Every country has its peculiarities, and it’s not until you’ve lived there for a while that you begin to see and understand them. As an American living in Italy, I’ve had a year to watch the people around me, and there are definitely things I have noticed.
1. People stand in the middle of the street for no reason. The Italian mentality is, “Well it’s my right to stand in the street if I want to, you can go around me if you need to. I’m not actually bothering you, I’m just minding my own business.”
2. They dress for the season, even if the weather does not agree. It can be hot and sunny, but if it’s November, Italians will be wearing their down coats, because it’s fall/winter, even if the sun doesn’t know it.
3. It’s true – the Italian clock runs six minutes slow. And I don’t just mean their watches, I mean the bells for the cathedral near my apartment always chimes at six minutes after the hour.
4. Seasonality is everything. Food is everything here, and if you want something that’s not in season — well, tough luck! They stick with what’s locally grown, so if you want figs in the summer…then too bad.
5. Wine is everywhere. Food and wine are on the same level, because wine is the nectar of the gods, and if you live in Italy you better know which wines are your favorites.
6. The people here love life. I know I live in a touristy city, but I always see people out on the streets no matter the hour — adults, kids, families, everyone! Italians love to be outside and soak in the little joys of life, whether that means playing soccer at the park or eating gelato on the beach, they will make time to enjoy life.
7. Yes, they really do talk with their hands, and they have the best gestures when speaking. They’re very expressive people, and when describing beautiful things it’s like poetry coming from their mouths – everything is about love, romance, and beauty (someone once told me “you look happy today, like you’re in love” though I was just in a good mood).
8. If you are a woman, not a day will pass that you don’t hear “ciao bella” while walking down the street. It’s not harassment, it’s not a booty call – it’s just a “hey you’re a woman, therefore you are beautiful and I have noticed you.” Italian men love to compliment and flatter, and once you realize that they genuinely mean as a compliment, it’s not creepy.
9. The heating is okay and the air conditioning is fans. Partially because the buildings are old and it’s hard to add modern utilities, partially because the Italians are always outside.
10. The best gelato is at the shops that cover it up. If you’ve been to Italy you know what I”m talking about. Some shops have their gelato on display for all the world to see, while others have it in tubs with lids. If they aren’t showing it off, then you know it’s where the locals go and will be really good.
11. Yes, there are cliche men like in the movies — smooth talking, well-dressed, attractive, charming. I’ve only met one, and he’s one of the wine instructors, but by the end of the first day the whole class had a little crush on him.
12. Don’t ever ask them to change or alter a dish at a restaurant. It’s a huge insult to the chef, because to them you’re saying “the dish you have prepared is inadequate” and depending on the restaurant or the dish, they may ask you to leave for wanting your Bistecca Fiorentina cooked medium-well.