I generally try really hard to “blend in” culturally. Yes, I have pale skin and green eyes, but what I lack in swarthiness I gain back in frizzy hair so I can generally pass for just another Italian at a quick glance (at least in my mind). I am a huge proponent for respecting all cultures, but there are some behaviors of mine I just can’t seem to let go of that really bother my beloved Italians. Scusa! Sorry, not so very sorry!
- I skip the cheek kisses. Hold on, don’t murder me just yet. Classic Italian custom is to greet family and friends with il bacetto, or the air/cheek kisses on both sides of the face. I honestly just rarely remember to initiate this. This is one of those things that is so not culturally ingrained in my upbringing that it just doesn’t occur to me to start it up. Usually the hellos and goodbyes go something like me saying my million ciaos (because who could forget those) and then BAM! other person swoops in for face contact and we’re in. Whenever we’re leaving my in-laws we get in the car and my husband invariably checks with me, “did you say goodbye (properly) to my mom and my dad?” and I have to hope that time I did.
- I stand up for other cuisines. Leave it to the middle-class, white, American girl to start a rousing riot by daring to defend American cuisine. NO it’s not all McDonalds and schifezze – not sure exactly but in my head I’ve always translated that as “gross shit”. I also love to throw in a polemical “I like Korean food, too” to really get everyone’s blood pressure up. Because let’s be 1000% honest–there is NO food outside of Italy that is buono and there is basically just no food outside of Italy period.
- I eat whatever I want. I have once actually gone so far as to eat bread with seafood. I know, let the gravity of that egregious felony sink in for a second. Ok, Italy, get over yourself with these unwritten food laws. I made mashed butternut squash chicken taco bowls for dinner and it was funky and it was damn delicious so I don’t care what else you have to say about it.
- I don’t give a shit about making the perfect outfit. I go to the grocery store in January- ONE thing matters- and that is that I have braved the cold. I should be given a damn metal for walking to the store to get milk, regardless of how I was dressed getting there. I am learning to put up with the multiple outfit checks of my husband to better support him as a human wife with a soul, but I truly don’t give a shit if my shoes don’t perfectly match my top. I am not a celebrity so I always reason that no one will notice or care that I don’t look perfect, but in Italy, not so. You not only have to care about the fashion choices of yourself, but also of every soul you encounter in the outside world. WOOooosh.
- I bastardize their coffee. I truly love italian caffe’ just hear me out. I also like my coffee drinking morning ritual to last longer than 3 minutes. I like a big mug of coffee that I can sip even when it’s lukewarm and I’ve long finished breakfast. So when I ran out of filters for my pourover, I started making the ever tedious Moka (stovetop espresso) and pouring boiling water over it like a caffe americano. FOR SHAME. I felt so guilty the first time but now I just can’t stop. It’s the best of both worlds! Like my co-nationals, I love to innovate even if it means ruining tradition.
Cultural unsavvy as ever, I’m reminded that it all takes time. Breathe, gesture, breathe, repeat. I’ll always be an American expat in Italy and trying to force myself to become something I’m not is definitely not the goal. I’m just trying to coexist peacefully in your boot, Italy!
P.S. Korea was not so different, in fact it was way more difficult. Looking back I wrote about it and how sometimes I felt so rejected by society there: Cultural Immersion: Choosing Positivity. In comparison, Italy has been grand to me and plus they have pizza here so bonus.