June 27


Live Like an Italian

By Rick

June 27, 2013

italian livingOne of the great things about having a blog is that you (virtually) encounter a diverse cross-section of people from all over the world that you would have otherwise never met.  I particularly enjoy getting feedback from Italians.  While they don’t always agree with everything that I write about their country and their culture (justly so), they do seem to appreciate my efforts to improve cross-cultural understanding and share my thoughts with others in this public forum.

I recently received an email from a woman named Daniela who owns a language school in the Veneto, about 20 kilometers from Venice.  She had bought and read my silly little eBook, “Live Like an Italian” and found it to be “useful and funny,” in her words.  She did, however, have a few comments regarding some of my observations.  I’d like to share some of her thoughts here today and ask that anybody reading—whether Italian or non-Italian—to voice your opinions on these details, as well.

Live like an ItalianIn Chapter 1, I mentioned that it is correct to say “buongiorno” before lunch and “buonasera” after.  It was my attempt to identify a discernible criteria.  Silly me.  It seems that this “rule,” like so many others in Italy, is subject to interpretation.  Daniela replied: I don’t say “buonasera” after lunch.  It’s very difficult to understand the good moment of the day to start using “buonasera”, and the only rule is that it’s used when it’s dark.  In the afternoon many people use “buongiorno” and others “buonasera”.

And at the end of the chapter, I omitted a very important point, which Daniela kindly brought to my attention:  You talked about “In bocca al lupo!” It’s really very important to reply “Crepi (il lupo)!” If you don’t say it, that means bad luck!!  (It seems I’m practically begging for the malocchio.)

In Chapter 2, I talked about the many different options for ordering coffee in a bar.  Caffè normale (espresso), cappuccino, caffellatteetc.   But in Daniela’s opinion:  Instead of “caffellatte,” in a bar we order a “latte macchiato.”  In my opinion “caffellatte” is what you drink in the morning at home without “schiuma.”

In Chapter 3 I mentioned that as an American, I just can’t get used to not leaving a tip at a bar.  I always feel like I’m being cheap if I don’t leave a proper gratuity.   She confirmed this: Yes, you are right: only Americans tip!  (At least I got this one correct.)

In Chapter 4, she took exception to my rant against the Italian Post Office: The main difference from Rome/south of Italy/big towns and the north of Italy are services: what I mean is that generally post offices work well in the north of Italy (like in my area: they are not crowed, “your number is relevant,” people are kind and helpful, and you can buy stamps!!). Wow, who knew?

In Chapter 7, I talk about “il giorno di riposo,”  the traditional extra half-day where many businesses close in Italy.  She outlined the normal standards for the North of Italy: Many shops close at lunch time: in the north of Italy they generally open from 8:30 to 12:30 and 15:30 (16 in summer) to 19:30.  Prada, no! They are open from 10 to 19:30 every day and in Venice on Sundays, too.  The “giorni di riposo” in my area are: Monday morning for clothing/shoes/accessories/bookshops, Wednesday afternoon for fruit/food shops.

rick zullo aperitivo
Lo Spritz Campari a Venessia

In Chapter 14, I expounded on my adoration for the Italian custom of the aperitivo.  In this one case, she didn’t tell me anything that I didn’t already know.  She probably hasn’t read my article about Campari cocktails.  I may not know everything, but I DO know about aperitivo!  Still, she felt obliged to inform me that:  The typical “aperitivo” in Veneto is “spritz” made from Prosecco, water and Aperol (or sometimes Campari).  We eat “cicchetti” with it: a slice of bread with vegetables, prosciutto, salami, or fish.

I’d like to thank Daniela for taking the time to write to me and giving me yet another perspective on Italy and how to truly live like an Italian.  Learning about this rich culture will always be an ongoing process, and I welcome all constructive input.

As I mentioned, Daniela operates a language school called JOYFULIT in the Veneto, in the province of Treviso.  Her website is extremely informative, touching on topics ranging from local history, to food traditions, to the nuances of the Italian language.  (I’ve been reading it myself lately to brush up on my Venetian history.)  If you’re considering a language school experience in the north of Italy, have a look at her school and tell her that Rick sent you.

And again, if there’s anybody else out there who wants to contribute to this conversation, I invite all opinions, questions, and even criticisms.  Please leave a comment below. Try to keep it clean and civil.  Grazie!

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About the author

Living in the Caput Mundi and trying to decipher Italian culture for the English speaking world.

  • I used to order caffe latte too and inevitably would arrive as a luke warm bowl of milk with a hint of coffee. I asked why that was eventually and was told that what I actually was looking for would either be called a cappuccino senza schiuma or a caffe macchiato as your reader pointed out. Though if I went somewhere other than my usual place if I ordered a caffe macchiato it would be an espresso with a little schiuma and not a larger one like the lattes back in the States.
    This was in Sicily so I’m not sure how regional it is, but I suspect it is something that varies from bar to bar.
    And I tipped like an American in most situations. It would actually function the way tipping was originally meant to. To Insure Proper Service. TIPS. And it would insure proper service. People appreciated it.

    • Thanks for your feedback, Sal. Yes, I suspect you’re right about a slight variation in protocol according to region. But that’s one of the things that makes Italy so interesting. Ciao!

  • Well … re the Italian post office I have lived in two places in the north and they can be a nightmare up here too! I literally hate going to the post office.

  • OK… I’m a Roman bon and bred and I think this article was a really nice read. There are some musings I want to share with you:

    First things first: your friend isn’t Roman, is she? 😉 Rome is central Italy – and my fellow citizens will usually roll their eyes in annoyance at people who (wrongly) assert that they’re part of the South! Indeed, we couldn’t be more diferent.

    Second: people won’t actually believe me when I say that (most) Romans are actually quite reserved/formal/polite (but there are exceptions), despite the countless films that portray them as a friendly, rather informal and loud bunch of foul-mouthed fellas. In my opinion, we’re also far less chatty/warm than southerners are – I had some friends visiting from Apulia and they complained endlessly about how everyone they met seemed stuck-up and cold. I wonder what will they think of my relatives from Turin, then…

    About Post Offices: in all honesty, I found that they work well over there (or, maybe, I was just lucky!). But yes, until a few years ago they used to be a nightmare; I believe that the change has to do with more young people entering the workforce – we’re (yes, I’m 20) more pragmatic than our predecessors! And not being members of a political party ( = no connections), unlike the older generations, that helps a lot too. Still, we have a long way to go…

    I realise this article was mainly about the Veneto area – I just wanted to add my two peinnies about Romans!

    • Ciao! And thank you for your insights…
      You’re points are well-taken and in fact we always get in trouble when we make too many generalizations, which of course is exactly what I did. But when sharing my experiences in Italy with other foreigners, sometimes it’s necessary to make such statements in order to give the big picture, even if that description can’t possibly fit every situation. One of the things that I enjoy the most about Italy is how diverse it is. When you travel from region to region, you notice big differences in language, food, history, general culture, and yes, the character of the people. As an expat/traveler, it is a fascinating aspect of Italy with endless possibilities of discovery. To paraphrase Massimo d’Azeglio, “L’Italia è fatta. 152 anni dopo, restano ancora da fare gli Italiani!”

  • In April while visiting in Rome I tried to find the Trastevere section for a dinner meeting. I stopped and asked a group of cab drivers for directions. Even though my Italian is pretty good (spoke it at home and took 4 years of classes in high school) I was admonished as being impolite for not saying first Buongiorno and the asking the question. In the diatribe the cabbie said in Italian “you see even thought you speak Italian well we know you are from the States because you just come up and ask for directions without even saying buongiorno” . Its probably true that Italians are more formal than we are. My 75 year old educated and quite formal cousin visiting from Italy and staying in our guess bedroom off our kitchen first knocks on his own door before coming out in the early morning asking “permesso”. So there are cultural differences that were not translated from my Italian born parents.

    • Great point, Fred. You’re right, the “buongiorno” must always precede a question. And if you know the person, it should even be, “Buongiorno, come stai?” There certainly is a higher level of politeness–but I’m still trying to figure out if it’s genuine or just a veneer for appearance sake. Thanks for the great comment…ciao!

    • Thanks Penny! You know, my first Spritz might have been in Bologna, too, now that I think about it. But I’m a Campari man all the way…ciao!

  • Chapter 4…absolutely right, standards of life are so differents in the country and your life like an Italian can change 🙂

    • Grazie, Federico! Yes, Italy is so diverse that it’s difficult to make general statements about the entire country/culture. But that won’t stop me from trying! Ciao!

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