Why Are You Yelling at Me?! – An American Melding into Italian Culture

Why are you yelling at me?

Connections can be made in the craziest of places. It is no surprise that so many find it in the enchanting and romantic land of Italy. If you have been in a relationship with an Italian,  you will relate to the funny cultural differences. 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.  “I’m not yelling at you, I’m just talking to you! We are very passionate people!”

Finding the balance in understanding that some things are not right or wrong, they are just cultural, is not easy. 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.


Molly McIlwrath is a family tour guide in Florence and married to Lorenzo. You can find her bio and book a tour with her HERE through Context Travel. These are her thoughts on the subject-
Molly and Lorenzo

“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?”

What bedtime?

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!

Molly says,

“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.

Rick and Jessica


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. 

Gail and Roberto

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.”

Finally, respect…

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.

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!

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15 Responses to Why Are You Yelling at Me?! – An American Melding into Italian Culture

  1. wanderingeducators September 6, 2013 at 8:31 PM #

    I love this. every culture is SO different – and those differences make us unique! Great perspectives – thanks for sharing!

  2. Penny Sadler September 8, 2013 at 1:37 AM #

    Great story! So fun and informative.

  3. Heidi Wagoner September 8, 2013 at 9:20 PM #

    These are the very things that I love about travel. We all were “raised” in a different place with different traditions, yet we can learn to live with and understand each other. It is always fun finding out the hidden meaning behind things or be left scratching your head forever. I am not sure about the frozen peas and eating cold food, but if that is what they believe then so be it. :-)

    • Laurel Perry Turner September 10, 2013 at 1:45 PM #

      Exactly, well stated. I think it’s so fun learning how other cultures work.

  4. Amy September 9, 2013 at 4:44 AM #

    Another great article about cultural differences; I particularly like the strong family ties and respect for the elderly but don’t get the digestion thing at all!

  5. Gabi @The Nomadic Family September 10, 2013 at 4:50 AM #

    LOVE LOVE LOVE THIS. i love that love that you show and the photos do your sharp words of joy and laughter perfect justice. can’t wait to come see your world of culture and love gabi

    • Laurel Perry Turner September 10, 2013 at 1:43 PM #

      Thanks, Gabi. We would love to share our Tuscany with you and your beautiful family <3

  6. Alyson September 10, 2013 at 8:46 AM #

    I really enjoyed reading that, thanks! I think I must be part Italian, my volume control is a bit off and I love the importance of mamma in the family.

    • Laurel Perry Turner September 10, 2013 at 1:42 PM #

      Too funny, Alyson! You may have to do a little genealogy research ;)

  7. Alyson September 10, 2013 at 8:48 AM #

    I should add, I’m married to an Aussie..talk about cultural differences, not so much with him, but with his family. Just because we speak the same language, don’t make us the same!

    • Laurel Perry Turner September 10, 2013 at 1:41 PM #

      Sometimes I wonder if we speak the same language! Get a few beers in them and you will need an interpreter :)

  8. Suzanne Fluhr (Boomeresque) September 10, 2013 at 8:59 AM #

    I loved with a Colombian family when I studied in Bogotá during college. Dinner was late, but everyone was expected at the table and the Señora was definitely in charge of the household. All 10 of their children called her Señora and she pretty much ran things from her bedroom. In fact, that’s where the family TV was, so we all used to pile into bed with the parents to watch Hawaii Cinco Zero—the original version.

    • Laurel Perry Turner September 10, 2013 at 1:40 PM #

      I love that! What a beautiful experience that must have been for you. Hawaii Cinco Zero- Love it!


  1. More Advice on Dating in Italy - November 25, 2013

    […] When it comes to inter-cultural dating, there are also the perils of language mix-ups to watch out for.   A while back I wrote a blog post about one such incident when I misinterpreted the “friendly” tone in which Jessica invited me to F#*% OFF!   Suffice to say that you have to re-scale your criteria for taking offence.  For an American woman’s perspective on this, check out the post by Laurel, fellow Floridian and Italophile who asks the very valid question, “Why are you yelling at me?” […]

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