Being a British expat living ‘la dolce vita’ in Italy, I see many cultural differences between the two countries, so I thought I’d share some of my observations with you!
When an Italian friend says ‘arrivo‘, which means ‘I’m arriving’, what they actually mean is, they’re running late and haven’t even left the house yet!
If a workman say ‘vengo domani‘, ‘I’ll come tomorrow’, that could be tomorrow, the next day, next week or you’ll have to call another time to rearrange because they’ve forgotten about the urgent plumbing work you called about in the first place.
Food, everyone knows Italians love their food (Italian food is the best in the world, according to Italians!!! Although many have never tried food from another country!) Spending time with family and friends is one of the most important things to them and ‘Nonna’ and ‘Mamma’ will spend hours preparing a loving meal for the whole family to enjoy. Eating light is not an option because you run the risk of upsetting ‘Nonna/Mamma’.
Lunch is usually the largest meal of the day, which is why everything closes for 4 or so hours. Everyone rushes home at 1pm to sit down together with the whole family, to eat pasta (yes, most people eat pasta every day), sometimes followed by a ‘seconda’, a piece of fish or meat with a salad or grilled vegetables. Which, incidentally, is eaten separately, not like the English, where everything is piled high on one plate. Then, a large bowl of fresh fruit usually follows this course and is placed in the centre of the table for people to pick and choose what they want. This is the general format during the week, extra courses are often served on Sundays.
Dinning out with friends or family is another story. British people invariably go out to dinner between 8pm-9pm (unless they have had a skin full, then they head to the curry house after the pubs/clubs close around 1am-2am!). Italians eat late, very late, I have been out for dinner about 9pm, have had a leisurely dinner, washed down with a glass or two of wine, and left the restaurant around 11-11:30pm. As I’m leaving, the Italians are just arriving for dinner!!! Little kids in tow too!
When drinking with Italians it’s important to look them in the eye when clinking glasses, it’s a sign of sincerity to wish them all the best. In England our eyes follow the glass to ensure we don’t spill a drop! ‘Facciamo un brindisi‘ ‘Let’s make a toast’, is an old maritime phrase which is still used today but it was used to wish sailors a safe return journey home. Brindisi is also a large port in Puglia near my home, so this phrase is used frequently in this area. Other words used for cheers; ‘salute‘ and ‘cin cin‘ (which is my personal favourite, because it sounds very chic!)
Now, onto relationships; Casanova springs to mind straightaway! Broadly speaking, women are viewed as objects of desire and men are compelled to conquer their desires.
Giacomo Casanova quoted:
This Giacomo Casanova quote sums up the cat and mouse game played out between many Italian men and women. Men here are very open about how they feel about a women and make no effort to curb their desires. They are charming, direct and know exactly what they want……..(I’ll let you fill in the blanks!). Some women fall for their charms, others resist, at least for a while!
This leads me nicely onto the next cultural observation; jealousy. A lack of trust due to the high possibility of infidelity, drives Italian men and women to be insanely jealous of each other. I was out with an Italian couple once and she excused herself from the table to go to the bathroom. A moment later her husband did the same. I didn’t think much of it until half an hour or so later, he excused himself again. ‘Are you ok?’ I asked, thinking he must be feeling unwell as he’d just been to the toilet. ‘Yes, I’m fine, I just need to go to the bathroom’. Turns out he didn’t go to the bathroom earlier, he just followed his wife because he noticed another guy looking at her and he followed her to the bathroom. So the husband followed directly behind him to ensure he didn’t try to make a move on his wife! Apparently, this behaviour is very common! Hilarious!
Well, that’s all for now. There are many other culture differences, feel free to share your experiences here too!