This post has taken some time to come about. It’s not easy to sum up a race by saying things you didn’t know about them in a supportive way. After four years of careful, cultural observation of these people and their ways I have come to a little list of the things I didn’t know about Italians. I will start with the most humorous observation:
-They are very scared of spicy food.
It’s unbelievable how much Italians get worried and say things like “it might be spicy, don’t eat it” or “no, I don’t like Mexican, it’s spicy” or “Asian food is too hot.” I have laughed myself to sleep several times thinking how strange it is that they consider these things spicy. The first time I encountered this phobia was when I made fajitas for my Italian family. Anyone who knows fajitas knows that it is one of the most mild Mexican foods you can eat. The family all started with their questions and said “is this spicy?” and I would say no. They would then try it and go “ahhh…it’s spicy!” I just looked at them with great confusion.
I’ll never forget when I went to Thailand for my honeymoon and I was traveling in an Italian group. We decided to have lunch buffet style so we all got a little bit of everything on our plates. I was eating some noodles and one of the Italian girls asked me if it was spicy and of course I said no because it really wasn’t. She tried it and freaked the heck out like she had just eaten a scorpion or something. I had never seen anything like it. I just looked at my husband and raised my shoulders. She then gobbled down a few glasses of water. I didn’t know what to say except girl you need to get out more!
Note to self: Italians don’t cook with spices ever. The average Italian has maybe 4 spices in their spice rack (which are all Italian herbs really) that they never use. They don’t adorn their recipes with anything but salt, oil, and vinegar-no wonder!
-A superstitious bunch
At first I thought this was a character trait from random people that I met. I slowly started to realize after encountering people from the North and the South and observing in general that everyone is superstitious in this country. My husband, my co-workers, the students I teach, people on TV, Facebook acquaintances-they all have warned me of things I should never do. Don’t tell someone happy birthday before their actual birthday (it’s bad luck) of course you wouldn’t dare celebrate someone’s birthday a day early either. No black cats, throw the salt over your shoulder, and men don’t ever put your hat on your bed!
One thing that my expat friends love about Italy is that it’s a baby/kid friendly place. My British friend who is a mother of two young kids told me that when she goes out to restaurants no one glares when her children are loud or messy, they just look at her like it’s natural. That was great to hear after being a waitress in the States for 4 years and hearing the outrageous requests my customers had for being seated near children. They would ask me (the waitress) to tell the mother to control her children. Many wanted to be reseated far away from the “distractions” or better yet “the bothersome family. ” Ya well, that never happened.
I walked into a store once in my little town and said “buongiorno” to the lady who was obviously the owner. I immediately double looked and saw that she was carrying a baby and had a baby play pin smack in the middle of the store. I was shocked and thought it was pretty unprofessional. After I thought about it twice I changed my mind and thought to myself that if I was a new mother I’d probably like to keep my job too and raise my baby myself in the process. That’s the way you gotta do it sometimes, with baby in arms; so go her and go the people of Italy who accept unprofessionalism so that moms can keep their jobs.
Another baby friendly thing that I noticed right away in Italy was all the public breast feeding. Women would breast feed their babies at a cafe, during dinner, at the beach, whenever…wherever (uncovered might I add.) They never went inside restrooms and hid like they were ashamed or afraid of offending the public. The Italians look at it as the most beautiful and natural thing a person can do-so they proudly display that which profoundly expresses their deep culture in art and beauty. One person explained to me in Italian “how could someone think public breast feeding’s offensive when other women walk around slutty with no clothes on? That’s offensive.” He had a good point. Italians have definitely converted me on the breast feeding epidemic-I am now 100% pro-public breast feeding (but covered.) It’s public affection right? Why can’t I breast feed my baby proudly in front of everyone if I can kiss my husband out in public?
Last point I want to add about Italy being baby friendly is the little warning dots they put on TV. At the bottom of the screen before you see a show or a movie you’ll notice a little green dot which means good for all audiences. If the dot is red it’s no good for kids! Cool idea.
-Other random things
They think Americans are weird because we mix pasta and meat on the same plate, well have you ever heard of mixing beer and coke together or even stranger, celery and wine? They do, coo coo.
If you use the restroom you may find half of the toilet on the wall close to the ceiling! Of course you won’t notice this until you flush the toilet and feel splashes of water on your arms. You’ll look up with a scared face and freeze in shock that half the toilet is on the ceiling! Whatev, to each his own.
If you start a business in Italy the priest will come and bless it, and everyone will bring you plants to congratulate you. How adorable is that. After the priest blesses the new place, he hammers a little cross on the wall. So, If you go to a mom-and-pop store in Italy then look for the little cross…you’ll know you’re in a sincere and homey place!
Italians have their own version of fruit cake. It’s called Panettone.
They drink espresso right? For all those who are unfamiliar, espresso is an ounce of coffee that loses its heat within a minute and takes all of two seconds to drink. Regardless of these facts Italians use to-go cups for their espresso…non c’e senso secondo me (doesn’t make sense in my opinion). I’ve been noticing this a lot lately and just find it so ironic.