I found travel notes from my first visit to Italy two and a half years ago, and they made me smile. It’s supercool to review my own first impression. From food to kissing strangers – sharing them with you here, along with updates from this trip.
1. Mangia, mangia!
Eat, eat! Chances are you will hear these words more than once when you are visiting Italy. It is all about food.
What did you eat? When did you eat last? Did you eat? Eat! What are we going to eat tomorrow?
The following exchange explains it all:
“This is too much!”, I protest as Italian’s uncle is piling pasta on my plate. “This is Calabria!”, he says matter-of-factly, and continues to build a pasta pile.
“What if we don’t finish?”, I try to prepare him for the inevitable. He shrugs, and says something in Italian, that leaves my husband roaring with laughter.
“What did he say?”, I inquire. Italian translates: “A little bit of forcing yourself, a little bit of courage – see what you can do!”.
2. Wine like water.
White wine with fish, red wine with everything else.
Red wine IS like water. It is served with lunch and dinner. It contains alcohol, but is not treated as alcohol. There is no toasting, or big whoop around its consumption. It is simply what you drink with a meal. Yet, it does not seem like a big deal to turn down wine either. The couple of times that we chose not to drink wine with lunch or dinner, nobody blinked an eye. Turning down pasta would be a bigger deal.
3. For the love of bread.
Bread is served to the table before anything else (at least in the South). However, you do not get butter or olive oil for dipping. The latter seems to be the interpretation of North America.
4. Coffee is great. Everywhere.
There is a fancy espresso machine at every pizza joint, at every cafe, at every gas station. Coffee is great. [You probably know that I feel differently about this one now].
5. The kissing.
Oh, the quintessential Italian kissing.
This one I got down, finally. The trick is to remember to lean your head to the right first, allowing the person to kiss your left cheek first, then right. After few practice runs, you won’t even have to think about it.
Kissing strangers may or may not still be weird, but at least you won’t butt heads with them.
6. TV and game shows.
Unlike Holland, where most people speak English, so nobody bothers dubbing the shows, and you just see the Dutch subtitles. here everything is dubbed in Italian. It’s quite hilarious to watch American born and bred boys chatter away in Italiano, and Japanese cartoon characters make an even creepier impression than usual.
Game shows are numerous. I grow especially fond of E-rudite, which is something between Wheel of Fortune and Trivia show, after catching it every night for a week, while staying with hubby’s family in Calabria. [Update: E-rudite is alive and well, and hubby’s family still watches it every night].
7. Hot water takes a while.
Hot water takes forever. Is this a thing?
I spend the first four minutes of taking a shower, standing outside, naked and shivering, trying to figure out which direction to turn the knob in, because it all seems equally cold. Turn to the left, wait. Turn to the right, wait. Attempt to assess the slightest differences in temperature.
[Update: I now know that this is mostly due to the different type of water heaters used in Italy – most of them produce hot water on demand, which takes a bit of time as cold water runs through, and heats up. In North America, hot water tanks keep water hot all the time, and when it runs out, you need to wait for the tank to refill and reheat itself].
Coming to Italy, I thought I knew all the words I needed to: grazie, bella, espresso, vino, pizza.
Turns out there are a couple of words that I would need more: in salate, no, basta.
For someone who doesn’t speak more than ten words of Italian, I am pretty impressed with my own ability to understand a solid 10% of any conversation (sometimes more, depending on context). Update: My vocabulary is somewhere in the dozens (all that without formal instruction or intentional learning ahead of time. I am able to get one or two sentences into a simple conversation, if the content is somewhat predictable – e.g. cashier asking if I need a bag or not vs. asking if I have change, or the guy at the pizza stand, asking if I’d like the slice heated up. I continue to impress myself.
However, I wonder how much learning Italian would actually help me in the South. I can understand when Italian speaks, as he enunciates the words, and speaks slower. Calabrians, on the other hand, slur their speech, swallow sounds, words, and produce a loud cacophony of staccato.
The funny thing I learn this time around is that Calabria IS the deep south of Italy – similar to that of the United States, together with “funny sounding accent” that the rest of the country pokes fun at.
9. Tiny cars.
It seems that the tiny shitty cars that everyone drives around here is to serve a purpose – get around. This is very unlike the huge status symbol cars that you see in North America. Perhaps, it is more of a small town thing. I’d be able to confirm once I visit Milan and Rome.
Update: It is NOT a small town thing. When you run into a “regular size” sedan here, it look gigantic. Italian is in love with Fiats and Alpha Romeos – small, cute, compact.
10. Beautiful weather.
It is November. It is +20C. I could not be happier.
Update: It’s middle of March, and it’s +16C. It is spring. The weather is what we get in Ontario by mid-May, if all goes well. It is reminiscent of North California – dry, sunny. Yep, totally in love with this weather.