Six Things I Discovered After Living in Italy
By Olivia O’Connell
While studying to get my Master’s in Italian, I had the fortune of living in Florence, Italy for a year. Living abroad has its challenges, but one thing is for certain – Italians know how to live well and have a lot to offer other cultures when it comes to diet, exercise, work/life balance, and more.
Here are the six things I discovered during my time in Florence;
1. Italians are walkers. In smaller cities like Florence, it’s popular to walk everywhere rather than use a car to get from place to place. This is not only beneficial to the environment but also helps people stay in great shape. It’s amazing what walking will do for the body and spirit.
2. Italians dress for the season and not for the weather. It’s common to see Italians still wearing scarves and light winter jackets well into the Spring. This is for practical reasons, as Italians believe in the “colpo d’aria,” which literally translates into English as “hit of air.” This colpo d’aria is supposedly the root of many ailments and can be avoided by keeping your head and throat completely covered on cold, damp, and windy days. As a tourist, you will be easily spotted if you leave your neck exposed to the elements.
3. Italians are very aware of the digestive system. In a culinarily minded society like Italy’s, it’s no wonder that all aspects of eating, including digestion, are well thought out. Italians tend to eat a larger meal in the middle of the day and a smaller one before bedtime to allow for optimum digestion, and they have after dinner liquors, called digestivi, that help your digestive system do its work. They even go so far as to wait two or more hours after eating until they go swimming so as not to disrupt the digestive process.
4. Italians prove that drinking a glass of red wine every day has health benefits – but they rarely drink in excess. Unlike in the United States, there is no strict drinking age enforced, and Italians have less of an “off-limits” approach to alcohol when it comes to raising kids. This typically works well and doesn’t result in the same drinking frenzy that occurs with American teenagers. Italians are careful to drink in moderation because, like with many other things in Italy, a good glass of wine is meant to be appreciated and enjoyed, not gulped to the point of oblivion.
5. Italian weekdays have a long break in the afternoon called a “pausa.” Many Italians, children and adults alike, head home for lunch at 1pm and then return to their jobs or schools for a few hours before the day is done. This is a perfect example of how Italians place a high value on meal times and taking it easy. It is also common to find Italians relaxing at the dinner table long after the meal is finished, as this is an important time for families to bond and spend time together.
6. Food in Italy is far healthier than most of the processed and imported food you’ll find in countries like the US because much of it is grown locally and humanely. Because produce and meat is so fresh in Italy, you will be shocked by how many flavors you taste when you eat Italian food. There’s nothing quite like eating an Italian tomato for the first time and realizing that America is doing it all wrong. It’s important in countries like the US to try to shop locally and organically as often as possible not only to support local businesses but also to experience what food should really taste like.
After my return to the US, I continue to try to incorporate many of these Italian practices and philosophies into my life. One of the benefits of travel and cultural immersion is getting to pick and choose what you like about your host country’s traditions and melding them with your own. If you ever have the opportunity to delve deep into a culture that is different from what you’re used to, do as the Italians do and carpe diem.