Italy: Norms I Won’t Forget

Half the fun of studying abroad is uncovering the little facets of a population that help to define its culture. As days turned to weeks and weeks turned to months, I began to appreciate (and unappreciate!) some of these norms, and found myself molding around them into my own piece of Italy. Some still stick out to me, and probably will continue to do so for years to come.

1: Touching

The concepts of personal space and touching are not defined by the same parameters that we tend to construct in the United States. Touching friends, family, and even strangers in a public setting is a communicative norm.

Being seated at Hostaria del Moro da Tony, a restaurant in Trastevere, Rome. (Sidenote: This is the only place in Italy to get the American classic, eggplant/chicken parm! But when it’s done as well as Tony does it, maybe you only need one place. Be sure to take home one of your table’s empty wine bottles as a memorable souvenir of his face; mine currently has some faux gerbera daisies sprouting out of the top for a decorative effect.)

Being seated at Hostaria del Moro da Tony, a restaurant in Trastevere, Rome. (Sidenote: This is the only place in Italy to get the American classic, eggplant/chicken parm! But when it’s done as well as Tony does it, maybe you only need one place. Be sure to take home one of your table’s empty wine bottles as a memorable souvenir of his face; mine currently has some faux gerbera daisies sprouting out of the top for a decorative effect.)

2: Stairs

Call me an American, but I initially expected elevators or escalators to be present when needing to go up and down many flights of stairs— Italy is certainly less accessible in this way, though not totally inaccessible. Perhaps this is also one of Italy’s responses to postmodernity…

 Catching my breath in the staircase of building “B” at the American University of Rome, looking down from floor 3 of 5. (€.50 double espresso in hand for the journey, of course.)

Catching my breath in the staircase of building “B” at the American University of Rome, looking down from floor 3 of 5. (€.50 double espresso in hand for the journey, of course.)

3: Food shopping

Italian cuisine has become some of the most popular food around the globe, often explained by its simple, fresh, and tasty ingredients. I could not agree with this reasoning more, especially after food shopping alongside Italians. Gathering these ingredients today is a daily social activity, and the compact size of household refrigerators reinforces this.

Food shopping in the open-air markets of Rome: pictures display plain spices, mixed spices, and fresh produce. Almost everything is charged by weight and is expected to be paid for in exact change. Italians can buy almost any fresh ingredient they desire on the streets, including meats, fish, breads, and cheeses!

Food shopping in the open-air markets of Rome: pictures display plain spices, mixed spices, and fresh produce. Almost everything is charged by weight and is expected to be paid for in exact change. Italians can buy almost any fresh ingredient they desire on the streets, including meats, fish, breads, and cheeses!

Rome 6Rome 5

Taryn Baum

American University of Rome

Rome, Italy

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