Things I didn’t know about Italy 2

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!

-Baby friendly

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.

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Posted in Culture, Life in Italy

Things I didn’t know about Italy

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.

IMG_9867Furniture in general for Italians is a great design, a work of art. Their history is full of renowned artists, so this comes naturally for their culture and maybe expected from others.

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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!

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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 ~

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Holidays in Italy

Alas, I successfully cooked a feast for 15 people in Italy for the second time in my life with tricks thrown at me as usual. I passed the test of time management, tastiness, and moist meat-HALLELUJAH I’m representing that Americans can cook foods apart from hamburgers (common joke Italians have against Americans).

I introduced Thanksgiving to my husband’s family last year, and they enjoyed it very much and thought it was quite special. This year they added blooming onions to the menu as an appetizer which I was a little hesitant to add because it’s not exactly an elegant food, but it tells you about their idea that Thanksgiving is just like all other meals. Nevertheless, we had a spectacular Thanksgiving meal with a 35 pound stuffed turkey, 7 southern side dishes, home-made rolls, and four desserts! In all the grandeur I wanted to tell them about the history behind this day, but was too shy to give a speech in Italian and opted out. Oh well, “piano piano” as the Italians say-slowly slowly I will add the story next year. Ironically, without my speech I still wasn’t free-I explained the list of ingredients in all my dishes as Fabio’s aunts were pounding me with questions like usual. Talk about my head spinning hosting a meal with people unfamiliar with American food, one person lactose intolerant asking me what has milk in it, and 5 Italian women talking to me at the same time asking detailed questions (all with wine in my hand might I add, continuously being poured by my father-in-law). There was a lot going on, but I made it through the weeds. In the end I did keep one important tradition that I grew up with which is that the man of the house cuts the turkey. So, my husband had the honor of cutting our turkey, instead of his aunt leaning over his shoulder who tempted him to give it over. Fabio did a great job, only to turn around and do it again two weeks later.

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When you host a party in Italy there are often too many people to juggle that you just can’t invite everyone over to the same festa. To fix my juggling problems I decided to throw a Thanksgiving meal for just the family, and a Christmas party with the traditional Christmas food for friends and co-workers. Even though so many people came it wasn’t everybody, which tells me that next year we may have to throw 3 parties in total for the holidays! This leads me into writing this post: The holidays in Italy.

I never really knew how many Christmas traditions we have in America until I left. People say we don’t have a culture because we’re a melting pot, I used to believe that, but now I know that they were wrong. Just speaking of Christmas here, in America we have our Christmas cards, some send family letters; picking out a tree, drinking hot chocolate, Christmas movies, Christmas music all over the place, decorating Christmas cookies and gingerbread houses, caroling, toys for tots or the idea of giving back in general, ugly sweater parties, secret santa games, mistletoe, I could just go on and on. In Italy there are lots of little Christmas traditions as well, but none of them are these.

In Italy each city decorates with lights which is nice, individual houses not so much. They don’t send Christmas cards out or bake for their friends, instead they bring over Italian fruit cake which is called panettone. The grandmas will bake typical Italian cookies with honey called purciduzzi; hot chocolate is literally 100% chocolate in a liquid form-pretty heavy. They aren’t too keen on eggnog, in general they don’t drink creamy beverages. Christmas music is played in the streets where there are shops, but is hard to find on the radio until days before Christmas. There are Italian Christmas movies, but there is no overall tradition of sitting down with your family and watching the same movie every year. There are no Christmas carols because all of those songs are English, but they do have one of the best Christmas singers ever-Mario Biondi. Italians wouldn’t dare show up in an ugly sweater for a party-EVER…maybe they would go, but It would be more like the Best Name Brand Christmas Sweater Party. One thing Italy has for Christmas that America does not is Presepe. Presepe is where each

town decorates the oldest part to look like Nazareth. There are animals, live manger scenes, and sweets at the end for all the people who walk through. This is similar to our Christmas light drive-bys, but spectacular in a down-to-Earth way. Another tradition that Italy has is La Befana on the 6th of January. This is the day where children receive stockings from the Christmas witch (the real reason for the holiday is to celebrate the day that the Three Wise Men brought gifts to Jesus), anyway adults don’t usually exchange stockings, and the stockings come pre-packaged just like our Easter baskets.  Babbo Natale (Santa Clause) comes on Christmas Eve “la vigilia di Natale” and so Italians open gifts on the eve instead of Christmas. For such a catholic country it’s ironic to me that there is no holiday expression with the word Christ in it. Buon Natale, Auguri, Buone Feste…none actually say Felice Crist0 or something of that genre. Perhaps Pope Francesco reminds everyone during his annual Christmas speech.

Take a look at these links to hear Mario, I’m sure you’ve all heard his voice before!

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mOR32ptOUFI

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DNsKUm-8OSA

Probably the most special thing about the holidays in Italy is that everyone gets substantial time off. One week is pretty much the standard time off for Christmas, and that does not affect their other days off during the year. The Italian business system has a way of protecting the family atmosphere, this is one major thing I love about Italian business. Not only do Italians get off for Christmas, but they get off a good amount for Easter as well. It’s wonderful that families have the opportunity to spend time with each other without stressing about their jobs. I don’t mind that all the shops are closed on certain days because I’m happy knowing those workers get to be home like everyone else. It’s the way it should be.

I miss my country and my culture the most during the holidays, it’s normal to yearn for what you’ve grown up with even if things are special in other places. Italy is very special during the holidays, even so I’ve tried to bring a little bit of America to Italy-just can’t resist.

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Posted in Business in Italy, Culture, Italian language, Life in Italy

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