The US and Italy are at polar opposite ends of pretty much every spectrum and floating between the two worlds is like hopping back and fourth in time between planets . I often say that if you could simply combine both countries you’d have a nearly perfect system (you’d basically have a fashionable and less pervy version of Germany).
P.S. I’m about to generalize. For the rare few who get really freaked out by this: I’d recommend skipping this post and watching this video of a Capybara instead. If you continue reading it anyways and then leave a comment saying, “not everyone is like this” you’re an asshole. Because it’s a generalization and in a generalization it’s obvious that it’s in general and that I’m not writing about every single human being in both countries. There are many, many, many exceptions.
1. Eating. In Italy you’ll find people who love food so much that it borderlines on fanaticism and idol worship. They spend an unhealthy
amount of time talking about recipes, cooking, and eating. I once heard three old men in Florence talk about their wive’s cake recipes for one hour. Americans love food too but they basically just like food quantity. They don’t really give a shit what they’re eating as long as IT IS A LOT OF IT.
2. Feelings. Americans pent up all of their emotions (even small, petty ones) until they eventually snap and lose their minds (often resulting in a homicidal streak or at minimal weeks and weeks locked into their Nintendo simply pretending to murder people). The US is an angry and frustrated place and probably one of the only places in the world where people kill each other for driving slowly. Italians cannot keep any of their emotions inside. If they feel something the entire vicinity is going to know about it in one way or another in the form of screaming, crying, slapping, or at minimal dramatic hand gestures, pouting or glaring. Honestly I prefer the latter. The venting is probably good for you (though I could skip the feet stomping, guys, come on.).
3. Using an “inside voice.” Most Americans are quiet speakers in closed public places. If you’re in a restaurant in the US it’s unlikely that you’ll hear any one voice standout from the the crowd. In Italy, you can easily hear a conversation that a woman is having about her yeast infection two restaurants down.
4. Food quality. The food quality (what you can buy at a normal store) in the US is so abysmal compared to Italy that I actually feel guilty feeding anything to my dog. “Oliver, I’m sorry, please forgive me, here is a radioactive carrot.” The only upside of the US supermarket is that there isn’t an entire pig head sitting on a counter somewhere randomly. I can do without that, Italy.
5. Sugar Coating. Americans fucking love euphemisms. “Is that a cold sore on your lip?” They might ask, a little embarrassed for you. In Italy there is no euphemism for anything. “Oh! You have the herpes on-a your-a face. HERPES. RIGHT-A DERE. DOES EVERYONE SEE HIS-A HERPES!?” Nobody has time for bullshit. They’re totally calling you out on being gross.
6. The skinny on fat. Weight is a really sensitive subject in the US where in Italy it’s something that is talked about all the damn time. “Did you see Francesca? She’s so thin! Francesca! You look like you’ve just escaped a work camp! Pietro is so fat! PIETRO! HI! YOU’RE SO FAT!” It’s insanely common for friends, family, (and even strangers) to comment on weight. Once I was walking down the street and a woman stopped me to say, “You need to eat more. You’re too thin. Also you’re dog is too thin. EAT MORE and feed this poor dog!” In the US if I told my friend, “Oh! You gained a little weight!” She’d punch me in the mother fucking face with her new chubby fist.
7. Pace. When I moved to Italy the very first thing I noticed was the pace. Life in Italy is slow. The Milanese right now are like, “No! Not even! Nuh-UH! Us Northerners are fast!” And I’m like, “that’s cute.” To be fair they are faster than the rest of the country but they still don’t compare to an average New Yorker. The south in the US is slower but the south of Italy is so slow that one could possible spend the better part of a decade waiting to send a letter at the post office. In the US people are so worried about efficiency and pace that they pretty much die before they even realize they’re alive. I vote that both countries meet halfway in the middle. Somewhere between lightning speed and the slow zombies from Walking Dead.
8. Mother. Fucking. Efficiency. “When in Italy doubt” should be Italy’s catchphrase. When you move to Italy you have to unlearn everything you’ve ever known about things happening in a common-sense sequential manner and you have to learn the new system of nobody knows how things work, when, or why. It’s fascinating. Absolutely nothing is common sense and you can’t figure stuff out without asking people.
9. Job Security. Nobody can be fired in Italy because of the unions so you pretty much have to assume that absolutely NOBODY is interested in actually doing their jobs. At the post office my husband will ask the employee over and over again, “So you’re sending this to IRAN right. IRAN. I-R-A-N?” And I’m like, “Leave her alone she’s not retarded!” And then she’s all, “Yes. I’m sending it to IRAQ. I UNDERSTAND.” And my husband is like, “Mother. Fucker!” That shit happens every day. On the contrary, in the US people can be fired for walking funny or smelling weird so we spend every second of every day terrified that our boss hates our outfit and is going to throw us into the streets and our kids will starve to death.
10. Children. I read a study that said children in all first world countries are becoming more and more pampered and spoiled and I’ve definitely seen that a little bit in both countries. However, I’ve frequently seen seven year olds being pushed in a stroller in Florence. I’ve never seen a seven year old in a stroller in the US unless the kids legs didn’t work for some sad or terrible reason.
11. Style. If you go to New York or a few of the more “fashionable” cities you’ll find well-dressed people in the US, however, most of the US seem content putting no effort at all into what they look like from day to day. You can see the biggest difference in small towns. In small town USA you’ll frequently see people shopping in sweat pants and you’ll see the occasional pair of overalls on a grown ass man. In Italy I’ve seen some horrible outfits but for the most part there is a good amount of effort that goes into appearance even in teeny tiny hillbilly villages.
12. Pets. Italy is pretty dog friendly. Florence is a heaven-sent city for dog owners. Oliver is always treated like part of the family and he’s allowed to go anywhere (including nice restaurants). The downside is that there are many stray dogs living on the streets in the south of Italy. People simply let their dogs “run free” if they don’t want them anymore and the common attitude is that “free dogs are happy dogs.” Which I totally don’t buy into because, guys, dogs are pack animals. They don’t give a shit if they’re able to run around free if they’re alone. The US is archaic and sterile when it comes to pets. Dogs aren’t allowed inside anywhere because of the US hysteria for hygiene and lawsuits. There are also hundreds of thousands of horrific animal cruelty cases reported every year in the US and most apartments don’t allow dogs. It’s really not the easiest place in the world for FIDO (or Oliver) in some ways. In other ways it’s nice with doggie daycares, incredible positive dog trainers, K9 schools, and massive dog parks in larger cities.
13. Family. The differences in culture really shows in family situations. In the US independence is one of the our most valuable qualities. A “needy” person or person who “asks too much” from a partner or family is considered bad. In most Italian families, independence isn’t really pushed at all. Everyone is an extension of the family and “needing” ones family is normal and healthy. In the US we tend to put career and finances ahead of our spouse, children, siblings, and parents, whereas for most Italian families, family comes first no matter what.
14. Age. In Italy here isn’t a lot of expectations that come with age in terms of what you “should” be doing anymore. It’s similar to New York in that regard. People of all ages go out, go drinking, and stay in motion and active. Outside of New York and California you don’t see that very much in the US. People seem more tied to their age and give in to the dull expectations of what a 40 year old should or shouldn’t do which is usually kind of lame.
15. Gender. Gender roles are really different between the US in many, many ways. The dynamic between men and women is in such a way that it can seem like women rule the nest in the Italian homes but the truth is that the expectations of the two sexes is very different. In the US the expectations are a little more equal in terms of career, child-rearing, and household responsibilities. Many parts of Italy still hold true to the belief that housework is only for women and regardless if women have a career or not they’re usually expected to do three times as much as men at home. They generally do nearly all of the cooking, cleaning, and tending to the children while balancing a full time job. Women are not taken seriously on an intellectual level and it’s expected that they maintain appearances all the time and domestic violence is statistically high in Italy (mostly in the South). However, in a way women are respected a lot too. I know, it totally doesn’t sound like it, but in a way they are. While the sexes are getting more and more equal in the US there is a lot of hateful, blind resentment towards women in American culture. Violence towards women is extremely high in the US and more often than not there is a lot of victim-blaming which shows the dark underbelly of the confusing “equal but hated” mentality of American culture. Both cultures really have a long way to go in terms of their treatment of women.
16. Romance. Italian culture reeks of romance. The music, the movies, the attitudes about relationships are very romantic and lofty. The idea of courting a woman is still pretty big in Italy and guys are sweet even with girls they have no real interest in. The wining, dining, flattering, is common in both countries but Americans tend to be a little more practical (you can see it even in films) whereas Italians are more sort of lofty, emotional, but non-comital during the initial process.
17. Space. The US is enormous so it’s no surprise that Americans are accustomed to space. Big cars, big houses, big yards, and about two feet of space between themselves and other people all the time. Italy is not gigantic and in most cities the people live packed into a smaller apartment. They don’t require the same personal space. One of the first things that I noticed the first time I went to Italy is that strangers touched me all the time and nobody bothered to say, “sorry” or “excuse me.” At first I thought it was because the entire country was full of assholes but then I realized later that it’s because there is simply nothing to be sorry for. Sometimes you touch other people. And? And nothing.
18. Levels of neurosis. Italian culture is so calm compared to American culture. In some ways it’s annoying as hell because nothing ever seems like a big deal. Things that would send a typical American into cardiac arrest usually won’t get more than a shrug from an Italian. For example, bad dinner service. If an American has to wait more than ten minutes to order he’s going to burn down the restaurant. In Italy? Psssh. Calm down! The waiter will get here eventually (after twenty five minutes). It’s the same with chaotic driving or an array of other things that seem like the end of the world to Americans. Italy really understands the concept of taking things in stride and choosing what you get up in arms over. It’s probably why they live so damn long and why they have a much lower number of people on mood stabilizers.
Bonus: Freedom. The United States are always boasting about how “free” they are. Corporations have a lot of freedom but I feel much, much less “free” in the US than in Italy. In Italy you don’t feel watched constantly and you know that if you make a little driving mistake or something it’s not going to cost you your life. Sometimes in the “land of the free and the home of the brave” I feel like I’m living in a police state. It’s unnerving and stressful. I can do without being constantly tracked and watched, ‘Murica. Thanks.
Can you guys think of some other differences that I forgot? I’m sure there are many.
- Italy complains to EU over Britain’s ‘unjustified and thoughtless’ food labelling (telegraph.co.uk)
- Another great day in Tuscany – Florence, Italy (travelpod.com)
- Getting Lost the First Night in Italy – Florence, Italy (travelpod.com)
- Living In Italy: Cassino And More Food (Another Six Hour Lunch) (survivinginitaly.com)