Thursday, February 3, 2011

Playful Differences & Similarities of Italian vs. American Life

Twenty-four years. I simply can’t believe I’ve been living in Venice for twenty-four years!

January 31, 1987 was a warm, sun drenched day in Los Angeles when I kissed my family and friends goodbye at the Los Angeles International airport. I had all I needed with me: a one-way ticket, a few treasured belongings boxed and stored in the cargo hold of a PanAm jet, my wedding dress wrapped in a garment bag and held high above my head, and the man of my dreams by my side. I was leaving my world behind and was headed for the unknown.

We landed the next day on a fog covered winter morning in the city by the lagoon; two bone-chilling weeks would pass before the sun I left in Southern California finally came to our aid and turned the gray Venetian sky blue. It was a grim introduction for a young woman who was used to spending her workweek in a high-rise Beverly Hills office and her weekends sitting by the pool. But it was my new world and my new lifestyle, and it turned out to be the best choice I’ve ever made. Thank goodness my wonderful, patient partner never tired of me asking the question: Why? You see everything was different and being new to all this, and the nothing is impossible analytical type, I’m sure there were times when I drove my future husband crazy.

While tripping over the language (for the longest time I avoided using a spoon because it was too hard to pronounce cucchiaio…way too many vowels) I was prepared to pull everything I saw wrong with Italian bureaucracy into shape. Just give me six months I said, and I’ll have this place organized. How arrogant of me to think my way would be better! That’s not to say there isn’t a lot that could be done differently here, even the Italians will tell you that, but it took me a few years to realize there is a reason why countries, cultures and people see and do things differently, and that what works for one may not be right for another. And there are so many, many things I would never want to see change.

I have been asked countless times in the last twenty-four years by both Italian and American friends: Where do you like living the best, and what are the differences between your two countries?  I honestly love them both. How lucky am I to have two fabulous countries to call home?  I’ve made a short, playful list to give you an idea of the differences and similarities I’ve come across in the last two decades; differences that are now the norm for me. I’m sure there are many more, so feel free to add some of your own!

Coffee is not sold in paper cups                              
It is considered uncivil to set a lunch or dinner table without a table cloth               
Most Italians take a long vacation in August                                              
Beer with pizza and sandwiches; Wine with everything else; Milk is never served with meals                             
The majority of couples decide to only have one child
Grandparents take the place of daycare                                           
Soccer is the number one sport and has an 11 month season                                                           
Public transportation is used by all                                     
Consumers often seem to have fewer rights than the service providers                                                   
Old buildings are cherished and restored                             
You bag your own groceries and pay for the bags                                        
Slow-food is a way of life                                                    
Everyone drives as if they’re in a Ferrari                                         
People don’t really care what you do for a living                 
Baseball makes no sense to Italians                                    
It is acceptable to leave work in the morning to pick up your family’s daily supply of fresh baked bread
In larger cities people walk more than they drive
Pets are welcome in most restaurants                                                                     
Public schools are considered better than private                 
No one is without good healthcare
Meetings are scheduled to schedule meetings

Similarities between U.S.A. & Italy                                          
Women love shoes and handbags made in Italy
Most women work outside the home
Everyone loves gelato and pizza!    
Pets are like family members
Basketball fans love the Lakers (this would be more Italy/L.A.)
SUVs are popular
Most don’t trust politicians
Everyone has a cellphone, or two
People dislike call centers
Most high school grads go on to college     
Bruschette, risotto and pasta!
Gyms, yoga and wellness centers
Italians love the U.S./Americans love Italy!                                                


  1. So true! How I miss some of those things in Italy on the difference list. Not the bureaucracy, I must say, nor the customer service. Nor the traffic/parking problems. But the indescribable beauty...I long for it! Alison

  2. Maria,
    I met you at Carla (Mansfield) Kimball's right before you left. 24 years! Wow. I've thought about you and told your story many times. I'm so happy life has turned out so beautifully for you. Venice is one of my very favorite cities in Italy and seeing it through your blog gives us a more in depth look at life there. Thank you and keep posting!

    I wish you well!

  3. I enjoyed reading your lists. I will be visiting Venice this year and am wondering if you have a favorite gelateria?

  4. Hello ladies...thank you for your comments. Gwen, I do remember meeting you just before I moved here. How nice to hook up once again.
    Lucy, yes I do have a favorite gelateria. It's "La Boutique del Gelato" near San Lio. From Campo San Bartolomeo (a campo near the foot of Rialto bridge on the opposite side of the mercato)you'll see a "portico" go under the portico, follow the calle (alleyway) over one bridge and continue on until you are on Salizada S. Lio (a little wider calle). The gelateria is on your left, and isn't hard to find...because often there's a line! It is the best gelato I've ever eaten in Venice! Buon Viaggio & Buon Appetito!
    And Alison...we miss you, too!

  5. Italy :
    most of reataurants are italian foood ones( no exoctic cusine in Italy)
    most of windows are " a due ante" and u open them vertically and not horizontally
    the soup ( minestrone " is served to kids when they don't behave

    Maria .... i love your list!!!!

  6. Grazie Giovanni! I love your additions, too! For our English speaking friends "a due ante" means double windows that often tilt back to open at the top, or swing open. They are not the traditional U.S. sliding windows. AND Giovanni, something tells me your mother made quite a bit of minestrone when you were a child :)!

  7. Twenty four years ago??!!!! Unbelievable!!

  8. I agree with everyhting! I'll e-mail the link to my American friend Kristina. She'll love it!

  9. Here is one question that I would love to know about. I am sure that there are a lot of people from other countries living in Italy but is Italian society as diverse as society in the US? I have always thought that European countries tended to be pretty homogeneous unless, like Britain, they had a lot of colonies and allowed pretty free access to their country for people of those colonies. Does Italy have any large non-Italian citizen groups?

  10. Hi David,
    You're right, Italy has been one of those European countries that has been pretty homogeneous, until the last 10 years or so. When I first moved here there were small groups of North Africans immigrating, then with the war in the Balkans many Slavs and Albanians began arriving. The expansion of the European Community Member States has brought many Eastern Europeans to Italy, too. In addition to many of Middle Eastern origin, mostly due to the wars in that region. So yes, although Italy has a very strong nationality, nothing like the "melting-pot" in the U.S. its demographics have changed in the two decades I've been here, and I would guess will continue to change in the future.

  11. Just found my way here thanks to us both making the italy tutto top ten list this week and you kindly leaving a comment on News From Italy. Delighted we have found each other, I have just enjoyed reading back through your posts. I will add you to my Italy blog list.

  12. Thank you LindyLou...I will do the same and post your blog on my list, too. A presto!

  13. Thanks, again, Marie, for sharing my blog. Hope to share yours, too, soon.
    I am happy to say that I'm half Italian. I would dearly love to meet even just one relative on my mother's side of the family. I know of no such relative, though.
    It's great there are so many similarities. Love the differences, too...makes life exciting.

  14. Hi Joan. I'd love you to share my blog. Thank you!
    Do you know where in Italy your family originated? A city, a province, a region? Who knows, they could be from a small town very close to me!

  15. Quel bonheur de pouvoir vivre ainsi à Venise, mon rêve...Buona giornata, a presto !

  16. That coffee looks so luscious!

  17. Love your playful list of similarities, Marie. But when I'm in Italy I'm usually thinking "Viva la differenza!"

  18. My name is Bonnie Marie and I left Newport Beach, Cal. for Italy for the 3rd and final time in July of 1988. I too love both countries and just couldn't decide where to settle down - maybe I never will ;-)
    If I wanted to add something to your fun list about differences with Italy it would be one of the (few) things my husband and I disagree on in terms of food. I have bacon and eggs for breakfast and drink coffee with them, he has bacon and eggs for dinner and drinks beer with them.
    Thanks for your post reminding me that life in Tuscany is just how I like it.
    a presto!

  19. Hello Bonnie Marie,

    When to eat bacon and eggs is certainly an item to add! I admit over the years I too have gotten in the habit of eating eggs--una buona frittata di verdura--either for lunch or dinner. However, whenever I'm back in the States I love to have brunch at one of my favorite oceanview restaurants and order Eggs on the side!


  20. As for the melting pot thing,I would say that even if not in the same way as the U.S. or Britain, Italy has some diversity as well. Maybe not in terms of ethnicity, but there are many linguistic minorities throughout the country. French,Alemannisch and Occitan in Aosta Valley and Piedmont, Ladin and German in Trentino Alto Adige, Slovenian in Friuli, Catalan in Sardinia, Greek and Albanian in Southern Italy.