Friday, July 11, 2014

The Italian lifestyle

One of the things I love about traveling to other countries is that you get to see how other cultures live their lives. During my travels, I like to absorb the local lifestyle and bring back home lessons that I can apply to my own life.

Being in Italy for two weeks in one city, staying at an apartment away from the tourists, and socializing with my parents' Italian friends gave me a peek at the interesting ways that the Italians live. The main things I loved about the Italian lifestyle were the fresh food, the un-rushed mentality, walking and socialization.

A large part of the Italian lifestyle revolves around food, no doubt. There are fresh markets every day and generally there is a lack of desire for processed food. Italians consider "food" to be fresh produce - things that can expire. Italians also love seasonal ingredients. They do have supermarkets, but I didn't see a lot of people buying processed foods like potato chips. Italians only go to the supermarkets to buy things like pasta, pesto, yogurt and also tonic water. They had the largest selections of Frizzante I ever saw!

Many of the retail stores open early in the morning and then they close for 3 hours for lunch. And then they re-open and stay open until later in the evening. Italians generally have dinner later - going from drinks at 7:30pm and starting their dinner by 8 or 9pm, which is quite late by North American standards. So people are out and about for the majority of the day, and generally only go home to sleep.

(Store hours...hahaha!)

Italians also enjoy drinking a lot of fine wines and Prosecco, served at dinner. They may have an Aperitif, some Pinot Grigio with dinner, and after dinner they may have a dessert wine. During the day, Italians like to go for coffee breaks at one of the espresso and pastry shops. Many of these shops are set up like a bar where you are encouraged to stand and move around and talk to people.

Italians like to eat very slowly - hence the three hour lunch break - and they like to take time tasting and digesting their palate. It's not so much of a rush. They like to have nice conversations, or sit outside and people-watch in one of the squares. It is a more relaxed mentality - especially regarding food. It is not so anxious like we are in North America.

The food tends to be very simple with limited ingredients - but it is so fresh that it tastes divine. For example, a favorite of my inlaws' was Spaghetti Cacio e Pepe, which is spaghetti with olive oil, pepper and garlic. And another thing we loved to eat was arugula salad with a side of grilled vegetables in olive oil. My MIL feared Italian food because she didn't want to eat "so much cheese", but in reality, authentic Italian food does not have that much cheese. It is only accented with cheese - like pasta and a bit of Parmesan. And even the pizzas had very little cheese.

(Grilled zucchini with olive oil and salt)

In Venice, they change the display in the retail shop windows every single day. This is to entice people to buy more things and always display the freshest product. Also, they get so much foot-traffic that they have to show off fresh merchandise.

Italians also like to dry their wet clothes and laundry in the sun because they like the smell of it. So all over the city, between buildings, you will see lines of colorful laundry. In fact, there is only one coin-operated laundromat in the whole of Venice!

Another big part of the Italian lifestyle is natural exercise. People prefer to walk to do their errands, and walk to work and see their friends. The act of walking is really a natural part of their routine - and a joyful one too. By walking, you not only get exercise, but you get to know your neighbors which increases socialization. Everybody on the street is always speaking to somebody else. People spend more time walking outside than they do being encapsulated in their homes or cars.

Italians are very friendly people with a zest for life, and socialization is also very important to them. Often, when we'd be walking around, you'd see people saying "Ciao", making eye contact and acknowledging you, and a lot of locals stopping to talk to each other. It really increases the social atmosphere of the Italian streets. People prefer to walk because they always want to see somebody or something along the way. Again - the absence of the rushed mentality.

In Venice, the rhythm of life is parallel to the water tides. Everything is spur of the moment led by intuitive decisions. Nothing is planned and scheduled. On a daily basis, Venetians live their lives based on intuition, and not logical decisions.

In terms of manners, Italians are very formal and respectful. In churches, you cannot wear shorts or tank tops - this is for respect. At dinner, everyone will be dressing up in nice dresses, and the men wearing dinner jackets. Taking the time to thoughtfully dress up and take care of one's own appearance is a form of self-respect.

Italians also have a lot of respect for the elderly. Even though people talk in a louder, more animated way, there is no shouting or yelling in angry voices. There is a gentility about the Italian personality.

Family life is a whole is also prioritized - by families spending time together on a daily basis. Many of my parents' friends either still live with their parents or visit their parents for lunch every day. It is kind of like a joint-family mentality.

(Woman sitting on her balcony and people-watching)

In Italy, they have two phrases that sums up their lifestyle - "la dolce vita" and "dolce far niente". It means "the sweet life" and "the sweetness of doing nothing".

Now that we are back home, I'd like to bring back some of these lessons to our life. For example, walking to the market and only getting what I need for that day's dinner; or stopping to talk with my neighbors; making an effort to have a meal with my parents every day; and enjoying mindful moments of "dolce far niente"...


Dear readers, how is the Italian lifestyle similar to your culture? How is it different?



  1. Beeing Polish we also prefer home made, slowly cooked food (like indians too). But unfortunalet last 20 years is a dramatic change to my country not only from communist to democtaric but also when it comes to lifestyle. Processed food had been introduced with great success. There is no time for anything nowadays. People are too busy to know their neighbours. It was completely different before. Neighbours used to be like family members and people used to help each other due to lack of products in shops. Previously young people were given apartments by the government after marriage so there was no culture of staying together but still people were close. But now young people stay with parents for long due to lack of money and very often jobs. But even while staying seperately we still have a tradition to visit parents at least once a week for a long sunday dinner.
    Me and my husband went for a honeymoon to Italy 1 year back. We didn't stay long at any place so we couldn't blend into the society. Venice was uniqe. I think it is not the same everywhere in Italy. Rome was very very busy just like any other huge city. Naples was extremely dirty, demolished and dominated by mafia and I was more afraid to go out on my own than in India.

    1. That is so interesting to hear, and also about the apartments given by the government - what a great idea! I had not heard of that before.
      Ugh, processed food....all the problems in the world..
      I think Venice is much more unique as it is a walking city. I should have called this post "The Venetian lifestyle"!

  2. I am an Italian American woman, married to an Indian American man. While there are a lot of similarities within Indian and Italian culture, I've noticed a large difference around meals, which is eating at the dinner table (this observation could also just be based on my experience). It is not considered a meal, especially dinner, if family isn't seated at the dinner table within Italian culture. A great saying is: gioie della tavola, or "the joys of the table." I've had a hard time adjusting to Indian holidays and dinners because people are standing up or sitting in different rooms. I absolutely love leisurely meals that take three hours and include talking to everyone around a table. It might not culturally be the same, because Indian holidays are typically so much larger in terms of the number of people attending and it would be difficult to find a table to seat 60 or 70, but its something that I love about Italian culture.

    1. I have the same observation as a French woman. My Indian husband really annoys me with his habit of not coming to the family dinner table, to me it's like a slap in the face. (Padparadscha)

    2. Yes, one thing I cannot stand about Indian culture is the genders eating separately. Like men eating before women. I think it is absurd!
      @ Natalie - I love that saying about the joys of the table. You can bond so much over meals shared!

  3. Walking is something that is done in many European countries, in Switzerland we avoid taking the care if we can, walking, taking public transports and cycling prevails. And you find this same mindset accross European cities. This is the best way to get your workouts into your day. I still do it as much as I can in India.

    1. I love walking, it is an excellent way to exercise and see the city. As a photographer, it is my only way to explore. I also love doing it with my daughter :)

  4. I want to go to Italy after reading this. Sounds so nice!

    1. It was great! You should go there for your honeymoon! It is a very beautiful place :)

  5. Wonderful pictures and a nice post..Loved the colours of veggies :)

    1. Thank you! The veggies were so fresh, many restaurants home-grow it in their own garden.

  6. I loved this post-it tells so much about the Italian lifestyle.I love their laid-back lifestyle and the habit of walking and socializing.

    1. Me too! It is great to take back with us, of how to improve our lives.


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