Living in Italy is not a choice you make lightly. Sometimes it isn’t a choice at all, life’s intertwining events may bring you here without a moment’s warning. I am always excited and interested in reading what my fellow Americans go through when they end up living in the “Bel Paese” “The beautiful/great country.” I would say that it is kind of hard to translate the saying so that you can real grasp the full meaning in English. I guess from my point of view it would be “the great old country.” Italy is in itself a cauldron of contradictions, ranging from region to region. I mean, living in a Northern village or city, is quite different from living in the South of Italy. Living in Siena, Tuscany I can assure you is not the same as living in one of the many cities around the Vesuvius and I’ve done both. What a shock it was. It gave a whole new meaning to “culture shock.”
Beauty in both, but yet so much heartache in one more than in the other.
After school today I opened up my mail and like every day I had to sift through so much mail, that at one point I wasn’t sure what was the spam and what wasn’t.
In my Tumblr newsletter I found an article by Lisa Condie “The Real Differences Between The United States And Italy” posted on the Huff Post and it attracted my attention immediately. I read it and loved it, even though living in Florence is surely a different experience than living at the feet of the Vesuvius.
Inspired by Lisa Condie’s article I thought it would be interesting to give you my take on the differences between our two homes on the opposite sides of the Atlantic.
I wait the year out for summer, just so I can jump on the plane and fly home to Virginia. I love looking out the window and saying goodbye to the Vesuvius, counting the minutes until my feet touch American soil once again and most of all when the custom’s officer says “welcome home sir.” That in itself gives me the chills. Nothing like when I land back in Naples on my way back. They don’t even look at you.
My story is a different, unlike Lisa Condie’s, mine was the product of a mixed marriage, of conflicting parents, of pros and cons. I found my self on this side of the Atlantic because I thought I was escaping. No. I was running away from what I believed to be my unhappiness. Boy, was I wrong. But you know, life has its intertwining ways of putting you exactly where you need to be, no matter where you think you should be.
I graduated from University and off I came. Ever since then, I’ve traveled, seen parts of Italy, lived in Montepulciano, San Quirico d’Orcia (Siena, Tuscany) and managed to end up at only a few km from Pompeii. Don’t get me wrong, the beauties of the Val d’Orcia are heaven like, but the view of the Gulf of Naples with the Vesuvius’ cap full of snow is just as breathtaking. So what are my differences between the U.S. and Italy? Well, here we go.
Mrs. Condie is 100% right, laundry is a big plus in the States. With dryers and washers doing it all in just a few hours, here in the Bella Napoli we have our clothes hanging inside the stairs if (like the past few weeks) it rains for days, then pulling them in and putting them on the radiators absorbing all the heat and finding your house just as cold as before turning the heat on. No matter how many hours you have the heat on, it just never gets warm enough. And what to do we do to improve that? We put damp clothes on the radiators to dry. Yep, I agree with Mrs. Condie, laundry is a big plus stateside.
Food? Well, I don’t completely agree with Mrs. Condie. I would give the points to both countries. Different cooking styles, both eternally “yummy.” Italy and Naples have a very old tradition in cooking, I mean Neapolitan pizza is surely one of the world’s best kept secrets and a must at least once in your lifetime. Nothing like American pizza, which unfortunately, even though I am a big fan, doesn’t make the cut. What about the great old coffee. L’espresso napoletano. Not the same as the one in Florence or Siena. I am so sorry for my fellow Americans living elsewhere in Italy, but the coffee in Naples, is just the king of coffees. Now I hear you saying “what about Starbucks coffe back home?” Well, I love Starbucks but I wouldn’t consider it a real coffee experience after living here for so many years. Yet, that doesn’t stop me from spending my hot summer breaks at my favorite American coffee shop. Napoli, has it all, from spaghetti with clams, to all kinds of seafood dishes found nowhere else in Italy. Let’s not forget the pastries. The “sfogliatelle” or the “babà.” If Mrs. Condie will visit la bella Napoli sometime soon I would love to have her try a sfogliatella or a babà. Or maybe she has already. Famous, but most of all a must if you ever decide to visit the city.
I’ve given many points to Naples, but Siena has a few that I love as well, like pici, ricciarelli, cantuccini and Vin Santo. Let’s not even go to the wines. Montalcino and its Brunello are known all over the world.
Italy has it and you should definitely plan a wine and food itinerary, living here has given us that extra edge to help out all of our fellow travelers in trying to get best local experience. So hit us up, we’ll gladly give you the hints for a most authentic experience.
Food point to Italy? Well, yes. But wait a minute. How about Smokey Bones and its baby back ribs? Last summer I had the infinite pleasure of eating at our local Smokey Bones in Chesapeake, Va and what an experience. Nowhere in Italy will you find such an intense taste. Different. Yet, out of this world. So yes, I would say food point to the States as well. Anywhere from Southern cooking, macaroni and cheese, our great American steak and burger. Plus every State has its food greatness from the great New England lobster to the Cajun cooking. No comparison on the cuisines as each country has its own greatness. Oh, what about pastries? My cinnamon rolls, what I would give to have one.
Friendliness? Well, I live in Naples and Neapolitans are warm people. Open and welcoming, so I guess point Italy for sure. But things are different in other parts of the country. Not all Italians are friendly or open to people, especially way up in the North. Let’s not even touch the Northerners/Southerners topic as we would fall into something we would never get out of.
My experience? There are many stereotypes in the world and we should try not to follow them too much. My life has taught me that you have to get to know people before you can make up your mind.
As for the States, I love the openness of my fellow Americans. If you’re sitting on the porch on a hot summer afternoon and someone jogs by, or walks a dog, or the mail man comes on over to bring you the mail, there is always a hello. Stores? Restaurants? Just the same, the waiters always there to make sure you enjoy every moment of your stay. While here in Bella Napoli, I must say that not always the waiters are polite and helpful. Sometimes you wait for a long while before they even look at you. So I guess it all depends on where and when. I would say points to both countries for friendliness.
Streamlining? Well, Mrs. Condie would agree with me that this video titled “Italy vs. Europe” says it all.
Italians and lines just don’t mix and you better learn that quickly if you intend to survive museums, cinemas, restaurants, post offices, etc. Remember though that Italy is not the same from one town to another. Plus, I point out the differences between North and South, sometimes quite clear unfortunately. Italian history shows us why Italian culture is so different from the Alps to the Apennines and why Southern culture is more of a mix between Spain, Greece on other Mediterranean countries.
Ice? Yeah! No ice would be more like it. I agree with Mrs. Condie, getting them to put ice in your glass or cup is like asking for something unnatural for them. They stare and look at you like, “really you want so much ice in your glass?” So point to the States!
Coffee? I mentioned it already above, but I wanted to add that if you look at the video above, Italians have their espresso in so many ways that it would make a Starbucks’ worker insane and jump out of the drive through window, running without looking back. Point to both countries.
I can’t say that it is anything like our happy hour in the States. I would say it is a question of taste. What makes the aperitivo a better choice is the food, not so much the drinks. We’ve got the alcohol, but the food makes it. Yet, some hot wings and blue cheese would win me over anytime. Point to Italy, but with a reserve to the States.
Attire? Yes, Mrs. Condie is right. People here would never imagine going to the store in flip-flops and shorts. I know because I get into arguments with my wife every time as she catches me almost sneaking out the door. She halts me like a custom’s official entering the country and says “are you going to the store dressed like that?” and me answering “well, yes! Not going to a wedding am I?” Italians have fashion in their DNA so, point to Italy all the way. Even though I prefer my American sense of being comfortable when going to the store. Can you imagine getting dressed up to go to Farm Fresh, or Food Lion? No way!
I’d like to end my take of Mrs. Condie’s awesome article by saying that I too spend most of my year in Naples, with only my summer months stateside, but sometimes I miss the peace of my Virginia house. The opportunity to listen to the crickets and the cicadas, or watching the fireflies on a summer night are things that I will forever miss, but I’ve adapted to my life style. I miss my USA, my Outer Banks and Sandbridge, but Sorrento, Positano, Capri and Procida sure make it nice here as well.
Whether you like the Virginia or North Carolina coast or the Italian coast, you have to know it is all in your heart. Once you see it, its views will never leave you.
Welcome to my homes, The Great US of A and la Bella Italia.
A special thanks for the inspiring this article to Mrs. Lisa Condie.