Thoughts on ‘being’ Italian

Just a few of my personal thoughts and observances about what it means to “be” Italian, from the perspective of spending my time mostly in Tuscany and Veneto.  Readers are welcome to hop on with comments!

In general:

  • Food, family, and conversation are everything
  • Italians are not as overtly emotional or dramatic as portrayed on TV/in the movies; maybe at home there is more drama?!
  • Italians lead seemingly well balanced lives
  • Italians don’t seem to talk about work a lot (unless their work happens to be about food!)
  • Italians are direct about things, not much messing around, and while there is work/life balance, they know how to “make a dime” here and there
  • They respect their history and the imagination and skill of their people (i.e. the artistic history, aesthetics, purity of the food and wine) but I am not sure they realize just how incredible and unusual some of it is!!!
  • There are many jobs that I don’t understand and seem superfluous and unnecessary in this day and age (i.e. why aren’t more things automated), but possibly some of the flavor of the country would then be lost
  • The language is fun, musical, and complicated
  • They do use their hands a lot when talking, and do say “mamma mia” and “o mio dio”!
  • They are very stylish, both men and women (although I am not sure how they afford it!), and are conscious of their weight and overall appearance
  • They love the evening “passeggiata” (stroll) that occurs before dinner
  • The “aperitivo” (late afternoon drink with complimentary small nibble) is also a way of life here
  • They are very polite, and the grammar/language supports this attitude
  • They all have cell phones but are discrete in using them; i.e. you very rarely see someone on the phone in a restaurant or bar, you rarely hear a phone ring as they are either set to vibrate or the volume is set very low, they don’t tend to use ‘ringtones’, they don’t talk louder than normal when they are on the phone
  • There are many “regional” things; i.e. food, wine, and transportation that crosses from one region to another can be quite difficult.
  • In general, they don’t age all that well, and tend to become squat in their later years.
  • The widows do wear black
  • Families stay close together, living in alternate parts of the country and marrying someone from another area of the country is not typical
  • Italians hang their clothes out to dry, as do people in a lot of European countries due to cost, space for the machine, etc., the exception being that Italians hang theirs outside their windows as opposed to hanging them on a stand inside the house or on a line in the backyard, etc. The clotheslines should be viewed as something romantic/nostalgic and not forlorn. It is an image of the country!  In this day and age it is also very practical and “green”!

Food & drink:

  • Italians don’t drink coffee that includes milk after midday
  • There are many different types of coffee drinks (espresso, macchiato, etc.) and each one is served in a very particular cup (or glass for a caffè latte).
  • There are no paper take-out cups.  Food and drink are always served in a real cup, glass, or plate and you eat/drink it at the establishment, hopefully with some conversation
  • They despise fast food chains!
  • Bread is served dry, without any butter or bowls of oil, and without a plate.  You eat bread off the table or the side of your plate. [FYI, the notion of dipping bread in oil is an American Italian thing and apparently is a result of poor immigrants arriving in America without being able to feed themselves well and bread and oil was a cheap filler.]
  • Truthfully, the bread here is not very good.  Most of it is still just white, somewhat hard, and boring.  Many visitors look forward to the bread, so let this be a warning!
  • Pizza is eaten with a knife and fork and can be disappointing (depending on where you get it) as many tourists migrate to pizzerias
  • As in many European countries, Italians eat all sorts of things that upset Americans, i.e. horse, donkey, rabbit, liver, tripe, etc.
  • Food is fresh, simple, and tastes delicious!
  • There are very few microwaves here as the thought of reheating something or buying something that is not fresh is pretty much incomprehensible!
  • Italians tend to have just a coffee drink and some sort of dolce (sweet) for breakfast, such as a few biscotti or a cornetto/croissant, etc.
  • Food shops are still very particular/specialized; the butcher, the bread shop, wine shop, various types of food shops, etc., although they do seem to be slowly giving way to supermarkets (regretfully)
  • Wine!!!  Did someone say what’s for breakfast!?  The wine is delicious, and very inexpensive!  It is mostly reds, but there are a few good whites, too!  My favorites are the Tuscans (Vino Nobile and Vernaccia) but there is something good in every region!!!  You can actually get wine “on tap” here, too, which is called “alla spina” and can have somewhat of a fizziness!

Men

  • They know the art of conversation, be it flirting or just conversation in general
  • They are interested in, and discuss, a wide variety of topics beyond cars and sport and women;  such as one another’s families, food, etc.
  • They know how to hug and give you the “once over” in such a way that you feel attractive, and not that they are being sleazy, which is a nice feeling for any woman over 30 that may not get a second look in many other countries!
  • They dine out together A LOT, typically without women
  • They are expressive, sensitive, and cry (at least I see them cry on the TV!)
  • They hug and kiss each other on the cheek (once per cheek, twice in total) with meaning!
  • They are attentive to things considered “feminine/domestic” in the U.S.; for instance, when something seems aesthetically out of place, or missing from the table, they notice and will fix it willingly
  • They are very stylish and take care of their appearance (i.e. not fat or sloppy)
  • They will wear vibrant colors
  • Their work is not the primary thing in their lives (generally)
  • They help a lot with the kids; playing with them, feeding them, pushing their strollers, etc.
  • Likewise with above, the men will willingly walk or carry the tiniest of froo-froo dogs that are wearing ridiculous outfits
  • They will carry the handbag of their women
  • They tend to live at home much later than Americans (maybe well into their thirties), marry late, and there are many “mammone” which means “mama’s boy”

Women

  • They are also are very stylish and take care of their appearance
  • Their clothes are TIGHT!!  They are flaunting it, no doubt!
  • They seem a bit more arrogant than the men, a lot of hair flipping, etc.
  • They do not tend to dine out at night with the men; or lunch/dine in packs like in the U.S.
  • They don’t tend to laugh or smile or joke much when out in public
  • They seem to turn a blind eye to things the men may be doing (?)
  • They seem to be fairly traditional, but certainly have opinions and speak out
  • Their tough!  Don’t mess with them!

Children

  • They own the world!!!

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