With every trip I make to Italy, I find that after I return home to the states I’m constantly looking for that laid-back piazza. A place that reminds me of those things I love so much about Italy. I have come close to finding it, but not entirely. I keep searching for that slow-paced, friendly and relaxing atmosphere that feels so much like I’m really ‘home.’
Both Italy and the United States have customs and ways of doing things that are special. One is not necessarily better than the other, just different. So what is it that pulls at heartstrings when you mention the word, “Italy?” I’ve given this a lot of thought and wrote down the things I’ve grown to love and miss when I’m away.
- Slow Pace – Italians take their time when it comes to sharing a meal together. If eating out, the waiter is hailed down when everyone is through because dinner can often take a couple of hours. Food is eaten slowly and enjoyed while conversing with others at the table. There is usually wine on the table but no binge drinking. Everyone knows to keep it classy. No coffee to-go cups or people walking around while eating, except for gelato. Where Americans tend to live for work, the Italians work so that they can live.
- Family and Friends – The most highly prized possession in Italy are the family and friends, who are considered family. Families stay in close proximity of each other, and grandparents watch the grandkids. Sunday dinners are shared together as a special time. Life is lived together.
- Coffee for a euro – I love the concept of standing at the bar with others and drinking coffee together, even if it’s only a shot of espresso. I feel like I am part of something and enjoy exchanging a word or two with those around me. Compare this to grabbing a coffee at Starbucks or anywhere else back home. Quick, no talk, and you leave with a to-go cup.
- Tradition – Italians have a lot of pride in their heritage. Whenever I visit the smaller towns, tradition is always evident. In Siena, the neighborhoods are divided into groups called contrade. Each neighborhood has their own flag. The Palio, or horse race, is held every year with a rider for each contrade. Parades are not uncommon on the rambling medieval streets with locals dressed in their traditional costumes. They love to celebrate. In the U.S., our traditions have dwindled down to just the main holidays. Here, we are a melting pot of many nationalities.
- Fresh Food – Most of the food eaten at the table in Italy is garden fresh and grown local. There is a lack of processed foods, unlike in the U.S. Meat is raised on small farms or caught fresh from the Mediterranean. However, Italians don’t eat a lot of meat like we do.
- Aperitivo – This is my favorite perk. I can honestly say that aperitivo time reigns supreme in Italy. It is an important part of socializing and relaxing together at the end of the day before dinner. People don’t drink to get drunk or buzzed, like we often do, and consists of one or two drinks only with a small amount of food. Nowadays, many restaurants offer a full buffet included in the price of a drink.
- Lack of Fast Food – Except for a couple of McDonald’s, you won’t find fast food in Italy. No frozen pizzas. Italians know how to choose quality food.
- Making an Appearance – Italians love to look sharp. They are well-groomed and dress with thought put into it. You never see them walking about in public in pajamas or sweats…ever. Even the nonnas, grandmothers, dress up while sitting outside the house.
- Wine – Not only is vino cheap in Italy, it is delicious. I always order the local wine and have never been disappointed. It is grown locally and provides a great way to get to know the wines of the region. I recall a time in the little hill village of Orte in Tuscany where I stopped at a little trattoria and bought a vino for half a euro a glass. That is by far the least I have spent for wine in Italy, but it was memorable.
- Small Portion Size – Let’s face it. People in the U.S. eat big portions of food. As a result, we are overweight as a population. On the contrary, portions are small in Italy. The Italians eat two or three courses but with portion control. And little snacking, only three meals a day.
- Lines – This is a source of great irritation to me in Italy. There are no lines. People tend to cut in front of each other, so its one of those situations where you need to keep our elbows out. Whoever is running the front desk is slow. It takes a long time to get anything done. To me, it’s the slow pace gone wrong.
- No Big Screen T.V’s – I rejoice in the lack of them in Italy. Dining is a time to converse with others and enjoy food, not eat in front of the television. There may be a few of them for soccer games, but I’ve never seen one.
- History – I am smitten with the History of Italy. The Roman empire, the saints, and the renaissance. Evidence of it is everywhere. It is an ancient country with volumes upon volumes to share.
- Art – How I love the art on display in the museums and large cities such as Rome, Florence, and Venice. In fact, everything the Italians do seems to be a work of art. Food cases display lovely creations so imaginatively arranged and enticing to look at. The fashion industry booms in Italy. Beauty exists in so many places.
All things considered, both countries have their good and not so good points. I love the sense of independence we share in the U.S. I love our public toilets, lines clearly marked, and driving at a comfortable speed to name a few. There is no perfect place. If we were all the same, travel wouldn’t be special anymore. I’m glad we are who we are as countries, with our warts and all.