Love can be found in the craziest of places. It is no surprise that so many find it in the enchanting and romantic land of Italy. Being an American with an Italian partner, I frequently find myself in a conversation with another American that is also in a relationship with an Italian. The conversation inevitably goes to the funny cultural differences we sort through on a daily basis. I asked my American expat friends if they would like to contribute to a post on the subject. Almost every reply I received began with,
“Oh my!!! Where to begin?”
Here are a handful of our favorites.
Why are you yelling at me?!
We all know that Italians have a slightly higher conversational volume than Americans, but why do they have to yell? It’s hard enough listening to a conversation on the street and wondering if it’s an argument or just a passionate exchange. I’m a bit sensitive to being yelled at, so this one inevitably throws me off. Tommaso just says to me,”I’m not yelling at you, I’m just talking to you! We are very passionate people!”
Tommaso and I have found a nice balance in understanding that some things are not right or wrong, they are just cultural. I have learned to be less sensitive, and the last thing I would want to do is suppress that Italian passion!
Tell it like it is, baby!
There’s no such thing as beating around the bush with an Italian. If they think it, they’re going to say it. Most of the time, this is a welcome and refreshing change from American culture. Though, sometimes, things are best left unsaid. On the flip side, if you get a compliment, you can rest assured that it is sincere.
Digestion, OHHH, the digestion! Bah!
Italians are petty much obsessed with digestion. Any kind of coolness that hits your body after eating will completely destroy your body’s digestive process. You would never swim in cold water after eating- but- If you finish eating while you are in the water, it’s ok. Don’t ask, I haven’t a clue.
“I can tell you one thing that always makes me scratch my head, still. It’s the way we view how very cold foods or how ice can effect the body and digestion, and how Italians tend to fear it. Zoe loves frozen green pees and eats them that way. Every time, Lorenzo cringes thinking it’ll block her digestion and threaten her life. The first time he saw her eating them he about had a panic attack. But gelato and ghiaccioli / popcicles are no issue?”
Italians are notoriously late eaters. With that, comes a late bedtime for the kiddos. During the summer, I will have my kids in bed and sleeping by 9:00. There will still be local kids knocking on our door as late as 10 wanting to play!
“Another favorite “difference” is when you ask an Italian parent what time their kids go to bed you often hear “early”, which means 9.30 pm- even in winter. While for Americans, that would usually be late. I don’t know any Italian parent-friends who actually put their kids to bed and then relax and have time to themselves. I struggle with this in Italy. I love to try to get z to bed early so I can relax a bit and not have her bedtime lingering in the back of my head while I wind down, but it’s not easy. I mostly now aim for 9 pm and feel guilty that she goes to bed “late”!”
Rick Zullo is married to his beautiful Italian wife, Jessica. They live in Rome with their newborn bambina. Rick’s blog, Rick’s Rome, offers help and advice for expats and travelers in Rome.
Living la dolce vita!
“A couple of things come to mind. First of all, we should dispense of the notion that Italians are more carefree and happy-go-lucky than the rest of us. On the contrary, there are some very strict rules in Italian culture, especially in the domestic realm. As a tourist, they cut you some slack. But once you start integrating, you’re expected to fall into line.”
There is nothing more important to an Italian than family and eating!
Rick points out,
“When it comes to dinnertime, you must be “a tavola” as soon as the pasta comes off the stove. It doesn’t matter if you’re doing something important for work or if your soccer team is playing on T.V. You are required to abandon all other activities and sit down properly at the table while the pasta is still hot. For Americans who are used to eating anywhere—in our cars, at our desks, in front of the T.V.—this practice seems a little intrusive, taking time away from more “practical” activities. But, in my house anyway, there is nothing more important than dinner, and the repercussions are severe if this sacred time is not respected.”
Did you just say what I think you said?
One time Tommaso boldly told me to “shut-up!” I was shocked. Eventually we realized that he was just mimicking the American way of saying “shut-up” to someone in a playful way, but I think the tone got lost in translation somewhere.
Rick has a similar story on his blog with the Italian “Vaffanculo”- a bit more colorful language than “shut-up.”
He advises that, “You re-scale your criteria for taking offense.”
If the Mama ain’t happy…
Rick also brings up an important point about the head-of-household in Italian families.
“There is also a different brand of feminism in Italy than in the U.S. It would be interesting to talk about, but it would take at least a page or two. One important point though: the women might let the men think that they (the men) are in charge, but really it’s the other way around—maybe not in the workplace, but most certainly in the home.”
Gail’s Italian love is the sweet Roberto. Gail owns and operates Gail’s Great Escapes, an Italian tour company. Roberto owns da Roberto Taverna-Enoteca in Montisi, Tuscany. Truly one of the most lovely places I have ever dined in.
Uh, what happened to ladies first?
“Roberto always enters a door before I do. When we’re traveling (or anywhere really) he goes in before me. In the beginning I thought, “How rude!. He should be opening the door for ME!” He does open the car door most of the time, so I didn’t understand this lapse in courtesy.
One day he said to me, “Now, as an American, I know you are wondering why I do this. I know in your culture, it’s ladies first. But here, in ancient times, the man would always go in first to make sure it was safe for the woman to enter. This is what I was taught growing up.”
I have to say, I really like it when we are traveling and stopping in a coffee bar full of men, for that beautiful tall back to go in ahead of me. I feel very protected! I like it, and now I am used to it.”
One of the pieces of Italian culture that I most adore is their respect for the elderly. This is a tradition that we could all use more of in the world. Yesterday, Tommaso and I stood and watched his parents walking away. He sighed and said, “Those are two beautiful people.” I see this respect in Tommaso every day, the same way that Gail sees it in Roberto.
Gail beautifully states,
“I do love the closeness of the family ties, and the fact that the mother is usually the head of the household, the matriarch. I think our American culture is more a patriarchal society. This generates a huge respect for older women….I see that in Roberto as he always speaks to and acknowledges older women when we are walking, traveling, anywhere. He will engage them in conversation and I love to see their eyes light up!”
However you want to put it, love is love, in any language.
Have you ever run into cultural difference issues while traveling? Share your stories with us in the comments below!
Find out more about touring Tuscany with us at Capturing la Vita Tours!