Culture: Italy and the U.S.

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.’

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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.

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. 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.
  8. 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.
  9. 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.
  10. 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.
  11. 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.
  12. 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.
  13. 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.
  14. 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.

 

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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.

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40 thoughts on “Culture: Italy and the U.S.

  • Reblogged this on and commented:
    I love to read about what foreign people like about Italy. I am Italian and Ilove this list, so true both as far as ‘positive’ aspects are concerned – history, art, slow pace – and as far as ‘less pleasant’ aspects – lines and toilets (oops!). Thank you Timeless Italy!

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  • This is so good. Totally enjoyed reading this. We are in Sicily and we love the small untouched villages, the people are friendly and helpful. We prefer Sicily to Italy due to their kept culture in small areas. Looking forward to reading more. DL

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  • I’m heading to Italy at the end of the month. It sounds like such a great place to experience. It will be my first time abroad, and I will be living with a host family. I’m really excited to experience such a fresh community type life. I just wish I knew more Italian, so I could get to know people better. Thank you for sharing such a lovely list. It is great to hear others’ views.

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  • I always find that when I’m away from home I miss some of the cultural aspects of home, but when I return, I find myself longing for the culture I’ve come to know from the place I returned from. I guess it’s natural for us to have this sort of “reverse culture shock”, but just as important to remind ourselves to appreciate where we are when we’re there as well! Still I’m going to let myself sit and long for Italy for a little bit after reading your post.

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    • It’s kind of the same idea of the grass being greener on the other side of the fence. I was captivated by Italy and its culture from the very first time I visited. Thaat’s been 15 years ago and I have not yet recovered!

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      • There’s always one place from every trip that really stands out to me. My lost love from South East Asia is Luang Prabang, in Laos. My first trip to Italy, it was Florence. I remember watching a street musician play under the statues, and though I was 20 at the time and thought what I was looking for was some romantic Italian lover, I fell in love with the place instead. It’s been a long time since I traveled to Europe, so it’s nice to revisit the culture through your writing.

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  • Great blog Susan. I agree with most of what you said. As you know, I live here and am married to an American who has been living here for more than 25 years. We love living in Italy and treasure the unique lifestyle. Rural Italy must be experienced in order to see the “real” Italy. Touristy places where English is spoken don’t always give the full picture of the truly slow pace of this wonderful country. But plenty of flat TVs I’m afraid! Normally when you go anywhere with a queue (post office, hospital etc) you take a ticket and wait for your number to come up on a screen. But yes, beware of queue jumpers….usually a 60+ signora in a hurry! However, Tom and I are especially united when it comes to our two pet hates: tailgating (cars that drive just centimetres from your back bumper, no matter how fast or how slowly you are driving) and the creaking bureaucracy, which often requires a great deal of patience to deal with. That being said, we have just built a new home in rural Puglia without any of the nightmares one reads about in best-selling novels where the builders are usually fondly described as bungling! (Ours delivered a perfect house on time). I can honestly say, we wouldn’t want to be anywhere else. Ever. Orna

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    • Hi Orna, thank you for sharing your perspective of life in Italy. Rural Puglia is lovely, and your new home will be the delight for the both of you for years to come:) And it off the beaten path, the smaller villages, where authentic Italy still lives on and, like you stated, must be experienced to know Italy. Thank you so much for stopping by!! My best to you and Tom.

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  • While I agree with most of what you are saying, I think things are changing in Italy. More women work now, including grandmothers, so they are not always around to look after grandchildren. The choice of frozen pizzas in supermarkets is growing by the day. I lived here 44 years ago and I have been living here half the year for the last 13 years and I see lots of changes, not all for the better.

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    • All sad to hear. But it can be expected I suppose. The times, they are changing. I think a lot of the grandmothers who work have to financially. Frozen pizza at the store works when there is no one home who has time to cook.

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  • I like the little conversations that you can have with someone waiting at a bus stop or with a waiter/waitress or with someone you stop to ask directions. And perhaps this is a reflection of the slower pace that can sometimes be annoying when you’re waiting on line and the shopkeeper focuses on each exchange regardless of how many people are waiting. But apart from the difference in atmosphere between pizza places in and outside of Italy, the pizza is just plain better in Italy.

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  • Oh, I’ve only been back for 4 days and this makes me want to go back again. Like now. When we hosted some friends from Abruzzo in March, I asked them what their impressions of America were. They hesitated a little and then said, “It seems very anonymous here.” When I asked what they meant, they specifically referred to the piazza and the passeggiata — we don’t have a common space, nor a sanctioned time for everybody to come out and gather. They felt the lack enormously. I can’t disagree. Oh, and those 3-house lunches!! Thanks for your observations . . . Linda

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    • Thank you for sharing this Linda! It’s so interesting to hear what Italians have to say about visiting the U.S. I can see how they would feel overwhelmed. Our country is so huge and not conducive to the quaint village life unfortunately. I love the piazza and passeggiata! It’s part of what keeps me returning:) Thanks for stopping by…

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  • This made me remember Italy and why I love it so much. But sadly, I think some American habits are beginning to invade, especially in the North. My relatives talk about taking a trip to the “Burgie” every Saturday for their MacDonald’s meals. This is a treat for them, and something which they think is making them more like America. I try to tell them that not everything in America is better. It’s funny how the grass is really always greener on the other side. While I’m trying to live more Italian while here at home, they’re trying to be more American. I wish I could make them see that their ways are so much healthier and less stressful. We’ll see what happens the next time I visit. In the meantime, I’m going to try to incorporate the positive things you mentioned about life in Italy – especially the slow eating and sharing time with family and friends.

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    • I can understand your frustration about your relatives eating at McDonalds! You are right about the grass being greener…so what I try to do is keep those cultural things so dear to me that I’ve loved so much in Italy and incorporate them best I can at home. It’s surprising how much Italy you can bring home with you. Like you, taking time to enjoy meals with family and friends is top priority. I love this!

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  • I love this Susan, great observations. You hit the nail on the head – Italy is so special.So many things are better I think, but I know there are also a lot of frustrations that go along with living there. And yet, Italians seem so happy. I think perhaps their slower pace, as opposed to our frenetic pace, may have a lot to do with it? Don’t sweat it, it will get done? Don’t waste the energy?

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    • Hi Rae! Yes, I think it is more of the attitude of the people. Everything will get done, in time. Let’s have a good chat. I love this about them. And yes, Italy has its share of frustrations. But those things that are magical are what keep me coming back.

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      • I hope to experience some of these good things on my next trip….I will have to first learn to be more confident in my solo travel while there. I am confident and more outgoing in my US travels, but next year will be a first for me, and only 2nd trip, in Italy.

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      • Rae, I’m glad you are going solo! You will experience a much more authentic Italy than if you had someone with you. It can be a little uncomfortable at first, but you will find the people so friendly and helpful. Confidence will come with experience. It’s natural to feel more confident at home. I know that I do for sure. My 2nd trip to Italy was solo, and I’m so glad I did it. I thought to myself, if I can travel solo to a foreign country, I can do anything. Very empowering!!

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  • I so agree on everything you state. How blessed we are to experience the Italian way of life. To know that it is different but not better or worse than our lifestyle. But. We love it and can never get enough

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      • When i moved here first, permanently, I wondered about how I would feel about Italy in general, would my feelungs change? Like you, I had been visiting solo for many years. However, though the rose-coloured glasses through which I viewed this beautiful country have been removed to some degree, I love it here more than ever as my knowledge and understanding of the people and culture has grown.

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