La Dolce Vita, or, in English, The Sweet Life. A popular phrase that Italians claim for themselves and their way of living. And deservedly so.
The last few weeks I’ve been on vacation in northern Italy; taking a tour of unseen parts of Italia and then going to visit with my Italian relatives.
As I strolled along the cobble-stoned streets I cannot help but notice the way Italians live. Once again, I am kicking myself for not making more of an effort to live here after college when I had the opportunity. But that’s a story for another time…..
This trip was more about visiting the smaller towns in Italy. Seeing how the locals live.
I only stayed in a large city(Milan) one night this time. Then got in the car and drove. The first part of the trip was several days up north in the Italian Alps and the next half was with my family in the Veneto (outside Venice).
This time I got to spend time in one small area/town so I didn’t feel like I was running around like a chicken-with-my-head-cut-off trying to seeing all the sights. That is important to do, but for me, not this time. I needed to take my own advice. Advice I give to my clients all the time. Really chill and have a vacation.
The following are 3 main things I noticed about how the Italian people live that, I think, we have gotten away from in our country. Or at least in the parts of the United States that I’ve lived in.
1. Italians take the time to socialize.
It is in the fabric of their being. Italians are, for the most part, social creatures. They value connecting with each other. You will most see this in the local bars. Bars in Italy and not like bars in North America. “Bars” are the local coffee shop, the place to buy lottery tickets and cigarettes (yes, they still smoke like chimneys!), have a morning croissant or get a quick panino for lunch. Then maybe later go back for an aperitivo before one heads home to their family.
The locals know what’s going on in your life, for better or for worse! They want to know how you’re doing: work, your husband/wife’s illness, when is the grandbaby due, what is going on with so-and-so down the street (yes, there’s always gossip), and how can they lend a hand.
My husband went out one evening when we were staying in Bolzano to take some night pictures. He came back with an exciting story to tell….”Guess what? I saw these 8 teenage boys. There were sitting outside some pizza place. And you know what?! I didn’t see one phone out! Can you believe it?! I mean, they probably had them with them, but maybe they were in their pockets or something…….but these boys! They were actually TALKING TO EACH OTHER! They were ENGAGED in conversation with each other! I can’t believe it! You never see that at home!” He went on and on and on about how exciting it was for him to witness such an event.
2.Family is Family.
I watched how my cousin’s American born wife helped out in the bar one Sunday afternoon. They were short staffed, because my other cousin went to her husband’s family’s house for dinner. One minute she’s sitting with us a table in the bar, the next minute she’s up and making a caffe for a customer. I loved seeing this. When you marry into an Italian family, you are family. You are immediately one of the fold. And everyone rallies to help.
Even us. My one cousin needed someone to drive the rental car back to the agency at Marco Polo airport in Venice. No one else could do it that morning, so the task went to my husband. My family member says, in his thick-accented English, “We need an extra driver to take the rental car back to the airport. So you (husband) can do that….” Uh, ok. Sure. Actually, my husband was happy to help. You’re just one of the family now and this is what we do.
3. Italians work to live.
I was 18 years old, visiting my family in Italy, when my aunt said to me. “We here it Italy; we work to live. You Americans, you live to work.” She went on to say something to the effect of, “We spend time with our families. We cook, we eat, we take our breaks. We spend time with our friends and families. You Americans. You work,work,work. Why?”
Even at 18, it gave me pause. She didn’t say it in an accusatory way. More as a factual statement. And you know what? She is right. I had just graduated from high school and it was right before my freshman year of college. And over the course of the next 20+ years, when I felt my life getting uber-stressed with so much work and not enough balance, I would think back to my aunt’s statement.
And so, for me, as an American, being immersed in our culture, I strive for this balance.
To not work too much. To make time for friends. To make time to fly and see family. To reach out. To really connect with people. To get off the internet. Get off social media. Not spend countless hours watching Breaking Bad.
And, believe me, it can be hard. Where I live, in the Chicagoland area, our winters can be brutal. I used to chuckle to myself when I first moved here as I thought, “wow, people here hibernate like bears in the winter.” And they really do.
But today, I don’t think it’s so funny. I have no idea what’s going on with my neighbors from November thru April. I just see their garage doors open and their cars going in and going out. If someone was sick, how would I know? How would I know what they need or how I could help?
We Americans also don’t stay in one place. We go where the jobs are. Italians don’t seem to move far from their Families of Origin. But it’s very common here in the U.S. and Canada for us to move away from the town and community within which we were raised. So it’s harder to stay connected with family. Sure, FaceTime and Skype help. But it’s not the same.
So I know I need to make a change.
I have to call friends and make an effort to get together during the week, even when I’d rather curl up on the couch, watch tv, and “veg” out.
I need to make that effort to stop, for a second, as I’m getting into my car, and more than just wave to my neighbor. To make the effort, when I see them outside on the weekend, to go over and say hi.
I need to Slow The Hell Down. Seriously, I do. Maybe to some degree, we all do. To get “into” the people around us rather than the “things” and the “to do’s” that surround us.
It needs to start with me.