This is not Italy round 1. I’ve lived here before, twice actually! In 2012 I studied in Siena for 4 months while living with a local Italian family and then in 2015, I came back to Italy to be an Au Pair and lived with a different Italian family. I’ve done the cultural immersion thing before and “succeeded”. This is not round 1. And yet…there always seems to be another cultural faux pas hiding up my sleeve. Here are 5 things I’ve learned about Italy in the past few months.
- Pretend like you’ve been using a bidet your whole life. Just do it, trust me. The second you start trying to explain that these don’t exist in the United States you’ll be met with shock and hygiene horror equivalent only to how your face would look if someone told you they have never before used handsoap. Cultural hygiene concepts vary the world around and there are certainly many places that get along without hand soap. However, this is not the discussion you want to have with your new Italian In-Laws. Just go with me here-not that I know from experience or anything..
- Take a number and speak up. The number of situations in Italy where you will need to take a numerino (number) and fare la fila (wait in the “line”) is astonishing. From the post office to the meat counter at the grocery store, if you want something, you need to learn how to wait in “line” and run to the counter when it’s your turn and speak loudly enough to be heard. Seems simple- HA! I’ve still got to get used to telling the people at the grocery store to give me what I want (mi da questo // give me this) instead of asking in an “I would like this, please” sort of fashion. Italy doesn’t wait around for the meek and that means the nonna (grandma) with the number after you will not hesitate to step in at your slightest hesitation and steal that last slice of pizza you were working up the nerve to order.It should be stated as a universal truth that there’s no room in the Italian language for half-assed, passive-aggressive comebacks, wimpy insults, or mild-mannered statements in general.
- Say hello and sometimes kiss. Somehow this continues to be a tricky one for me. I never seem to know when it’s appropriate or not even though it is becoming ever more apparent to me that when in doubt, say hello! I’m not trying to say hi to every stranger on the street, but I guess some but not all my neighbours, that is the people who live in my building, all of whom are strangers to me, qualify in the category of necessary greetings. Family members are easy, but don’t dream of even once forgetting to include a hello, goodbye, or we’ll talk soon on behalf of everyone present, rude, very rude. And don’t even get me started on when it’s expected to kiss on the cheeks- for the life of me this never comes naturally to me. “Christine says hi, her family says hi, her parents’ dogs say hi, too!” Good manners are always fashionable.
- Matching is the highest form of style. Whether it’s a trendy outfit or a tasty spice mix, Italians go bananas over a great abbinamento (outfit/match/flavor combination). Trying out new food pairings is acceptable only to a certain point, apparently- NON SI MANGIA MAI IL PANE CON IL PESCE (one never eats bread with fish). There are some customs I’m keen on following and others I couldn’t give a shit about. I’ll eat bread when I damn please.
- Don’t use the oven whenever you feel like it. There is a time slot that is sort of like the guide to when it is the least convenient in normal life to use appliances. From 7 at night until 8 in the morning, you save money whereas during weekdays you’re paying the most for your high electricity consuming appliances such as the oven, washing machine, etc. This means coordinating cooking dinner and washing your clothes now becomes a high-stakes scheduling conflict- to eat or have clean clothes? That is the question.
There will inevitably be more to add to this list. Maybe one day I’ll look like a natural, but in the meantime, I’ll keep messing up and I’ll keep laughing about it!