A lot changed when I moved to Italy, not least of which myself. Over these three years I’ve grown personally, and I’ve also grown geographically. I’ve assimilated many Italian habits and beliefs, for better or worse. Here are some of the American habits I lost along the way:
1) Enjoying personal space
Moving to Italy means that my hands, arms and personal breathing space are no longer mine. I no longer expect people waiting in line behind me at the supermarket to be sure to leave an appropriate amount of space. Actually, I expect them to bump me with their bellies or carts. Conversations will be held at a very close distance to my face and older people are sure to hold my hand while we talk. The entire time.
2) Wearing flip-flops
In Italy the most important thing in any meeting is to make a bella figure, or a “beautiful” first impression. This absolutely can’t be done if you’re not dressed well. Dressing well isn’t just for the rich or snobby, it’s for everyone, and is a sign of respect for yourself and others. Put the thin rubber flip-flops away, stick to neutral colors and dress for your body type.
3) Being on time
Far too often we hear, “Sorry can’t talk, I’m late.” Americans have things to do and they have them now. Italians, on the other hand, would rather be late than not finish a conversation. Life is to be lived fully and, apparently, slowly. It’s clear that a 7:30 p.m. dinner part will start at 8 and 5-15 minutes late is considered on time. I was raised arriving to places five minutes early, now I know better than to show up “on time”.
4) Holding polite small talk with strangers
The Midwest cordials that I’m used to don’t apply in Milan, Italy, or the rest of Italy for that matter. There are too many people to constantly be asking, “how are you?” and the question is deemed too personal anyhow. Polite small talk with strangers isn’t a requirement. I don’t know you, and I don’t want to act like I do.
5) Eating a big breakfast
Though I’ve always loved my eggs for breakfast, I can no longer even stand the smell of eggs in the morning. Breakfast is time for a small coffee – at most a cappuccino – and maybe a croissant, toast or some cookies to wash it down with. At most you can add a cigarette. Gone are the big salty breakfasts, give me something small and sweet.
6) Drinking to oblivion
Of course Italians will have their teen years of discotecas and too many mixed drinks, but in general Italians don’t binge drink like Americans. Drinking is done openly and alcohol is available at nearly all ages, so it’s not such a forbidden fruit like it is in America. Enjoy a few beers at a cook out with friends, get mixed drinks while out dancing or have a girls night with wine, but there’s no need to exaggerate.
7) Driving nicely
To drive in Italy means you have to drive like an Italian. Driving like an Italian means that the speed limit is just a suggestion, road lines mean next to nothing and it’s always a race to the front. Gone are the days of letting people go first just to be nice, slow four way stops and following the speed limits perfectly. In Italy it isn’t safe to drive too slow and driving nicely won’t get you anywhere.