When you ask an Italian living abroad what they miss about Italy they will tell you, pretty much in this order: the bidet, our amazing food, nice weather and of course family and friends. And yes! I very much agree with all of these, but today I want to share with you a few more Italian things that make me feel nostalgic and emotional. These things aren’t easy to find here in London. Ready?
I would describe this as a generally positive and open attitude towards others that shows in everyday situations. It’s different from the utter terror of embarrassing silences that brings the Brits to start small talks about the weather at any time. It’s more of a genuine curiosity for others and their lives – sometimes dangerously close to nosiness (or being a ficcanaso). Together with Italians’ tendency to easily talk about private matters with strangers, this can bring to unexpectedly personal and long conversations with random people before a job interview or an exam at university. You’ll probably never meet that person again but you still got the chance to bond for a few hours.
My favourite example of cordialità takes place in waiting halls. When you get into a doctor’s office it’s polite to say Buongiorno to others waiting in line, even though you don’t know them. And when you leave it doesn’t hurt to say Arrivederci. Such a small detail, but it suddenly makes me feel at home.
Often translated as happy hour Italy’s aperitivo is actually quite different from its British equivalent: the focus is not on drinking. You don’t go and have aperitivo because you want to chug as many beers as possible for half price. You go to catch up with your friends, enjoy their company and conversation in front of a spritz, and for the free food. Yep, because in Italy there’s an unspoken rule stating that you shouldn’t drink on an empty stomach. You’d get wasted in no time otherwise, right? What you get with the aperitivo is not a lot of cheap alcohol, but lots of free food included in the price of a drink. And we’re talking pasta, pizza, salad, plus all sorts of snacks. Oh, how I miss it.
Il pranzo della domenica
When I was a kid Sundays used to be a big deal. My parents dressed me up in my vestito della domenica (Sunday best) and took me to the church (gulp). Then we would go and have lunch at grandma’s and often my aunts, uncles and cousins would be there as well. Then, if the weather was good, we would go to a park. Shops, supermarkets and malls used to be closed on Sundays. Sunday was the day when everyone rested and of all the stuff we got from our Catholic tradition, this one was pretty cool.
Now I don’t go to the church anymore (phew) and shops are open seven days a week (boo), but my family still gathers on Sundays to have a “special” meal. I think Sunday’s lunch is one of the best ways to represent the positive side of Italians’ obsession with family and their close relationship with it.
More accurately, meeting up at the square and the social implications coming with it. La piazza (square) in Italy is not just a place where two or more streets meet. It’s the place where people meet to have a coffee, to celebrate, to commemorate or to protest. It’s the heart of every Italian city, town or village.
But there is more to this than just going for a coffee with someone. What I miss is also being able to text a friend, ask them to catch up and agree to meet in 2 hours at the square. Easy, spontaneous, no need to plan it weeks in advance and to travel for one hour to the other side of the city. So different from the hectic life in London!
Sentirsi a casa
This one can apply to anyone living abroad. No matter how confident I feel with English and how familiar I am with the culture, to an extent, I will always feel like a foreigner. Some nuances might get lost in translation, some specific words might not come to mind when needed, some habits might still be obscure. I might not understand references to a TV show from the 90’s everyone knows, or a joke, or a pun.
Most of the time it doesn’t affect my life and it doesn’t make me feel less at home, but when I am in Italy it’s refreshing to feel that I actually “get it”. The things that are left unspoken, the small details in a conversation, an eloquent glance, everything makes perfect sense to me. I miss being able to relax completely when I communicate, grasping every small bit of what’s going on, knowing exactly what language register is appropriate in any social setting. But also going to the doctor and describing my symptoms without any difficulty or knowing the specific bureaucratic language. I will keep learning, observing and assimilating language and culture, but I know that I will hardly feel just as comfortable with it as I do with Italian.
If you live or have lived abroad, what are the things you miss more about your country? Are there some that you don’t miss at all?