All The Things I Thought I Knew About Italy (And Italians)

View of Florence (and the predominant Duomo)

View of Florence (and the predominant Duomo)

I have finally set foot in Italy (and it’s the shape of a boot, how ironic). Having dreamt of this day for many a year, I’ve been excited to see, taste and experience all of the fine things Italy has to offer. And naturally I knew everything about Italy – I mean, stereotypes exist for a reason right? – before I arrived so there would be no major surprises or disappointments.

So lets look at all the things (I thought) I knew about Italy, and Italians.

A pretty important church that I don't know the name of

A pretty important church that I don’t know the name of

“All Italians are tall, dark, and handsome”.

This is a particularly stubborn stereotype I couldn’t shake out of my brain, especially considering most of the Italians I have met – including my own boyfriend – have been pale-skinned, with blue eyes.

“They all wear white pants, salmon-pink shirts, and Gucci shoes”.

No. No. And n… actually the Gucci shoes isn’t that far off.

“Italian men shape their eyebrows”.

Undisappointingly (for my own amusement), this seems to be common. Well, common among those guys wearing the Gucci shoes.

“Tuscany is full of sunflowers”.

Angelo warned me not to get excited about this common misconception (thanks a lot Under The Tuscan Sun), BUT I am happy to report that there are SHITLOADS of sunflower fields. Even if they were all dying and droopy looking by the time we arrived.

The Ponte Vecchio (or 'that bridge from the Dan Brown book')

The Ponte Vecchio (or ‘that bridge from the Dan Brown book’)

“Italians have strict food rules”.

I had already been told off for mixing tomato and cream to make a pasta sauce so I was sure that this stereotype was a sure thing. You DO NOT eat pasta leftover from the day before, as I was (and my new flatmates) strictly instructed by our Italian companions. Salad is to be eaten AFTER the pasta and meat dishes, and NOT served on the same plate used for pasta (clearly they’ve all grown up with dishwashers – or mammas). I’m a bit impartial to some tomato on toast for breakfast, and have thus grossed out my flatmate who could not believe that I would eat “tomato? In the morning?! That’s disgusting.” Coffee is served only three ways: Cappuccino – only for breakfast; espresso; and macchiato, and must be drank with the same ratio of sugar to coffee, while standing awkwardly at the bar.

“The coffee is amazing”.

Wrong. Don’t even get me started on the lack of choice (refer to previous point). Now, I’ll admit right here and now that I do love me a long black and coincidentally adding hot water to coffee in Italy is a sin, so I am in the process of adapting to drinking espresso (blurgh) – when in Rome, right? But, the coffee is bitter, lacking in body, and makes me instantly thirsty. And if any Italian argues me this point, I will ask first how much sugar they put in to disguise the taste. What is the point in that?

“Wine with lunch and dinner”.

Thank God this one is true! Did someone say heaven?

A hole-in-the-wall sandwich and wine shop in Florence. A-ma-zing

A hole-in-the-wall sandwich and wine shop in Florence. A-ma-zing

Panino = check, Wine = check, Seat = the street

Panino = check, Wine = check, Seat = the street

“Italians move their hands a lot when they speak”.

Well, yes. And Thank God, ’cause otherwise I wouldn’t understand anything.

“Italy is expensive”.

Well, we are talking euros here. But, actually, I have found that some things are not as expensive as I had thought. Food is reasonably priced: a pizza is around $9, a kilo of tomatoes are approximately $3.50 and table wine (let us not forget the important stuff now) can cost you as little as $3 a bottle from the supermarket. Petrol however, is more expensive than home despite the closer proximity to oil rich areas ($2.70 per litre). An hour and a half trip on the train costs me $16.

“Everyone lives in old villa style houses”.

I don’t know if I actually believed this to be true or it was pure romantic dreaming. It’s definitely not true, however that’s not to say that the Italian houses don’t have an antique feel to them. Even newer apartment buildings maintain a certain look of antiquity: from the pale yellow colours, to the dark green shutters, despite being made from new materials. Many people live in conjoint houses – either in a top of bottom flat, sharing a staircase and a front door. Ceilings are large wooden beams with smaller intercepting rafts, and carpet doesn’t (?) exist – queue continuous wearing of jandals inside, and cold toes. But, renovated houses exist. My house for example, is an old converted tobacco factory. Flippin’ sweet.

Autumn colours from my kitchen window

Autumn colours from my kitchen window

“Food and family is important”.

Forget God and football (and I don’t say this lightly in Italy), food is the religion here. If it’s not just like mamma’s pasta, or nonna’s sauce, it’s (and I am actually quoting here) “disgusting.”

We’ve all seen those Italian-type movies with the big family lunches and the mamma slaving away in the kitchen. Athough I’m yet to meet this stereotypical mamma, I know she exists here. I know, because many Italian men still live at home, and don’t know what a brush and shovel/vaccum cleaner is used for. And the Italian Mamma is untouchable: there is no calling someone a “son of a bitch,” unless you want some rapid angry Italian arm movements and a punch in the nose.

“Italians love to blaspheme”.

Yes, and sweet Jesus is it hilarious. I’m used to swearing (I wish I didn’t, but…). I’m used to hearing it around me. I’m used to some of the most vulgar words in the English language becoming so mainstream that they do a 180 degree flip and become a somewhat loving agnomen for a close friend. Italians are the kings of contradiction: they make out that it’s the worst thing you can ever say, and tell you to never say it. Then a minute later they’ll stubb their toe and drop the biggest blaspheme-bomb you’ve ever heard. However, when it comes to blasphemy, English and its tame “For God’s sake!” just can’t compete. Here are some of my favourites:

Porco Dio – Pig God, or God is a filthy swine (if you want to be ellaborate)

Dio Cane – Dog God, or God is a dog

Dio maiale/Madonna maiala – Pig God/Mary

Porca troia – Pig whore

Noticed the animal theme yet..? And the list doesn’t stop there. Italians can be quite creative with their animals, including even “Dio serpente” – (God is a snake), and one that impressed me recently: “Dio canguru” (God is a Kangaroo). Now, while I respect that this is a somewhat religious country and I’m not going to walk around saying these things to the little old ladies sitting in the park, it’s a bit hard to convey the weight of these insults to a foreigner when they are just so ridiculous. Dio mio, I need to stop now before I get stuck down with lightning.

Perhaps the best example of how things in Italia are never straight-forward

Perhaps the best example of how things in Italia are never straight-forward

Was there any other stereotypes I missed?


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