Getting to know the Italians. A half-serious guide about life in Italy

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Pleasant, nice, welcoming, talkative, sometimes too much. That’s what Italian are, or rather, what we are. We live in a wonderful place, it is a open-air museum: plenty of history, wonderful coasts, charming mountains. What’s the life like here? What makes us genuinely Italian? Actually, both positive and negate traits are worth some reasoning, half-serious, of course!

  • Italian moms: both loving and authoritative at the same time.

All over the world, Italian moms are considered to be loving, caring and very close to their sons! Dads are usually deeply in love with their daughters, but they are less obsessive, let’s say they are used to suffering silently. Italian mommies must play an active role in their children’s lives: “Where are you going? Who are you going with? What are you going to do? When are you coming back?” The same questions for all the children aged 0 to 60m or over!

The thing doesn’t stop when her ‘puppy’ finds a partner. Not at all! It is not time to take a step back! Rather, it is the right time to look after his vulnerable creature even more carefully: “Are you eating enough? You look a bit strained!”. This is what a caring mommy is used to saying to his small big man when she realized that he has lost 100g. They never miss even the tiniest detail.

Of course, not all the moms are like that…but the motto here is “the mom is always the mom!”. Unfortunately, they usually hinder their children’s independence. They teach wonderful things, yet independence is not the main subject. They are happy with living with their children even when they get a good job! Italian moms can’t separate from their sons, indeed: there is always room for one more plate on the table. The most common motto of our families? It is nice to be together!

My husband is one of those “puppies” who was looked after until he was 35. He has got a quite close relationship with his parents as we live nearby: he is used to seeing them every day, after dinner, a sort of ritual. No problems, we have mutual respect. I take advantage of this time and I listen to loud music, I sing as a cracked bell in the shower all alone! 

rome market veggie  

  • Modern teachers: grannies and aprons.

Grannies play a very important role in every Italian’s life. They are much more loving than moms, generally they always take the side of their grandchildren (except a few very strict grannies!): they transmit tradition…with their aprons. Always!

Who has been as lucky as me to be grown up by their granny is a privileged person. Wisdom, good behavior, experience and some clips around the ear, are their bright trademarks.

Southern grannies are a step ahead! Their main job is stuffing you with food as you were a Thanksgiving turkey. You can’t leave their house if you haven’t eaten all what they have cooked.  They are wonderful cooks. These days’ grandmothers experienced the war: they have bright and firm memories about those terrible moments.

Grannies’ love is huge, unlimited. My grannie Lea was a tiny nice woman. I grew up with her mortadella and tortellini with cream (my poor arteries…poor but happy!) because I didn’t like eating very much, so she tried to please with and cooked what I loved! Anyway, she used to make me swallow that I didn’t like with a spoon and then closed my mouth tightly. Despite of my tastes, I grew up healthy, and then I started to eat almost everything. She taught me the essential values of life, and I think that, along with my grandad, she was one of the most meaningful people in my life.

Rome 2019

  • Italian dialect: all what you have to know

Every Italian Region has got its own dialect- some are even ranked as languages and if you don’t live in that places you may not understand them; I am Italian myself but I can’t understand dialects such as those spoken in Sardinia, Sicily, Puglia, or Campania, just to mention a few!

Italian language is usually spoken in the cities, and at work; dialects gain the upper hands and in families, and the thing get complicated! 

As a result, when the Italians travel abroad they have quite unusual, but clearly distinctive accents.

These accents have gone down in history in a lot of films: Roman, Neapolitan, anyway Southern Italian accents! Northern Italy’s accents are less common: they are kinder, similar to French or German, they may be considered less funny or likable than southern ones, but they belong to the Italian tradition as well! When I am abroad people can’t say where I am from- this  sometimes may be a stroke of luck! Of course, although I clearly must improve my English pronunciation, my accent is not typically Italian.

Unfortunately, the typical stereotyped accent makes an “Italian be recognized all over the world” as a sort of jester who speaks loudly, who makes noise and is also a little rude!

I would like to sink through the floor when I see some fellow countrymen who behave rudely, or look for conflicts and put into a difficult position other people. So bad! Luckily these are a minority -Italian people are not like that; we usually behave politely.

Something else I can’t understand about a few Italian people? They are always complaining, it is a sort of national sport! So, although I am Italian, these bad habits don’t belong to me. Thanks to God!

Anyway, we are friendly! We never back down, we are always helpful and collaborative; moreover we are happy all the time, even when we have just woken up! We are extrovert, very very cheerful!  We are open and try to make friends wherever we are; we are definitely emotional- we cry, get angry (everybody can see and hear that), we make up again, and laugh!

  • Moving our hands: gesticulating is written on our DNA

When we want to make our ideas stronger, we don’t only speak more loudly, we also underline them by moving our hands. We are just used to, as we are used to breathing! If we can express our ideas by using hands, we don’t even speak!

Sasha, a close friend of mine from Atlanta, has pointed it out. When she speaks, her hands are still along her body, or, at least she just moves them delicately; whereas my hands fly as I had to catch any insects around me!

We could communicate without using our voice! Sometimes, we try to blend in, but… nothing we can’t go unnoticed, and we don’t even realize it! 

  • The meals, a ritual: we must have our meals quietly otherwise we get annoyed!

Mealtimes are somehow holy. Shops close at noon- having to stay open at noon is regarded as a sort of torture, something which deserves plenty of mercy and compassion.

So, breakfast, lunch and dinner make the Italians’ world stop. Well-laid table, clean tablecloths (only those stains the washing machine can’t remove are allowed!!), napkins, forks, knives, glasses. Everything must have its place!

In Italy, if you don’t sit at the table and have a full meal-pasta, meat with a side plate, dessert and coffee, you are not worth of any consideration! We hardly ever have main courses, but food is served in separated dishes. And we don’t eat spaghetti with meatball, definitely: we have spaghetti and after that, in another plate, meatballs.

We quietly enjoy our food, we slowly taste and appreciated the dishes we are eating: that’s what makes the difference between us and the other people all over the world. It takes about 20 minutes, we have our food, watch TG news and talk about the day with our family. Of course some workers have lunch in the company canteen or alone by their office desks, anyway but we always take a break and focus on what we are eating.

Dinner is usually consumed at home; it is quieter and more abundant than lunch (sometimes too abundant!): food is home made, we hardy ever have ready-to-go or take away meals.

Phone must be off, nobody can’t ring the bell, neither Amazon courier…otherwise we are not happy…at all!

  • When does an Italian get angry when eating?

A few simple but meaningful things must never happen when Italian people are having their meals! It is a sort of religion, not a vice.

  • Overcooked pasta: “mamma mia!”, no! Thumb down. A hell may be risen. People in Northern Italy may pretend nothing happened, whereas in the South of Italy a riot may break out.
  • If there is no bread on the table, we feel as naked as we were walking down the street without pants. No bread is accepted only if you are on a low calorie diet, at least a small loaf must be on the table. We can manage to ask our neighbors for it. That’s the reason why we always keep a piece of (even stale) bread in the freezer, or in the pantry!
  • The bread mustn’t be placed upside down! It is sacrilege, a sign of bad luck! A sudden catlike movement brings it back to its natural position!
  • Saltless bread is allowed only in Tuscany, paired with very salty ham. In all the other parts of Italy unsalted bread is confined to sad hospital diets, which makes them sadder;
  • Frozen pizza…we opt for no pizza at all! Frozen pizza is regarded as a heresy. Commercial on Tv has been trying to convince us that frozen pizza is as tasty as fresh one…nobody believes it!
  • Watery pasta sauce: we can’t enjoy sauce without a thick texture! We’d better opt for some burnt sauce than water on the bottom of the pasta bowl.
  • On Sunday lunch is never before 1.30 pm and the dessert must come at the end of the meal! It is not Sunday without a good sweet!
  • The aperitif before dinner: Italian conviviality

After a long challenging day, before gettin back home, we are used to meeting friends for a drink even during the week, we take about the day and relax. Personally, I am not used to, as I work from home, but it is a very enjoyable habit for a lot of people. It takes place from 6pm to 6.30 in a few nice bars, often outdoor. A glass of white wine, or some delicious soft drinks are paired with tempting small salty snacks we call “stuzzuichini”- olives, small pieces of pizza, small sandwiches which come in several shapes, crisps and so on.

It is also a gathering moment among friends before to plan the Saturday night. It is a happy cheerful time; the squares of our main cities gets crowded with people waiting for the dawn.

  • About the traffic, the confusions, and plenty of other things

I have been to a lot of cities around the world- driving through their main cities, for instance in the US or in Ireland, is a real boon, whereas, in Italy, things get complicated.

A quite famous equation says: “Traffic lights in Milan are indications, in Rome suggestions, in Naples Christmas lights!” Just think, what mess!

Multiple overtakings, cars which are never outdistanced enough; a tourist thinks he has been thrown into a jungle!

Driving usually fosters the use of swear words- car is a place where even the shiest and well-mannered people, as my dad is, practice this a quite explicit and strong language. Yes, me too!

Anyway, in Northern Italy  where the streets are better and larger, we are more respectful and careful drivers, but driving in Central or Southern Italy, islands included, requires special skills (please, remind I am Italian). In Naples, a city I am deeply in love with, chaos just prevails- some Neapolitan friend of mine recognized it and joke about that. Yet, it is a sort of ruled chaos- although no common driving rules are respected, everyone has got their own, they do work and the common safety is safeguard. People in Naples usually come back home sound and safe after driving all they long. Generally speaking, they are addicted to their horns which sounds -every single second! When the traffic light gets green, unless you jerk towards in half a second, thousand horn will sound in unison; don’t worry, you are not the guilty one- sounding the horn is a rule!

Happiness, cheerfulness, having fun, and a lot of noise. Before hiring a car in Italy think about it, carefully!

A shop in Rome

  • Guests are holy, if you are invited to someone’s place, you will be always very welcomed.

In Italy this is a rule: if you come around, you are welcomed in grand style. Plenty of kisses, hugs, smiles are waiting for you. Then the coffee: short, strong and very hot, with a little sugar, or honey. Just say” coffee” and it will suddenly appear in a nice small cup just right in front of you. You don’t like coffee, so keep silence and you may be offered some tea or herbal tea (in Northern Italy, but you may risk of being sent to hospital if you refuse coffee in Southern Italy).

If you come around for lunch or dinner, get ready because you will have to eat plenty of food! Most of all, if you are in the South of Italy, you can’t say: “No, thanks”, you have to taste everything, and you should even have a second serving. You may think that in Italy people are just focused on eating, a

nd eating too much; well this is true on non-working days, on holidays, when we want to celebrate something special. Guests, most of all if they come from afar, are something special and we want to make a good impression.

Do not dare say no, you don’t want to hurt yo

ur host’s feeling, do you? You may fast the following days, but accept everything if you don’t want to experience hard times.

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