Italian Life - The Culture, Traditions and Habits in Italy

Italian Life – The Culture, Traditions and Habits in Italy

Italian Life Caccamo LakeIt has been a little more than a  decade since I left the good old USA  for the Italian life.  Incredibly, I have been recognized as an Italian citizen for eight years now.  I still distinctly remember the day that I received my Italian passport.  It was one of the most memorable and emotional moments in my life.  Many of you have been asking me what it is like living in Italy and being an Italian citizen.  Others have been telling me that I am living their Italian dream.  I must admit that the Italian life can be quite amazing.  However, many cultural, traditional, and habitual differences can make adjusting to Italian life a bit of a challenge.

It goes without saying that when you live in Italy, you should do your best to adapt to its customs.  Afterall, it is your choice to be there, and you should whole-heartedly try to assimilate into your environment.  Of course, the first thing you should do is learn to speak Italian.  Also, refrain from always talking about the way you do things back home.  If Italians are curious about your country’s customs, they will ask you about them.

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Italian Life and Two Big Culture Differences

First of all, living in Italy is quite laid back.  There is a delicate balance between work, family and social life.  However, things tend to move at a very slow pace.  One of the most difficult things to get used to was the “pausa” or midday break.  Everything shuts down in the middle of the day for three or four hours making it very challenging to accomplish daily tasks.  In my American life, I often used my lunch break to go to the bank, run errands, or go shopping.  In my Italian life, I eat lunch, relax, and spend time with friends.  It took some getting used to not continuously multi-tasking.  In the end, I have figured out how to slow down and still get everything done.

Also, going out for dinner in the “Bel paese” carries with it a few quirks.  I noticed this the first time during a visit to Italy.  Keep in mind; most Italians eat dinner around 9:00 pm.  A social night eating out with friends and family can be a 3-hour affair.  It is not unusual to see children running around the restaurants, while the adults eat and socialize.  Strangely, I have never been to an Italian restaurant that does not have at least one TV in the dining room.  The programs are usually the soccer match, variety shows, or talk shows broadcast at maximum volume.  Finally, Italians love karaoke. Don’t be surprised when someone steps up to the microphone and belts out a tune.

Distinct Italian Drinking Traditions

Italian Life SaluteDrinking etiquette in Italy is quite complicated.  There are some unspoken rules that you should follow.  First and foremost, you should wait until everyone has a drink in front of them to make a toast.   After you raise your glass and say “salute”  you can take your first sip.  Remember, when you lift your glass, you must touch the glass of each person while looking them in the eye.  You must not cross over two individuals who are in the act of touching glasses and making eye contact.  Only raise your glass if it contains an alcoholic beverage.  Finally, if drinking out of plastic cups, you should not let the plastic touch.  Rather, you should hold your cup up and pat the back of each other’s hands.

Italian life would not be the same without a frothy cup of cappuccino in the morning.  Notice, that cappuccino is a morning beverage.  Italians take their coffee as serious as they take their food.  I would have to write another blog post to explain all the intricacies of the Italian coffee culture.   On average, an Italian drinks four or five cups a day.  In addition to the morning cappuccino, it is common to have an espresso after lunch and dinner too.  Also, midmorning or midday one might order a “macchiato.”  It is an espresso with a drop of milk added.

Curious Italian Habits That Take Some Getting Used to

I must confess, that I have never owned a scarf in my life until I a moved to Italy.  Now, I have many scarves in a rainbow of colors for every season.  There is always one stashed somewhere in my car and my purse.  Oddly, Italians are intimidated by the wind and what might happen if it hits the back of their neck.  They believe that you will subject yourself to getting a sore throat, stiff neck, or even a fever.  If you see a man strolling down the beach in July with his shirt collar popped up while visiting Italy, you have to ask yourself, is it fashion or is it the wind?

Italian TableIn Italy, your personal space shrinks.  Perhaps, Italians are used to living in tighter quarters, or they are accustomed to crowded public places.  Remember, because of the “pausa” everyone is trying to squeeze their errands in at the same time.  For example, at the supermarket, the person in line behind you may lean on your cart.  Also, when you go to a friends house for dinner, you might find ten people squeezed in around a dinner table for six.

These are just a few of the things that I have adapted to in my Italian life.  At first, they seemed very odd.  However, the more time that I spend here in Italy, the more I understand and appreciate the Italian culture and how it differs from my Italian-American upbringing.  Although Italian culture is in my DNA, for some of the traditions and habits I needed a little adjustment.  What is the strangest Italian habit that you know?  Leave a comment below.

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