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Opinion

Learning the nuances of daily life in Italy

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April 6, 2012

I’ve spent the last week in Italy, some of those days with and without the International Traveling Classroom. Three days in Rome with my girlfriend has turned into a week in the lovely Verona.

On Tuesday of this week, we took a day trip to Venice for our Urban Geography class. As much as culture shock has played a part in our trip, I feel that Italy has changed me the most, or at least put me on a path to changing a bit.

In Scotland, I felt at home. In Germany, I felt at home. Yes, they were different, but just different enough to be interesting and force me to want to learn a bit more.

The Italian way of life, be it the rhythm and speed of it or just the attitude that a lot of the people seem to exude are so counter to how I live that it’s been a whole different kind of experience.

Anyone who knows me, including my professors, would tell you that I’m a pretty lax guy when it comes to things like time. I don’t like to rush and I don’t really need a plan to be fully set before I start out on it.

Italians play fast and loose with time as well, but in a totally different and sort of paradoxical way. As laid back and easy going as Italians appear at first, there’s this odd sort of rigidity that comes along with it.

Take mealtimes for instance. We’ll start with coffee, which is a big deal in Italy. I’m a coffee lover, so it’s hard to stay away from the bars. Yes, bars sell coffee and don’t always have liquor. I can’t explain it either.

Coffee is strong, sweet and readily available in a dozen different variations of espresso.

It’s cool to drink coffee almost all day, but apparently, it’s frowned upon to order a cappuccino after 11 a.m.

I don’t know why, it just is.

The Italians don’t really have a breakfast. Lunch is the main meal and a lot of citizens get long breaks in which to go enjoy it with friends or family.

Italian lunches can be a lot of fun.

Sitting in a pizza shop in Rome with my girlfriend and some of her friends during lunch was one of those fantastic experiences that made me feel like I was having a genuine cultural experience, much like the Burns’ night festivities in Edinburgh.

It will be hard to go back to eating pizza at home when I’m not surrounded by excitable, animated Romans.

Dinner is late by American standards. A lot of restaurants don’t even open until sometime past 6 p.m. It’s usually a pretty light affair and doesn’t start until eight or nine. The restaurants close around 11 p.m., so you’ve got a pretty small window to chow down during an acceptable time. You don’t want to be the last ones in the joint. Lots of stares and labored sighs from the staff.

I’m not trying to criticize them, I totally get having certain ways things are done. There’s a ritualism to food and drink that must be observed everywhere, like knowing how long to let a beer rest before drinking it, or that the grill master is in control of the barbecue, period.

I get it. It just seems odd coming from a place that runs on “Italian time” as one of our professors calls it, which basically means they’ll show up when they get to it.

Definitely can’t criticize them for that. I’d be a huge hypocrite. At first, I thought these people were nothing like me, but I think they’ve actually taught me quite a bit.

I’m a pretty high strung guy, I don’t deal with stress well and I let pressure build up way too much before letting off a bit of steam.

I’m a poorly constructed and maintained steam engine if we’re going to take the metaphor a bit further. All the procrastinating probably doesn’t help.

The Italian way of life has shown me that it’s possible to do things the way they need to be done, but to be able to maintain a level of chill to keep you sane.

It’s something I’m trying to keep in mind while traveling, which can be incredibly stressful when you’re missing trains and end up camped out in a train station for four or five hours. It just goes to show, even if you think that people are completely different than you, there will always be more similarities upon further inspection.

Chris Rohling is a journalism major with a passion for storytelling in almost every medium.