The Difference Between Stereotypes And Cultural Characteristics

I’ll be the first person to admit that when you live abroad it can be pretty difficult to be fair and avoid putting people into one large category. It’s human nature to group people in a way that makes it easier to understand them, identify them, avoid or relate to them. When your world is confusing you’ll try to make sense out of it in one way or another. 

One of the first things that I caught myself doing as I parachuted into Italy was compare everything to my own culture, and figure out how I could fit in. It was especially difficult for me coming from a degree in sociology. People were practically test subjects. Observing cultural characteristics is totally fine, and totally necessary if you ever want to comfortably live somewhere. However, it’s important to avoid stereotypes as much as possible. Stereotypes kind of piss people off, justifiably so. I’ve spent the past five years being stereotyped as, “that probably slutty, stupid American who hates family and love and probably stabbed her teddy bear to death as a child.” Writing a blog about living in Italy can be kind of sticky since I spend a lot of time discussing my experiences, making the occasional cultural and social observations, all while trying not to be too much of an asshole. There is a difference between dialogue, observations, and just being a dick. Even while being conscious of it, it’s kind of difficult to avoid being ethnocentric, though. It happens.  It’s especially rough when I’m away from home, feeling nostalgic, and some crazy lady is screaming at me in the street because MY DOG IS TOO SKINNY, and then twenty old men in the bar are rambling about their hero Berlusconi. It can be really, really, difficult. 

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Northern Italians Versus Southern Italians. Are They Really That Different?

My situation in Italy is a little unique. My husband is from a small (tiny) town between Rome and Naples but we live together in Florence. He’s lived outside of Italy in Spain where he made a lot of friends from the Brescia area who he is still very close with today. We have friends from the upper thigh of Italy all the way down to the toe and the heel of this country’s geographical boot. And, unfortunately, before I met my husband I dated someone from Brescia and I went on a few dates with a few Florentines as well because apparently I’m a giant whore. Some of our closest friends are in Florence, Rome, and of course Cassino and Naples. As an outsider I’m always observing people, watching their interactions, listening closely to their words. Following them home and then watching them eat dinner through their fourth story window. Just kidding. As a sociologist I’m constantly looking for what societal factors are influencing certain behaviors, what motivates people, what separates them, what makes them the same and what makes them different? Continue reading

9 Differences Between The North, Central, And South Of Italy

This list is the second part of another post. I’d recommend reading that one first: Northern Italians Versus Southern Italians: Are They Really That Different?

This isn’t an exhaustive list of differences and a lot of this is from my perspective as a foreign human. If you agree, disagree, or if I’ve forgotten something add it in the comments below! I’d love to hear your personal experiences as an Italian or an expat.

1. Religion. Most of the people we know in the south are religious as fuck. My mother-in-law is a bible teacher, one of our friends had an exorcism (not joking), and a lot of the people we know from the south wear a cross around their necks, do the church thing, and get really emotional when they see the Madonna (not that Madonna, guys). However, some of our friends in the south are also atheists. Our priest in the south scared the shit out of our dog with his intense energy, and refused to marry us unless I lied on a form and said I wanted babies (if you think I’m lying, ask my husband, he was sitting next to me). Also, once in Sicily they refused to give us the Morning After Pill because we were “old enough to have children.” Yep. In Florence it’s easy as shit to get the Morning After Pill. Our priest for our marriage classes (we married in Cassino but did our classes in Florence) was super progressive as far as priests go. He glared and shook his head at the super religious Florentines in our class. He told them that Francesco was exactly what Jesus would want (now THAT is scary) and that our relationship was what God intended for a good marriage (Yep, not even joking. ME and FRANCESCO). He was very open-minded and totally fine with the fact that I’m agnostic. However, there are still a lot of reaaally religious Florentines. Some of them were in our marriage class and they were very interesting, others were my former professors or friends. A lot of the Florentines I know are serious about Catholicism and they will cut a bitch. CUT. A. Bitch. Everyone that I know in the North from the Milan/Brescia area says they’re “not Catholic” but they were all baptized and some of them wear crosses. So I don’t know. Statistically, pretty much F-ing everyone in Italy is Catholic with a TEENY TINY percent of Jews, muslims and Christians and like 5 buddhists that the population ceremoniously sacrifices on good friday or something. I may or may not have made that up. Continue reading

Blogging About Italy Is Hilarious: Comments, Emails, And Humans

When you have a blog you know that there is a slight bump in traffic on days when you get a lot of angry comments or really fun, enthusiastic ones. On this blog I’m extremely lucky in the sense that our little community is fucking awesome, people are sweet and fun. Most of my comments and emails are simple questions about traveling to Italy or moving abroad. The number one question is: How do I find a job in Italy? The answer is: You don’t. I address most of these in my FAQ section. Check it out! And feel free to ask me anything, anytime, I try my best to respond to everyone. Sometimes the comments I receive are so nice that I’m elated for days (thank you so, so much). Almost everyone who arrives at Surviving is part of a really fun-loving tribe (except for that lady that just called me a liar, she’s just an asshole). Now, you guys know me, if I get a particularly mean comment I have a tendency to post it here and comment back for fun (I can’t help myself, remember that crazy misogynist?). Luckily, I don’t get too many jerks here.

My favorite comments/emails are the really personal ones where I get to learn about my readers (seriously, please share about yourself, I love it), or the really random or really unique emails that leave me smiling or mildly confused. Come to think of it, a lot of my unique or random emails/comments are also important life-lessons.

Can You Spot The Garden Gnome?

Can You Spot The Garden Gnome?

TOP FIVE MOST ENTERTAINING COMMENTS/EMAILS I’VE EVER RECEIVED: Continue reading

Dining In Italy: How To Avoid Making An Ass Out Of Yourself At The Dinner Table

I was checking my stats this week and there were an unusual number of people searching for “how to dine in Italy,” along with the usual searches like, “Italian hot mom sex,” and “Unicorn penis,” and, “How to pee in public,” WHO ARE YOU PEOPLE!? Freaks, that’s who! And that’s why I like you guys so much, you pervy weirdos. Anyhow, I realized that I’ve never really written anything about etiquette in Italy. Despite peeing in public, I’m surprisingly anal retentive when it comes to table manners. I’ve broken up with people for chewing with their mouths open. Rude dining or gross dining is on my list of reasons to kill or at least maim a person. I know, it’s ridiculous, but it’s not my fault. My parents are crazy people. When I was a kid if I reached “outside of my space” my mom would stab my hand with a fork (not like hard enough for me to bleed to death or cause infection, but hard enough that I regretted it). And guys, I went to finishing school. I’m pretty sure that you can’t tell (nobody can tell, trust me), but I did so I know which fork is which and I can totally drink out of the appropriate glass at the millions of formal dinner parties that I NEVER ATTEND AND NEVER HAVE BECAUSE IT’S BORING. Basically, it’s a bit waste of time and money, unless you’re planning on moving to Europe. Then that useless shit becomes kind of useful. Sort of.

MANY FOODS THAT YOU THINK EXIST IN ITALY REALLY DON’T, SO DON’T BE A PAIN IN THE ASS.

I’ve witnessed so many embarrassing situations in Italy that really explain why Europeans view Americans as pompous, entitled, lunatics. You’d be shocked by the behavior of a lot of tourists. Please, people, don’t come to Italy and scream at waiters because you had your heart set on eating a made-up dish. The food that a lot of people consider to be “Italian” in the United States is not Italian food from Italy. It’s immigrant creations by  impoverished Italian immigrants, generations ago. I’ve witness full-on screaming fights between Italian-Americans and ACTUAL ITALIANS where the Americans were lecturing the Italians on how to cook Italian food. One of my friends/ readers wrote a comment a while back (that’s you, Sid) about a heated exchange she’d witnessed whilst in Italy between an Italo-American family and an actual Italian waitress where they claimed to know more about Italian food than her and there was screaming and name-calling involved. I have tried to put myself in that situation to understand what could possibly motivate people to actually do or say such insane things but alas the only thing that I can come up with is that they are assholes. That’s it. Continue reading

Italian The Hard Way

This is why I drink.

This is why I drink.

When facing the difficulty of memorizing thousands of new nouns and verbs in Italian, I tried to concentrate on all of the positive things that would come along with having a command of the language. I’d no longer have to hide in back rooms or bathrooms to avoid conversations with party-goers or my husband’s friends. I’d finally have the chance to express my philosophy on the air violin as the ideal instrument, or the unicorn as a real forest-dwelling Libran who goes by the name of Gus. There was a small part of me that hoped that I wasn’t “weird,” I was misunderstood. I couldn’t manage to express myself as well as I needed to for such complex discussions. “Horse with string on face. Good, he is. He he likes,” just really doesn’t get the point across the way I’d like it to. “You play. This. Thing. With little arm. No you have no need when there is air. Practice you, you must.” Combine the inability to articulate all of the bullshit in your brain and you’re bound to be labeled “that creepy girl.” People would back away, holding me in their line of sight, “I don’t know what she said,” they’d whisper to a friend nearby, “but it seemingly involved my dead mother and a horny chicken.” Continue reading

24 Ways That Italy Changed My Life For The Better And Weird

San Donato Val di Comino, Frosinone, Lazio

San Donato Val di Comino, Frosinone, Lazio

It’s impossible to live abroad and not come home forever changed. Living abroad, no matter how prepared for the experience you think you are, is always more difficult than you’ve planned. I thought that since my family is multi-cultural that I could easily blend in and figure shit out. Totally not what happened. However, I did struggle, and as a result I became a stronger person. Now I’m so tough I ride unicorns through flame hoops while playing metal on an air guitar. True story.

1. Bathroom habits. I’m now more like a dog. I am fearless when it comes to peeing in public which is way more useful than you’d think. I’m pretty sure that most Florentines have at least caught a glimpse of my bare ass or hoo-haw at some point. My lady bits are like leprechaun sightings.

2. This might not be a “better thing” but it’s funny. Italy kind of made me a wuss in some areas. “Camping” now requires a tiny cabin, with a shower. I expect a dance club, pool, and cafe to be located in the camping area. However, I am no longer used to heat or air conditioning inside the houses so my ability to withstand extreme temperatures is higher.

3. Dogs are members of the family. In Florence dogs get to go everywhere and they do. I am a much better dog haver since living in Florence. I get annoyed when people don’t treat their dogs like family members. Dogs like Prada, too, bitch! I am confused when high-end stores won’t allow my dog inside in the US. It’s not that I can afford to be in there but I like to walk around on occasion to see what not poor people do in their free time. In Italy, the D & G girls would scoop my muddy puppy up and snuggle him. Why the fuck don’t you want to snuggle my muddy dog? SNUGGLE HIM!

4. Dining. I eat more slowly, restaurants are for people and conversation, food just happens to be there. I am the US’s worst nightmare. I fully expect to sit at a table for at least a few hours. If my food comes too fast I get stressed out. Stop trying to force me out! I’m drinking!

5. I don’t care what people think anymore. I’m so used to being stared at that when I go in public and nobody looks at me I feel shunned. Why isn’t everyone watching me? Look! I’m picking up a can of corn. Sigh.

6. I gesture a lot when I talk now which is probably good exercise. I seem violent from far away. “Ma che cazzo fai!” hand gesture, hand gesture, wave like a maniac.

7. I’ve become a food snob. If something isn’t delicious I just won’t eat it (which is fine because more wine!). But I care about the quality of my food a lot. This is good because I no longer have the tastebuds for processed foods or random chemicals that companies chuck into our diet.

8. Yelling doesn’t bother me, at all. Seriously, yell at me. Couldn’t care less. My skin is a lot thicker which is nice.

9. Eating in front of a t.v. instead of at a table seems somehow wrong. I was pretty much raised eating dinner in front of a television but after years abroad I can see how dinner with family and friends is so much more important and necessary for maintaining that connection. In the US, we’ve really lost a connection with each other over the loss of our family dinners.

10. I’ve learned that holy water is a real thing that you can get from the church. I’m much better prepared for a hostile vampire takeover.

11. I’m more confident. After moving to a foreign country, I kind of feel like I could do anything. It’s like being Jane in the jungle, I’m amazonian now. RAAAAR!

12. I am not really the type, but if I wanted to, I could nag the fuck out of someone. Seriously. It’s a skill.

13. I appreciate slow food, the act of eating rather than getting full. The dining experience is much more important now than it used to be. The idea of plopping into a table, shoveling food in, and leaving immediately totally weirds me out. This is good because I can maintain a healthy weight without killing myself at a gym every day.

14. I’m more family-oriented. My husband has been a very good influence on me in terms of family. If I’m mad at a family member, he’ll remind me that it doesn’t matter if they are a total dipshit because family is all there is in life. It’s really sweet unless I want to kill someone. Then it’s annoying. But mostly sweet. When my brother and I fight (which we do pretty much always), my husband will call him and try to work it out. Because family. FAMILY.

15. My priorities have changed. Both of my parents show affection through “things,” so I used to care a lot about stuff. I don’t care about stuff at all anymore. Italians are much less materialistic than Americans and that’s something that really rubbed off on me. I care about clothes, food, wine, going out and traveling, but I don’t really give a shit about stuff. If I have to choose between an experience or “things,” I’m going to choose the experience. It’s made me a much happier person. I also expect less from others. So, yay to not being a spoiled brat!

16. I kind of already said this but it’s important so I’ll say it again. I care about quality more than ever, especially about the quality of things I’m putting into my body. There is a very noticeable difference between produce quality in the supermarkets here and in Italy. I’m way more attuned to preservatives, chemicals, and crap. I can actually taste it now and it scares the shit out of me. “Mmm, this apple tastes like…death. Delicious!” No.

17. My goals are different. Now, everything that I do is about my family and friends. What job is best for my family? What do my friends need right now? What can I do to make sure we get to spend enough time together now and in a few years? Before I moved to Italy I was kind of a selfish asshole. Everything was about me, my personal success, and more me. I mean, I’m obviously not totally cured because I write a blog entirely about my life, but I also do it so that I can spend more time with my husband, travel more, and eventually hang out with kids more (if I have them, my vagina is still scared).

18. Quality over quantity. In the US it’s all about QUANTITY. In Italy it’s more about quality. Now, every year I’ll spend a lot of money on three pairs of shoes, and a few main items, but they are all very high quality and will last for years. Instead, in the US I would buy one thing that was 10 dollars in every color and replace it every three months as it ruined. This is good, for the environment, to support local businesses (in Italy high quality is usually Italian made), and also better on my checking account in the long run. I spent 300 euros on my last pair of winter boots, they were handmade, and are still in flawless condition after four years of daily wear throughout the winter. Seriously, it’s worth it.

19. I can speak another language. It’s kind of shitty in some ways because it also impacts my English (not awesome when you’re a writer) but it’s fun to have a secret language in the US AND a sort of secret language in Italy (English).

20. I wear less makeup and care less about my hair. The au naturale look is more popular in Italy which I appreciate (cause I’m lazy).

21. About the point above, except for high heels. High heels on cobblestone. I can navigate it like a champ so I’m more than ready for the circus. Bring it on.

22. I feel more a part of the collective than ever before. Yes, Italy is a democratic socialism, but it’s also the mentality that you find within the family. There is an idea that everyone is an extension of each other and individualism just doesn’t make sense. Now, instead of thinking, “I paid for this, if I don’t need it I should sell it and get my money back,” I think, “I paid for this, I’d like my younger siblings to have it because money within the family is money spent well.” It’s nice.

23. Cooking. I’m a much better cook. I’m a 10,000 million times better cook. Before Italy I couldn’t cook worth shit and now I can actually make homemade pastas and sauces and all of that. Kind of awesome.

24. I’m more knowledgable about world news. I’ve always been interested in world news and affairs but in the US you have to search out the information on certain channels or in specific newspapers. In Italy even local papers touch on world issues (except for things owned by that fucktard Berlusconi). I feel much better informed on what is happening on a global level.

Related:

How To Survive Being An Expat 

Why Everyone Should Live In Italy At Least Once

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