Understanding Italian Culture | Manners, Bella Figura, Siesta and Passeggiata
Part of enjoying Italy comes from understanding and embracing the differences in our culture. I have tried to put together my impressions from an outsider’s perspective to help you really enjoy your experience.
I find that Italians are one of the most welcoming group of people around and they will try their hardest to help you and communicate with you. Following my living locally guide will make you stand out from the demanding and draining tourists and open up so many doors for you. I have been personally escorted to a restaurant more than once, given extra scoops of gelato to make sure that I didn’t miss out on the ‘perfect combination’ and even had mini impromptu historical lessons. As a general rule, the people are very intense and very dramatic. You will see heated conversations end in warm embraces. They live life in the moment and with zest. I always get swept up in living and loving life when I’m there.
THE BELLA FIGURA
Italians believe in presenting themselves well; taking care of the way you look is a priority for them. This concept is called the Bella Figura, but it goes even deeper than just how you look. For example, an Italian would rather miss the bus and be late to an engagement than become disorderly and sweaty by rushing madly to try to make it on time. Once at the beach, I noticed I was the only mom playing in the sand and getting just as dirty as their child. All around me, Italian women lay pristinely on their clean blankets. You will notice that even the most simple of Italians will have at least one nice suit which they take pride in wearing each day.
The women. What can I say here? Now matter how good I think I might look, I pale in comparison to them. They just exude sexy. You will be hard pressed to find any one of them ever in sweats, even if they are just running to the store. I try to bring one sassy outfit with me and play it up with a necklace or scarf as my feeble attempt to keep up.
Italians remain very formal. Even in their language they have two separate tenses, one for those that are close friends and the other for everyone else. While they would never expect you to be able to speak in the proper tense, I find that addressing the person initially with a Signore or Signora goes a long way. I also always begin my requests and questions with a simple Per Favore (please). Italians think that Americans are too brash because we tend to cut right to the chase without taking any time for small talk. This is a great example of our fundamental differences. We tend to operate on ‘time is money’ while Italians live completely in the present. Just remember that you can never say please or thank you too much.
Again, a big difference between us is the concept of time. It is considered completely acceptable to be late for an appointment. I’m not talking 5-10 minutes late either. This can be frustrating if their tardiness is affecting your trip, for example one time I spent 40 minutes waiting for the car rental office to open after lunch. While I admit I was not excited, I spent that time enjoying not one but two gelati. When you find yourself frustrated because you have to wait for someone, try to take a deep breath and find some sort of distraction. Everything always ends up working out in Italy, just in its own time.
Wouldn’t you love to be able to stop your work day to head home or to the local trattoria for a nice meal or reviving nap? While many business have begun to adopt a more formal 9-3pm work schedule, the mid day siesta is still going strong. This is the time during the middle of the day from about 1-4pm where everything shuts down. I mean everything, villages look like ghost towns. Take advantage of this routine and use the time to refresh and recharge yourself. I will often grab goodies at the market earlier in the day and spend this time in a quiet spot with a view. The most important thing to remember is to prepare ahead so you aren’t stranded. Make sure you have already bought any necessities earlier that day and in small towns that your car has fuel. Caffeine addicts need not worry; there is always a bar somewhere open for a shot of espresso.
Every evening before dinner, everywhere in Italy people turn out just to stroll around, check each other out and catch up on the latest news. This is the Italian version of cruising. You will find people of all ages out, from the littlest of tots to old ladies linked arm in arm. I love this time of the day. It’s when the tourist buses have left and the real Italy comes out. So grab a gelato and enjoy!
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Copyright 2012 Andi Brown, Once in a Lifetime Travel