Thursday, August 16, 2012

Lessons from Italy

I am sitting in Leonardo DaVinci airport and hating it because I am leaving Rome. I never thought I would fall so in love with a city but it’s happened. It’s hard to explain exactly what it is that makes me want to work on my Italian and move here for the rest of my life. The food probably has a lot to do with it. And the beauty of language and the people and the city.  The way the immense weight of Rome’s 3000-year history informs how people live today. Never before have I had so many emotions leaving a place, and I think that means something important. How that will influence the rest of my life, I’ll just have to see.

Here is my attempt at summarizing what I learned over the past two and a half months.

1.     Take your time. This applies especially to meals. Dinner was the highlight of my day and usually lasted 9-11PM with some flexibility. I usually shared meals with Luke, but also went out to dinner with friends and spent hours talking because no one had anywhere to be. With a late dinner, no one is rushing to run errands afterward, or get more work done, or watch a tv show. Dinner is savored and as leisurely as possible.  Lunch is also leisurely, most shops and businesses close from 1-3 to allow employees to go home, enjoy lunch and possibly a nap. Never mind that sales might be lost during the two-hour downtime, it’s more important to take your time and share a meal with your family.

2.     Get dressed- well. You never know who you’ll run into, even if it’s just a short trip to the grocery store. Most Italian women and a good portion of the men look stunning on a daily basis. Hair is coiffed, jewelry worn, and tons of makeup applied. I always felt like the worst dressed woman in Rome, but it was fascinating just to look at everyone else who walked past.

3.     Indulge. Only eat pizza and pasta, as long as you walk enough you won’t gain weight. In fact, Luke and I both lost weight. Eat gelato. You know you want to.

4.     See the world as beautiful. When I first came to Rome I was tickled every time one the old man at Bar San Callisto called me “bella” when I ordered a cappuccino. Eventually I realized, he calls anyone he likes beautiful. You don’t actually have to be beautiful. Beauty is not just aesthetic, but anything you like is beautiful. The pizza guys down the street called Luke and I “belli” or “grandi” as soon as he started remembering us when we came in!

5.     Drink wine. Italians drink regularly. A cocktail before dinner like a Campari spritz or Aperol spritz, wine with the meal, then a digestivo after such as sambuca or amaro. But with all this drinking, it’s rare to see a drunk Italian (with the exception of the homeless guys). You don’t drink to get drunk. You drink because it compliment the food, because it helps your digestion, because it’s another excuse to sit around with friends and family, and because the wine is cheap and made only a few miles away. In the US it seems like people are either teetotalers, or drink too much. I wonder how we can find a happy medium like the Italians, where alcohol is enjoyed but not abused.

I realize I only spent 10 weeks in Italy, and haven’t even scraped the surface of Italian culture. But what I learned, I loved. And I hope to find a way to carry it over to my life in the US, and maybe some day a life back in Italia.


  1. Bella rhymes with Stella. She's here waiting to see you.

  2. I love this, Laura. The teacher in me is proud of your reflection of your experience. Hope to see you before I leave next Thursday!