culture

“Culture Shock”

Since living in Italy I am quickly picking up on cultural differences between American and Italian culture and what IS or IS NOT important or expected on a daily basis. Of course these are all generalizations and cannot be true for every Italian person or place and will depend heavily on where you are located in Italy, how you were raised, what your influences were, etc. Same goes for anything I mention about American culture. Many of these observations are unspoken “rules” so to speak but when I don’t follow them, I learn immediately that how I am going about something is not the “way” here. It is interesting being immersed in a completely different place with norms that I’m not accustomed to. Many I am still warming up to the idea (with some resistance) while others I want to keep close and believe most cultures would benefit in adopting.

River Po – Turin

Chiesa Della Gran Madre di Dio

The most obvious differences between American and Italian culture is the concept of time. It is true that Americans are always in a hurry, rushing from one thing to the next, getting things to go, skipping lunch during a workday, etc. Our culture is built around this idea of success and completing as many tasks as possible in one day. Though we save time for social engagements, family and home-cooked meals, I wouldn’t say it is a priority, in general.

Cinque Terre

Napoli – View from Castel Nuovo

Napoli – Santa Chiara

On the other hand, Italy values family and friends. It is important to spend an evening with loved ones in conversation without the distraction of cell phones or rushing off to another commitment that night. They are great at spending quality time and really enjoying life. Time moves slower here. This is a beautiful trait, but can also be frustrating when I am surrounded by the idea that “late” is okay. Even with public transport…as you so clearly read in my previous article.

Pompei

Bologna

First, let me start with a list of the Italian habits that aren’t, let me say, the best qualities of Italian culture. Italy is challenging me to do an expectation shift and see that what I find crazy or ridiculous could be completely normal and acceptable for them.

Habits That Take Some Adjustments

1. Everybody smokes. Okay, not everyone, but close.

2. Water isn’t free at restaurants. You have to buy in bottles in sparkling or still.

3. No coffee with milk after noon. Apparently the milk is too heavy and there isn’t any cream/half or half for coffee at all. Only milk…ummm…this I am sad about ( I have however discovered “panna” which is only supposed to be used for cooking…or my coffee)

4. If you don’t finish your meal, servers might assume you didn’t like it. Even if I scarfed down at least 3/4ths of my plate. This causes me to eat more than I can handle. No more left over pasta or pizza for breakfast.

Cinque Terre

5. When walking into a Bar (a bar to them is like a cafe or coffee shop in the U.S.) if you are just wanting a quick pick me up coffee and a simple snack, you select your own pastry, order a coffee and hangout at the bar. This is about a 5 minute or less experience. Most order a shot of espresso (un cafe) and un brioche con crema or nutella. Once you are finished they give you your receipt and then you pay (this was backwards for me at first).

6. It is common for men or women to live at home until they are late 20s and eat their mother’s home cooked dinners each night, drive their parent’s car and not pay many bills. This is due to the fact that they are finished with University and most Masters programs by age 25 or 26 and then get a “real” job and move out. It is rare to hear about an Italian who chooses to live on their own. It seems they move out because they have a significant other to move in with. In general, the logic is why move out alone when I can stay with my family and save money…?

7. Fashion is highly valued. Most dress nice everyday when in larger cities and I mean very well meaning high quality brands, done up hair and makeup and looking top notch. Most men are very stylish and clean shaven and put ALOT of effort into looking good and I do mean alot. Good fashion sense is common whether you are going to the grocery store or a party. Always look your best. I’d say it is an improvement from America’s lower standards in dress, and a positive to encourage people out of their sweat or yoga pants. However, if I am having a lazy day and don’t want to put the effort in, I cannot go outside in pajamas unless I am okay with getting judged.

8. Easy access to anything at a nearby store when I need it. In America, cities are modernized and built for convenience and efficiency. On the other hand, in Italy it is harder to reach things because sometimes they are not sold in Italy or even something they do not use on a regular basis. For example, I can’t buy coconut oil, cottage cheese, fresh cilantro, sweet potatoes, half and half, Oregon Chai (I know why they don’t but they should) and many toiletries brands I use back home. This reality has sometimes made me feel like I have gone back in time a decade or two.

9. The fact that when I walk into a bathroom or “toilette” it is not always a given that I will have a seat. I will admit that I always thank God when I do!

Spaccanapoli (old Napoli neighborhood)

Short story!

A few weeks ago I was saying goodbye to Abby and her husband Lorenzo to catch my late night bus to Paris and as I was leaving Lorenzo asked me, “Aren’t you going to change your pants?” I said back to him, “No, I want to be comfy on the bus and sleep so I am wearing my pajamas”.  He looked back at me shocked saying, “But you can’t go out like that.” My American roots began to show as I replied, “Why not? I don’t care how I look right now.” Later I began to regret my decision when I was bolting for my bus across a busy intersection with all my bags, wearing pajama pants, no makeup and drawing unwanted attention from all sides. I was not making eye contact with anyone I was so embarrassed.

Bologna

Pompei

Positive Habits I Want to Adopt

1. Family is important and most eat meals at the table.

2. Italians don’t buy pre-made or frozen meals. They like to cook everything and eat fresh foods. Getting a TO GO box and eating left overs isn’t common. This is strange to me because I love leftovers and it’s actually rare for me to finish my food at the restaurant, so in an attempt to not be wasteful, I’ll eat it the next day. Not anymore.

3. All food here is delicious! No explanation needed.


 

4. They have many food courses. Bread always, pasta as the first course, then meat, salad, fruit, dessert and espresso. So much food!

5. Dessert seems like a MUST after dinner.

6. Italians overall seem positive, friendly, generous and happy to assist. At least in my experience.

Porticos of Bologna leading to Sanctuario Madonna di San Lucca

Vernazza, Cinque Terre

7. Birthdays are a highly celebrated event. Anyone can be invited to a party even if they don’t know the host. The more the merrier!

8. Most cities are full of history and a story! I can’t get over how many hundreds of year old buildings there are and how detailed the architecture is!

View from Mount Cappuccini of the Mole Antonellina and one of Europe’s largest piazzas, “Piazza Vittorio Veneto” – Turin

Piazza Maggiore – Bologna

Italian Alps painting the backdrop of Turin

Vernazza, Cinque Terre

9. Most grow up with a home away from home. A house at the sea and/or in the mountains for holidays or weekends away.

Drive home from L’Aquila in the Abruzzo region

Monterosso al Mare, Cinque Terre

10. Hygiene and overall cleanliness – I notice most make their bed each day, no shoes around the house, wearing slippers, use the bidet (let’s call it what it is…a butt washer), iron their clothes, hire cleaners, highly aware of germs, and overall care about image. This is a fantastic quality to have but sometimes for me can be a bit too “particular” about the way things are done.

Welcome to Never, Never Land…this is the valley below Mount Vesuvius in Southern Italy

Mt. Vesuvius

Italy is a lovely country and I’m so glad to have gained perspective and an insider’s view into daily habits. Though I can stand out like a sore thumb with my expressiveness, loud voice, talkative personality and obvious differences in “normal” I think I’m starting to catch on.

 

Con Tanto Amore,

Em

 

 

16 Comments

  1. Robbi Hill

    January 27, 2017 at 8:24 AM

    I love love love the pictures! So amazing!! Italy sounds so interesting…The people, food, architect, history. You bring it all to life!! Good job Emily! Your Mama is proud of you! ❤❤

    1. Emily

      January 27, 2017 at 8:56 AM

      Thank you so much, Shmanzas! You’re the best!

  2. Chloe

    January 27, 2017 at 10:35 AM

    Agreed, you sure know how to bring it to life. Loved the photo’s too. Although I am Australian, I can relate to these cultural differences. Xxx

    1. Emily

      January 27, 2017 at 10:57 AM

      Thank you, Chloe!

  3. Kelsey Noris

    January 27, 2017 at 2:34 PM

    I love your pictures, they are stunning!
    And I completely relate to the food aspects. I try not to eat a lot of gluten (which is obviously more difficult in Italy than in America) and my host mom asked what I eat with dinner usually and when I responded sweet potatoes and squash she had no clue what squash was.
    I love that they eat everything fresh too. America needs to adopt this lifestyle.

    1. Emily

      January 27, 2017 at 2:49 PM

      Thank you, Kelsey! Being Gluten Free would be so difficult here. I used to eat Sweet potatoes so often! I miss them a ton. Yes, America needs to work on their food production and adding in natural ingredients that are good for the body and that we can physically handle. Thank you for reading along and for your comment!

    1. Emily

      January 27, 2017 at 2:54 PM

      Thanks so much for the “share”!

  4. Dee

    January 27, 2017 at 4:47 PM

    I have found sweet potatoes, butternut squash, cottage cheese (yogurt sized containers, not in every store. Try Conad) , coconut oil (try NaturaSì health food stores), and on Wed and Sat mornings at Essalunga, or in Pakistan or Sri Lankan stores, you can sometimes find fresh cilantro, although I don’t know why anyone would want to 🙂

    1. Abigail

      January 27, 2017 at 4:51 PM

      Thanks for the tip and for reading our blog! I’ll have to check those stores!!

    2. Emily

      January 27, 2017 at 5:52 PM

      Really?! I MUST find all these stores! Thanks for telling us. I’ll be so excited if I find these things.

  5. Olive Branch Inn/ Maryanne

    January 28, 2017 at 10:04 AM

    Beautiful photos. Stunning !! Love them! I’m going to share them!! I agree with the whole not being able to go out looking like a mess!! I on occasion still do and get funny looks even after all these years that I have lived in my small little village!!! LoL O.k. I’m American!! I think you have hit many of the differences right on the nose….I love how you get” What did you make for your lunch today?” everyday from whoever you bump into. Everybody helps everybody with the whole cooking great meals everyday!! Everyone seems to know how to make so many types of meals . Having a super clean house or to better understand this cleaning obsession : They take super great care of their clothes, shoes, house, car, phone anything that they worked hard for and bought. They simply do not take it for granted. They respect were and how it came to be and they take loving care of everything so it will last. I think one of the worst things you can be here is a person who wastes things. Thank you for this blog. I too have some difficulties with a few of their cultural habits but on the most part it has made me a better Mother, friend and wife. I also found my butternut squash, coconut oil and some of my ” American” must have please. Little by little more stuff is arriving…..14 years here and still loving it!

    1. Emily

      January 28, 2017 at 2:01 PM

      Even though there are many differences it is beautiful to pick up new habits and take from cultures what we love most. Thank you for your comment and enthusiasm to share and for the compliments! So glad you liked it. It is so good hearing other’s experiences here and how we can all relate to one another. 🙂

  6. Therese Soleil

    January 28, 2017 at 4:13 PM

    Incredible photos …went to Italy years and years ago. These photos made me want to return. I’m a real casual person…lived in Alaska for 12 years…the meticulous dress thing would be tough. So much to learn from other cultures. Thanks for the wonderful blog.

    1. Emily

      January 29, 2017 at 2:41 PM

      Thanks for the comment and support, Therese! Feel free to share with others and I hope you continue to follow along in our adventures!

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