An American in Italy
A Student’s Secrets of Sorrento An American Living in Italy
When you grow up and live in one place for your entire life, you begin to think of the nuances of your culture as normal. That is, until you go to another country and realize that the things that you consider normal, aren’t normal in this new place at all.
When I first moved to Sorrento for the semester, I noticed lots of small aspects of the Italian culture that surprised me. At first, these differences were frustrating, but I’ve learned to let go of the my Americanized ideas of “normal,” and have started appreciating the Italian way of life. Though there are many parts of Italian culture that take some getting some used to, here are the top three things that baffled me when I arrived here:
Whether you call it beeping or honking, it is a sound you’ll hear a lot coming from the cars and scooters zipping along Italy’s winding streets. To this day, the frequency with which I hear drivers use their horns baffles me. It’s gotten to the point where I try to figure out the purpose of each beep that I hear. In the States, we normally just use our horns to express our frustration at traffic or another driver. As far as I can tell, the Italians seem to use their horns to not only do these things, but also to notify other drivers when they’re coming around a corner, alert a pedestrian of their presence on the road, say hello to a passerby, or to scare a stray dog away from their vehicle. Other times, it seems like they’re just using their horns because they can. I may never figure it out.
NYC may be the city that never sleeps, but I would argue that the United States is the country that never sleeps. Italy, on the other hand, would be the country that occasionally naps. Which brings me to my next cultural confusion: siesta. Every day, the shops and businesses shut down in Sorrento for two to three hours for something called “siesta.” During this time, the locals eat their biggest meal of the day: lunch. They also use this time to visit with friends or family and to take a general midday break from work. Coming from the land of 24-hour stores, this was probably the most frustrating cultural change. It was tough to adjust to not being able to go to the store in the middle of the day, especially because I’m so used to being able to go shopping at any time in the United States. Though siesta originally felt unnecessarily inconvenient to me, I have come to understand it more. If I was working at one of the shops in Sorrento and got to have a couple hours of break every day, I would definitely enjoy it. Who wouldn’t? I also love the concept of taking time out of your day to spend time with your friends and family over a good meal. Siesta is just one of the ways Italians exemplify how important their personal relationships are to them. They take time out of their day to enjoy some downtime with the people they care about. Now that I’m adjusting my personal schedule to work around siesta, I’m learning how to utilize this time to make my days more relaxing and enjoyable; an important lesson in this busy world.
The Pace of Life
As compared to the United States, everything in Italy seems to move slower. No one here is in a rush to do anything. The Italian people take their time in all aspects of life. For an American especially, this was hard to get used to because everything in the United States is about speed and efficiency. We rush around all day to get as many things checked off our to-do lists as possible, but that isn’t how things work in Sorrento. At first, this slower pace was maddening to me. I continued to fast-walk through the streets, rushing around town as the Italians stared at me, wondering why I was in such a hurry. I’ll let you in on a little secret though: the slower pace can actually be enjoyable. Once I took the time to slow down, I realized that there was some beauty in taking your time to do things. Instead of rushing through my errands, I take my time to enjoy the weather during my walk to the store. I actually look at and think about the food I’m purchasing, or take the time to stop and chat with a friendly local in the piazza. It’s still hard to break my fast-paced habits and remember to slow down, but the Italians are definitely on to something; they take the time to enjoy each moment in their day instead of flying through life without actually experiencing it.
No matter whether it’s a big or small cultural differences, there are aspects of other cultures that will always appear “foreign” or “abnormal” when compared to your own. However, if you take the time to adjust your habits, you might just find that your idea of “normal” may not be the best way to live. I’ve picked up on aspects of Italian culture that like, dislike, and some that just confuse me. As I get more adjusted to the community and the ideas of the Italian culture, I’m understanding this different style of life and learning how to incorporate it into my own! The Italians are certainly teaching me a thing or two about appreciating each day— something I’m very thankful for!
(This article was also published in the “Surrentum” (Sorrento, Italy) in 2016).