they don’t hesitate to get right into your personal space, which may be just be a cultural thing. Americans like a bigger bubble of personal space then Italians I guess. My mother told me once when she was shopping in the super market, she was in the freezer section looking down at some frozen peas or something, when all of a sudden a lady got right up next to her. Like shoulder to shoulder close. Maybe because my mom is American, but she got extremely uncomfortable. (And some of you might be thinking, oh she needs to be more careful, that woman might have been a pickpocket, but be calm my birdies, she had her hand on her purse through out this strange encounter.) Honestly if I had the time, I’d be here talking about this part of their culture till next Tuesday, but since you probably don’t have that kind of time to kill, lets just move on to the next category.
Ok this one is a stranger one. So I’m going to start off by saying that I am by noooo means into fashion, or even very good at putting together cute outfits. I grew up dressing in whatever t-shirt and jeans I grabbed first, and I lived in a place where fashion wasn’t the biggest thing that I had to worry about. So moving here and realizing that everyone takes what he or she wears extremely seriously definitely made me feel like a fish out of water. I do have to thank them for making me a bit more aware of the clothes I wear, however, I don’t know if I will ever make it as high of a priority. Also, they rarely wear shorts. The picture to the right is very unusual to see. It will be at least 90 degrees out and there is still a crap ton of people wearing pants.
Another thing is that they seem to try and copy American street fashion, and yet Americans try to copy Italian fashion? I will forever be confused by this exchange. I can’t really talk about fashion for a lengthy period because its just not something I pay much attention to. However, I will tell you that I have met very few Italians who will go outside without making sure they look absolutely perfect. Their hat has to match their shirt or shoes, yada yada yada.
This is a bit different than an actual attitude toward life in general, the things I’m going to talk about are just general differences I noticed from both cultures. One nice thing about Italian culture is that they don’t shut away their older population. I like seeing a meet-up of a bunch of elderly people who are just chatting away, gossiping- about someone’s grandchild or making witty remarks about another’s spouse. I don’t eavesdrop for very long because my mama taught me better, however its always nice to see a big group of them sitting in some piazza, drinking coffee and chuckling together. You don’t see that in America, or at least where I am from. In America there are retirement homes, and retirement communities, where the elderly live and rarely leave. Of course there are many who do not conform to this general stereotype of the American elderly, such as those who stay in the north for the summer and go to the south for winter. I believe they call them “snowbirds”. However, growing up, if you asked a peer “oh where do your grandparents live?” at least ninety percent of them would respond with “so and so retirement homes/communities.” In America, the elderly are more shut away and thought of as a thing to protect and care for.
Another great thing that I love about the Italian culture is that they make fresh food a priority. There is always a place to buy fresh vegetables and fruit on every street, and they are soo cheap! The food you can make here tastes so much better because the ingredients are so fresh. They pick them in the morning and you get them a few hours later. On my way to class I can stop by this little shop that is so filled with vegetables and fruits that there is only a very narrow pathway down the middle and you have to flatten yourself against the wall of fragrant apples if anyone needs to get past you. I stop there and buy a few apples to snack on during the day and they cost me no more then fifty cents all together. While this isn’t to say that they don’t have frozen food, they definitely don’t use it as much as Americans do.
Ok but I have to say that I really miss dryers. If America is doing anything right it’s having dryers. And I know that America and Italy are very different in terms of culture and that Italian are very conscious of the amount of energy they use, but oh my god, what I wouldn’t give to not have to think about how long its going to take my jeans to dry and play out what day to do laundry according to that. All of my Italian friends laugh and say that I’m spoiled, but whatever. I really miss having a dryer.
Okay, I mentioned food a littler earlier, but here I am going to dedicate an entire section. Let me start off by saying “Oh LORDIE yes. Italian food is just a yes, all around.” They have perfected pasta and pizza and while I don’t exactly like fish, I am told by many people that they really know how to prepare it. Italians are some of the best cooks in the world, and through all of the downsides of moving to Rome, I have to say that the food makes all of those cons sting just a little less. Of course I occasionally miss Chipotle or Americanized-Chinese food, but you know I can’t exactly complain. My favorite dish is definitely pasta with arrabbiata (means angry, because it’s spicy!) sauce. My only warning to everyone out there is don’t eat pasta all the time. No one told me this when I first got here and I’ve been trying to loose the extra pounds ever since. While pasta and pizza are what Italy is mainly known for, they actually have very healthy choices and their style of cooking with olive oil instead of butter may seem small, but a great change to one’s diet.
Well folks, if you agree or disagree with what I wrote please feel free to comment below, but remember to be kind! I hope all of you have a lovely day, ciao!