Ah…finally… Now I get to talk about the things I LOVE about Italy, and there are so many I can’t fit them all in here, so I’ll just touch on a few of the little things that add up to make this place so special to me.
Yes, it is true that most of the western world is fairly obsessed with coffee and the fun of meeting friends, or just hanging around, in a cafe all day. But honestly, no one understands coffee like Italians.
You can come into a bar and hang out for an hour if you like, or you can do what most Italians do several times a day: stop in for a quick shot and be on your way. Either way, there is just no comparison to an Italian coffee bar anywhere else. And you will never, ever get a Grande or a Venti in Italy!
Olives, Cheese and Everything Else on the Table…
I can’t find my favorite sweet green olives outside Italy (I know you’re saying yuck! Olives shouldn’t be sweet. Try one!!! Sweet really just means not getting a spoonful of salt in each one). There are some places in Los Angeles where you can pay an arm and a leg for some mediocre, not quite the same, olives. But the good ones don’t leave Italia.
Cheese… real buffalo mozzarella, scamorza, fior di latte and genuine ricotta that doesn’t even resemble the stuff that comes in a plastic tub next to the cottage cheese at the supermarket. Don’t even get me started on the cheese!
Olive oil so good you can drink it, al dente pasta that you can chew, mattonelle (literally, tiles) pastries with ham and cheese between light, flaky layers, cornetti (croissants) fresh out of the oven, and pizza piled high with arugula and fresh mozzarella…
I’ve been around the world and NOWHERE else have I ever seen Zona Rosa. What is it, you ask? It is a sign designating reserved (street) parking for pregnant women. Pretty cool, I think. Don’t know if I’ll ever be personally taking advantage of Zona Rosa, but seriously it must be such a pain driving and parking and moving around with that huge belly weighing you down. So brava to Italia for thinking of it.
Italian hospitality is unsurpassed, with unrivaled attention to every detail, generosity and genuine caring spirit. An Italian host anticipates their guests’ every need and whim and provides graciously. Guests are well-cared for and well fed. So well fed, that I started writing about food in Italy, as part of this already very long post about the many things I love about Italia, and have decided that will have to be another story on its own. Coming soon…
Cinema all’Aperto and the Passeggiata
Italians love being out of the house. Dining outdoors is a favorite pastime here, as is the evening passeggiata, or stroll. In the evenings, the piazzas fill up with beautiful people dressed nicely, basically out to see and be seen and meet friends. The cinema all’aperto (outdoors) is a wonderful institution here. In the summertime there are regular screenings, in Rome on the Isola Tiberina, in Matera outside the city at an ancient stadium. I am a huge fan of movies, and there is nothing like seeing a movie on a huge screen in a beautiful setting with the stars above your head and the fresh nighttime air kissing your cheeks after hot, sticky summer day.
I’ve been studying and speaking Italian for some years now, and I love noticing the little differences between the way things are expressed in Italian and English. Some of them confound me, because they are backwards for English speakers, but even still, they honestly make more sense. For example, if you want to say you like something in Italian, you say mi piace, which literally means, it pleases me. Which does make more sense than saying you like something because really, who is doing the work? How do you actively like something? And if you stop liking something, isn’t it because it stops being pleasing to you?
What’s really difficult for me, though, is Missing Something. Mancare means to lack, and it is reflexive, which means that I have to say mi manca (it is lacking to me, i.e., I miss it). Ok, not so difficult. Until you get to past and conditional tenses, and remember that the past participle is conjugated according to the person or thing you missed, not you. Sound confusing? It is! For example, if I missed you (a boy), I would say mi sei mancato, NOT mi sono mancata, which would mean I missed myself (a girl).
Moving on, last word about this lovely language. Okay, two last things. One: there is no word in Italian for lonely. And two: you only say I Love You (ti amo) to one person. Everyone else you care about (friends, family, etc.) gets ti voglio bene. Quite literally, I want you well. And best of all, if you put in any effort whatsoever into speaking their language, Italians will reward you with a very appreciative and enthusiastic “Brava!”
Tipping…una mancia, no mania!
The tip (la mancia) is always included in Italy. Of course, they’ve had enough American tourists coming in over the last half century that of course they won’t turn down a tip, but it’s not expected. I’ve asked and verified this with Italian friends. Haircuts, spa treatments, dinner. No adding 20 percent to your bill for the weilder of the scissors and the bringer of the drinks. Nope. Not here. You can give a couple of bucks if you want, for extraordinary service, but the tip is included. Good for me because I don’t have to worry about it, but also good for them because their livelihood is not contingent upon the generosity (or lack of it) of strangers.
People and Culture
Italy is not the most beautiful country in the world. Beautiful, absolutely, but then so is Malaysia, Thailand, Colombia, and a whole heap of other places. Italy’s biggest asset, and what makes it so special, even beyond any of the other things mentioned in this article, is its people. Warm, friendly, enthusiastic and kind people. More curious than suspicious, more flexible than structured, and more easy going than rigid, and a whole lot of fun.
Italians are flashy. They love bright colors, shiny shoes, big sunglasses and purses, fur trimmed coats and tight pants. Beauty is prized, appreciated and acknowledged. No one leaves the house in sweat pants. My friend Angela summed it up for me when we were out shopping one day. We saw a beautiful pair of shiny red shoes in a store window. “They’re beautiful,” she said, and I agreed. “But when would I ever wear them?” I said, not really a question but rather a statement. “You have to understand, Italian women don’t wait for special occasions to wear beautiful things. They wear them simply because they own them. Going to the supermarket? Put on those beautiful shoes and go!”
Men carry man purses and aren’t afraid to be fashionable. Color coordinated, flashy, and of course everything is tight.
24 Hour Clock
Ah, yes, remember Dumb and Dumber, when Jim Carey’s character is sitting in the bar at 10am, waiting for the girl? Hours later when he gives up, his friend tells him, “No, no, she said she’d be there at 10pm! Who meets in a bar at 10am, silly!” And Jim Carey replies, “Well, I just figured she was a raging alcoholic!”
(Okay, so that was maybe a really bad paraphrase, but hopefully the Farrelly Brothers will forgive me on the merit that I am a huge fan and have watched this movie hundreds of times in three different languages…)
And once you’ve had a similar mishap or misunderstanding due to the ambiguity of the 12 hour clock, you too will be a big fan of the very clear 24 hour clock. I’m either meeting you at 10.00 or at 22.00 and there is no vagueness about that.
Rules are simply there. They aren’t there to be followed, they are simply there to pretend that there is some kind of organization in place. In fact, many things can be “arranged.” And why not indeed?
Unlucky number… 17?
No idea why, but number 13 means nothing in Italy, and number seventeen is up there with black cats and walking under ladders.
The Man is the Man
Okay, I love this one, and it shouldn’t be last, although a lot of people may disagree with me here. I find it absolutely entertaining that the Man is the Man.
If I want to get ice cream and he accompanies me, and gets an ice cream with me even though he doesn’t really love ice cream, and I try to pull out money, it’s almost insulting. “But it was my idea. I’m the one who wanted ice cream.” “But I’m the man.”
I know it probably sounds silly, but the good thing is, they aren’t stupid. Deep down they know that the Woman is the Boss. Seriously… I am a strong woman and I am all for equal rights, but I’m also not running out to burn my bra or shave my head. I LIKE for the man to be the man. I’m a lady. What happened to all those sweet little intricacies of gentlemanly and ladylike interaction between men and women? I WANT the Man to be the Man, because if HE is not the man, what does that make me?