Seven Stereotypes about the Italian Lifestyle That Are Actually True
As an American who lived in Italy for a year, I now have insight into the Italian lifestyle from an insider’s perspective. I got to know the Italians I met and befriended from close-up, walking on side streets and interacting with vendors, listening to exchanges between friends in the piazza and conversing with roommates over dinner or gelato. I arrived in Italy with certain images of what I expected Italy and Italians to be like, and from my experience, a few of my pre-conceived notions turned out to be true. Below are a few stereotypes that held up throughout the time I spent living as Italians do.
- Italians talk with their hands. Indeed, gestures are an integral part of the language. Frequently used examples include the motions for “What the heck are you doing?” and “You’re crazy!” and “This is delicious!” According to some Italians, using hand motions to accompany speech is second nature or even subconscious, and sometimes, certain things simply cannot be expressed with words.
- The language is as diverse as the landscape. While all deriving from a “standard” Italian, dialects ranging from north to south, from countryside to city centers, can be unrecognizable to native Italian speakers who live in different geographic areas. Distinct dialects exist in Sardinia, Calabria, Piedmont, Liguria, Sicily, Naples, and Venice, to name a few. The spoken Italian understood as “standard” dates back to Dante Alighieri’s La Divina Comedia, which he wrote in the Florentine or Tuscan dialect as opposed to the traditional Latin the elite and well-educated used at the time. Dante’s text was therefore accessible to Italians from many areas and social classes, and his language gave rise to a more widely spoken and written Italian.
- Family comes first. Children get dismissed from school at lunchtime so that they can go home for a home-cooked meal with family members, to be enjoyed at a leisurely time and place in the day. Shops in many areas, particularly smaller villages, will close for as many as several hours in the middle of the day for the same reason. Many Italian households are home not only to parents and children but extended family members too. And while the statistics of women in the workplace have risen rapidly in recent years, the mother remains the central figure in the Italian family and the core in the Italian household.
- Vespas (the small, sleek, Italian version of a motorcycle) are everywhere. And they are often the fastest way to get around, whether you are a student or a businesswoman wearing five-inch heels on the way to work or even a tourist. Driving is tricky enough in Italy, with all of its narrow side streets hardly big enough for one European car, and Vespas can navigate hard-to-reach passages and the spaces in between cars. Often referred to as a scooter or motorino, a Vespa is also much more efficient to park.
- Italians drive fast. Really fast. This trend has been partly attributed to a general disregard for road rules, and although Italy leads the world in some of the most popular and iconic car models, (like the Fiat) it has a higher than average death rate from car accidents compared to the European Union’s other countries.
- Passion is a key ingredient in seemingly every aspect of Italian life. Passion for people, for language, for family, and for food. In addition to the gestures and the deep-rooted respect for tradition in social, religious, and culinary values, there’s a reason the Italian language sounds so expressive: every syllable is pronounced in Italian. Unlike the related romance language of French, in which many letters are silent, Italian is spoken as it is written, which almost always results in a vibrant and pronounced emphasis in the way Italians talk and act.
- Just as Italians value authenticity and simplicity in their culinary traditions, they observe certain rules of eating that allow such standards to endure. For example, it is forbidden to put cheese on any dish that includes fish. The Parmesan shakers at American pizzerias might make Italians wince too; in Italy, there is no such thing as cheesing your pizza. Certain sauces should also only be paired with certain pastas. Bolognese – the tomato-based meat sauce from Emilia Romagna – is made for tagliatelle, as in the traditional staple in Bologna, tagliatelle al ragù. It is never served with spaghetti in Italy, although spaghetti bolognese has become an Americanized favorite. Coffee “to go” also does not exist. In fact, the culture around “to go” does not really exist; Italians like to savor what they eat and drink, and they necessarily take a little extra time to do so. Whereas Americans race from one place to the next, taking their to-go coffee with them, Italians stop and stay al bar even for the few sips that make up un espresso. They may stand at the counter to drink one, but they drink the espresso there, in the café, rather than taking it out.
City Speakeasy Italian Teacher Alison S
This article was written by City Speakeasy’s amazing Italian teacher Alison! Check our City Speakeasy’s upcoming Italian Classes in NYC that you can take with Alison!