From my experience in Italy, I have concluded that the best way to travel abroad truly is to live with a family or a group of natives. You learn 10x more from observing, being forced to speak the language and going outside of the typical American tourist bubble.
My experiences with my host family have taught me more about the pace of Italian life and what they hold most important. I’ve comprised a list of some things we as Americans need to learn from Italians.
1. How to Work
In Italy, almost all places close for two hours in the middle of the day for families to come home and have a big lunch altogether. This gives workers time to relax, take in some nutrients and recharge. Two hours gives enough time to take a little nap as well. They laughed when I said Americans were typically given a thirty-minute lunch break, which most times is spent working.
Over antipasta, wine and cheese, a local friend told me that she used to have a short break at work and would get extreme migraines and anxiety. When given time off, she said she worked better.
However, I was told that major cities in the north like Milan (which has a Los Angeles pace to it) has so much traffic in the area that for people who live out of the city, it can take two hours to go to and from work.
One night over drinks with some family friends, someone said something to me really stuck out. He said, “My work is important, but my life is more important.”
2. How to Eat
This is an obvious one and I could do a whole post dedicated to Italian food. There is just way too much to say. The food in Italy is given such careful thought and is always fresh. There is also the way Italians eat; always together, always sitting down, and always multiple courses.
I have learned that the way we eat can symbolize how we live our lives and the way we treat food has a very clear reflection on the way we treat others. When preparing meals, careful thought goes into each dish with finding the best freshest ingredients, preparing a table and sitting down to enjoy friendships and have deep conversations. In the states, eating feels hurried. We grab take-out, heat up meals in microwaves, or eat standing up. Look at our relationships- always cut short, less meaningful and less involved in each other’s lives. This leads me to my next point.
3. How to Love
Italy is the country of love. Or is that France? Either way, you can feel the love here. I’m not talking about romantic love, although I have seen a lot of that. I’m talking about genuine love for our friends and family and how we show it. Maybe it’s just because I live in Los Angeles where everyone is there is to accomplish their goals and get things done. I see friendships and family relationships here and I am so jealous. They are all so involved in each other’s lives. When Mateo, my youngest host brother, broke his nose last week, every day there were cousins, aunts, uncles, sisters, brothers, teachers, parents of friends, who all gathered to see him. I told them that if I broke my nose my parents would probably come to see me, but that’s about it.
My goal is to have deep relationships. It is our choice to invest in our friends and family and when we choose not to we are saying our lives are more important. When in fact, your life will be richer and more fulfilled when you lift your head up for one second.
4. How to Use Technology
We won’t answer each other’s calls but we will post on Instagram. We will hit ignore and text back hours later saying, “Hey, did you call?” “Sorry, I’ve just been so busy.” What if I actually really needed you? I honestly have stopped calling some of my friends because I know that they won’t answer and that I should save my calls for when it is truly important.
They call each other all the time and never have I ever seen someone ignore someone’s calls, which is ironic because they aren’t attached to their phones.
5. How to Carry Yourself
Everywhere I go people always look so nice and put together. It’s not that appearances are that important, it’s just them having respect for themselves. Taking that little extra effort to put on a little makeup, some boots or a scarf, and carry themselves in a way that says, “Yes I am beautiful, I take time and effort to invest in myself, reflecting how I invest in everything in life.”
They all also dress so differently. There aren’t really trends, everyone just rocks their own look. Obviously, European fashion is way more advanced than American fashion, but it is also the perception of fashion. In America, it’s like, “Hey I really want that purse that everyone has.” In Italy it’s like, “Wow, this is beautiful on me.”
I’ve struggled with the concept of beauty for a long time. One night, before we were going out to the festival of Santa Lucia, I was watching Elyana put on her makeup and told her that I really liked her lipstick and she replied that she would take me to the store! So on our way to Saint Lucia, we went to this makeup store called Forma or something, which is kind of like a cheaper Sephora. She had me pick out a lipstick; she bought three and said I could have her free one. The hospitality of the people.
I put my lipstick on the next day and said to myself, “You are beautiful.” Beauty has been a hard thing for me to wrap my head around, and I never really considered myself to be a beautiful person. In LA, there are so many beautiful people everywhere and everyone is always looking for the next bigger and better person to cling on to. But with that being said, I compare myself to everyone and it has been very hard for me to see myself as beautiful.
Putting on the lipstick, I felt redeemed, as if a part of me had come back to life. I thank Italians for showing me that we each have our own inner and outer beauty that when embraced, we can live confidently and assertively.