I love Italy. There are so many things about Italy to love…good food, beautiful language, rich history and so on. However, I had only seen Italy from a tourist’s perspective until I decided to live there.
I got a job teaching English in a summer program that lasted a month. While I was there, I got to live with a host family and experienced first hand the life of an Italian.
Here are 7 things that I deem ‘very Italian’.
1. They are never in a hurry.
On my first day there, my host family asked if I wanted to stop by a neighborhood picnic and say hi to some of their friends. I was jetlagged but eager to dive into Italian culture, so I said ‘sure’ thinking that we would just “make an appearance”. 3-4 HOURS later and we were still trying to round up my host family’s daughter.
Likewise at the summer camp, parents would either come to pick up their child and stay long to converse with other parents OR not show up until an hour or so after the camp was supposed to be over.
When Italians say they are ‘just going to stop by’, prepare to stay for a while.
2. It’s totally chill to have wine before noon.
A few times a week, we would go home for our lunch break to have a meal with our host family. Even though it was only 11:30am and we had to go back to work in the afternoon, it was completely acceptable to have a glass or two. Cheers to that!
3. They have long lunch breaks.
Maybe it’s because they have wine at lunch, but Italians take quite long lunch breaks. Sometimes we would go home for lunch at 11:30am and wouldn’t be expected back in until 1:30pm. This could also fall under #1.
4. You won’t have much alone time.
I knew Italians were very family-oriented but I did not realize how much time they spent together. For instance, my host family lived on floors 2 and 3 of their house. The grandparents lived on floor 1 and the sibling of my host family lived just down the street. We ate as a large family for almost every meal and spent time together after the meal was over. I don’t think I ever saw anyone go off to be alone.
5. Italians are very particular about their pasta.
I knew this already. But that didn’t make us (me and Gabriella, the other girl living with my host family) any less nervous about cooking dinner one night. We were given simple instructions for a traditional pasta dish. Well, it was NOT traditional for us and had no idea what we were doing. When our host dad came back in, he was appalled by how overcooked the pasta was and ended up throwing out all the leftovers.
Note to self: Italians cook pasta for ½ of the time that the box says. If it’s not chewy pasta, it’s not pasta.
6. Italians like to eat.
Again, I thought I knew this already too but somehow I was unprepared for the amount of food that would be continually ushered in.
One night, we were served a full pasta serving. Only after consuming it all, we realized that it was not the main course at all but more of a starter. An entire bowl of pasta for a starter. Then came the chicken and vegetables and side dishes. And you can’t stop after that because the best part is the after dinner Parmesan and prosciutto. You wash all of this down with copious amounts of wine (optional of course, but when in Italy). And in case you haven’t unbuttoned your pants by now, sometimes they can even suggest running to the corner to bring back gelato for everyone.
Without knowing the progression of courses, it’s hard to moderate your portions and overeating was, in my case, inevitable. In fact, my month in Italy can be summarized as being in one big, uncomfortable food coma.
7. Finishing an entire pizza is normal.
One thing that I was always impressed by was the fact that everyone always ordered their own pizza AND ATE IT ALL. Now, in their defense, Italian pizzas have quite a thin crust, but they are still large, whole pizzas!
The first time I went to a pizza restaurant, I assumed that we would all order a couple to share. I was a little panicked that everyone wanted to order their own. Gabriella and I both ordered a pizza that had 4 different types on it. Each quarter was different and one quarter was something like a calzone. The Italians had theirs finished, crust and all, in no time. Gabriella and I both ate ourselves into a coma and still could not finish it by ourselves. It was a rite of passage that we would try to accomplish for the rest of our month there.
And after you’ve eaten all the pizza, pasta and gelato…and you’ve drank all the wine, you start to appreciate a lethargic lunch hour and slow-paced life because let’s face it, you aren’t going anywhere unless someone rolls you.