Love has no borders, but cultural differences are still very real. They can be tiny obstacles on the way to a blissful relationship or sources of long-lasting frustration. Being with an Italian partner brings its own brand of culture-related misunderstandings. Sometimes it’s eye-rolling, sometimes it makes everything more interesting.
With an Italian partner, many differences of opinion will have to do with food. We are (excessively) proud of our culinary traditions. For us, good food and quality ingredients are a big deal. Also, we tend to lack flexibility when it comes to the *right* way to prepare and consume said food.
But there is more to it. Here are 6 unexpected things that your Italian partner probably does not approve. Secretly or, being an Italian, very vocally.
Disclaimer. Needless to say, this post is meant to be humorous. Mostly, it’s me laughing at my own quirks. Don’t take it too seriously.
Try and google what Italians abroad miss the most and you’ll be surprised to learn that bidet is nearly always mentioned. We can try to suppress the pain of not having it when we live in another country or we can find creative ways to make up for its absence, but we all miss bidet. When a bidet is not in the house the most personal act constantly becomes some sort of trial. “Oh, you went to the bathroom. And you’re not washing afterwards. It’s alright. I’m totally not judging you”.
No matter which part of Italy your partner is from, I have yet to meet an Italian who wouldn’t mentally grimace.
Bidet is a French word for a pony, as you straddle a bidet much like a pony is ridden. It was invented in France in the 17th century according to most sources.
It is a common bathroom fixture in many countries in Southern Europe, while it’s uncommon in Northern Europe. In Italy, 97% of households have one and since 1975 its installation is mandatory.
Serving pasta as a side dish
In Italy, we are used to having several courses during a meal. This doesn’t necessarily apply to all meals: sometimes we only have pasta, or only have a main dish with vegetables on the side.
One thing we don’t do, though, is eating pasta as a side dish.
No matter if you pick your regular maccheroni and eat them with tomato sauce (I said tomato sauce, not ketchup!) or butter: still not a side dish. This applies to risotto and soup as well.
Sad story: once, when visiting my boyfriend in Sweden, I was asked to make my worldwide famous risotto coi funghi. After more than one hour of careful and loving preparations, it was served on the side of a chicken with salad. I kept smiling and pretended it was OK but ouch, that hurt.
More culinary profanities
Remember this: spaghetti bolognese don’t exist. I’m from Bologna so you can trust me on that. The real thing is ragù, a delicious meat sauce that takes hours in the making and that doesn’t even match well with spaghetti. Note that you don’t want to mess this up, we bolognesi are very sensitive to the topic.
Italians are also very serious about pizza, gelato, caffè… Have I told you already that we are a bit rigid about food? For a peaceful relationship sometimes it’s better to just do things our way – which incidentally is the best way.
Le portate: the meal courses.
L’antipasto: the starter.
Il primo: the first course. Usually pasta, rice or soup.
Il secondo: the second course.
Il contorno: the side dish.
Il dolce: the dessert.
Risotto coi funghi: mushroom risotto
Going out without sunscreen
I know that you might be used to a different quality of sunshine in your country, but please do as we say. You cannot go out into the burning Italian summer without a proper sun protection, especially if you’re bianco come una mozzarella and your skin is not prepared for it. Yes, it really has to be 50+ child protection. See, I’m putting that on too.
Bianco come una mozzarella: as white as a mozzarella. Unlike the English “white as a ghost/as a sheet” it doesn’t imply feelings of fear or shock. It just means you’re not tanned and it has a negative meaning.
Another thing Italians are quite fussy about is hygiene. I first realised it when moving abroad, because before I was completely unaware there existed any other way. When I started travelling and staying at hostels every shower I took brought the fear of getting a fungal infection under my feet, while brave Australians were going to the shop at the corner barefoot.
While I might agree that la virtù sta nel mezzo I still don’t fancy going around the house without any socks or slippers on. You’re welcome to do so, but then don’t come in my bed until you’ve washed those dirty feet!
La virtù sta nel mezzo. From the latin In medio stat virtus: virtue stands in the middle.
We come from a land blessed by a lovely weather, I live in London now so I can tell.
Still, when I was a child my mamma wouldn’t let me out without drying my hair after a shower. My boyfriend doesn’t even dry his hair in the winter when in Sweden the temperatures go below zero!
But there’s more. Did you wear your canottiera? You’re going to freeze your belly!
And I know it’s 35 degrees outside, but shouldn’t you bring a cotton scarf to protect you from the breeze? You’ll get a cervicale!
This is how we were brought up and this is how we are programmed to function. Your immune system is probably stronger than ours by now, but we’ll still frown when you don’t cover up properly.
Canottiera: a cotton or woollen vest to wear in winter under your clothes.
– Metti la canottiera! Put your vest on! This is such a recurring scolding from Italian parents that they even made a song about it. It was performed in 1994 at Zecchino d’oro, an international children songs competition that has taken place every year since 1959.
Cervicale: cervical arthritis or more simply neck pain. Italian moms are absolutely certain that the lightest breeze on your neck will cause you cervicale and we’ve been so conditioned that we actually get it.
Not being stylish enough
I’m a mess about dress codes and fashion, but I’ve been told Italians are known for their impeccable taste in clothes. You won’t see people going to the store in their pyjama and looking scruffy. It’s actually more likely for them to be dressed up for the catwalk even if they’re just going to buy a newspaper.
Being quite concerned with their appearance your Italian partner might want for you to look fabulous all the time as well. Don’t be surprised if they scrutinize you from head to toe and ask: “Esci vestito/a così?“
Mettersi in tiro: a colloquial expression that will make you sound very Italian, meaning to get dressed up, dress to impress.
Esci vestito/a così? Are you going out dressed like that?
Do you recognise your Italian best half in any of these traits? Have you ever experienced misunderstandings with a partner from another country? And what are the things someone from your country would complain about? Let me know in the comments!
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