Living Like a Local in Italy

by Nora on September 1, 2014

“How many people here actually know what this song is about?” I shouted over the din to my Italian friend and host. It was Saturday night in Pesaro Italy, and we were dancing on the beach with a thousand people to a nostalgic collection of old-school tunes. “Don’t Want No Short Dick Man” was blaring and hundreds of chic Italians were bobbing and jumping to the beats.

My friend’s eyes lit up. She smiled and mimed two big zeros with her hands.

We burst into laughter, while the “itsy bitsy teeny weeny shrivelled little short dick” lyrics continued on and a thousand people gyrated to it, completely unaware of the irony.

This came up because earlier in the evening, another nostalgic song came on, taking us back to our early adolescence.

“Oh my God! Fourteen! We were fourteen!” my friend squealed as she started singing along. Then she stopped, looking confused. “You know, I don’t actually know the words. What are they?”

Growing up in Italy, English-language popular music was rampant, but not speaking any English at the time, she and her friends just sang along to the sounds, as did all the people this night who were singing phonetically about short dicks.

 

Such was my week of bizarre and local experiences in Italy.

 

Arriving in Italy: Um…Perdono?

I’ve been to (several) dozens of countries, but rarely have I stayed with a local family with whom I’ve not been able to communicate. As such, my arrival in Italy was accompanied by some trepidation, which apparently my host family shared.

I wasn’t totally linguistically isolated; I was visiting a friend who I’d met in Peru (and who speaks perfect English). A fellow nomad of sorts, she was spending the summer in Italy with her parents, who so kindly showed me what Italian hospitality is all about.

“Does she speak Italian?” her parents asked her before I arrived.

“No, pero no problem. Language is unimportant,” she reassured them.

And my friend was right. By the end of the week I had acquired a healthy vocabulary of Italian swear words that were real party-pleasers, and I could catch the gist of most conversations and even say my bit using a combination of Italian, Spanish, and English.

(It helps that Italians are very demonstrative when they communicate; hand gestures and intonations go a long way).

 

Mamma Mia

One of the first things I observed living in and visiting various Italian households is the extent to which Italian mothers run the show. Although we live in a patriarchal world, some people surmise that it’s the women who ultimately call the shots, and Italian culture exemplifies this.

How does Mamma do it? (Read on).

 

Oh my Sweet Lord…the Food

Italian restaurants exist the world round, but I’ve never eaten anything in an Italian restaurant that even comes close to the things I ate in Italian homes. I was treated to homemade pastas, pizza, prosciutto (yes, homemade prosciutto), tiramisu, and a variety of foods that absolutely knocked my socks off.

I asked what the secret was to all this food I’d eaten before but never experienced as I did in Italy. Mamma replied that the flour in Italy must be different, but I think it was a coy deflection; the secret is in the unwritten recipes that pass from generation to generation of Italian women.

And thus, through the stomach, Italian women rule their households. Nobody makes pasta like Mamma.

 

…And the Coffee!

Ask for a cup of coffee in Italy – be it in a local’s home or a cafe – and you’ll get espresso. This is a highly caffeinated country; a few times per day, I was offered a tiny cup of high-octane coffee (espresso), which is typically downed in a few swallows. Although I rarely drink espresso (I prefer to linger over a larger drink like cappuccino), I couldn’t deny that every Italian household I visited (and I visited quite a few) knew how to appreciate good coffee.

 

The Birthplace of Metrosexuality?

At the beachside dance party, I observed something about Italians in general, and especially the men: everybody is incredibly well put together. Coiffed. Primped and preened to perfection. Even if the outfit at hand is ripped jeans and a t-shirt, it hangs on the body with stylish care and a level of perfection that I’ve not observed elsewhere.

I was aware of this stereotype before I arrived in Italy, and I mused to some of my new friends that Italian men must take as long to get ready to go out as women do. “Longer!” was their unanimous reply. “You must remember,” said my friend, “when you live in a country shaped like a boot, you must be fashionable!”

Anywhere else in the world, these perfect-looking men would be passed off as gay. Some were actually carrying purses. Others wore tight brightly coloured pants. And I’m pretty sure I saw some makeup on one or two faces.

Don’t get me wrong – it was truly refreshing to admire the efforts of a beautifully manicured male populous. Metrosexuality, shine on.

 

Living Like a Local in Italy

I was so blessed by my week of living with an Italian family and experiencing local daily life.

I was invited to children’s birthday parties.

I ate ravioli in Pesaro’s piazzas and wandered through music conservatories.

I attended mass for my friend’s deceased grandmother in a miniscule one-room church in a countryside town of 200 people, afterward sitting outside the pub and drinking Italian liqueurs with most of the town.

I visited the walled city of Urbino and strolled through the castle quarters.

I paid respect to my friend’s grandmother at a minuscule age-old cemetery perched atop a hill surrounded by vineyards and fruit trees, before visiting her spunky grandfather who shared with me his English vocabulary consisting of swear words he learned while serving in the second World War with some Americans at age 17.

And I was given the royal treatment by my friend and her generous parents, who drove two hours to pick me up at the airport, prepared special meals for me, took me around to see some sights, and brought tears to my eyes when it was time to say goodbye.

 

Grazie, Italy! Your passion for life (and good food, and pretty men) is contagious.

 

 

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{ 14 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Natasha September 1, 2014 at 2:25 pm

Wow that is quite the experience Nora – did you capture the dance scene on video? 😉
I guess you are doomed for life now – the only places to dine Italian is in Italy and at mammas table 🙂 . Lovely post !

Reply

2 Nora Dunn September 2, 2014 at 6:32 pm

Hi Natasha,
I didn’t end up getting any photographic (or video) evidence of the dance scene, since the lighting wasn’t conducive anyway. Best left to the imagination!
And yes, I’m ruined for Italian food forever. However, I see this as a gift: better to have eaten epic Italian food and lost the chance to do so again, than never to have eaten epic Italian food to begin with! 😉

Reply

3 Ed September 3, 2014 at 2:17 am

Good post. It’s always so much more special if you can experience somewhere like a local for a bit. I have done this in Malaysia, South Africa and several European countries but not Italy. The restaurant food in Italy was awfully good so now I’m realizing just how good the local stuff must have been after experiencing similar comparisons in those other places.

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4 Nora Dunn September 3, 2014 at 1:25 pm

Thanks, Ed! I think home-cooked food is always better than the restaurant version; it contains a secret ingredient that most chefs can’t quite replicate en masse: LOVE! 😉

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5 Fab September 3, 2014 at 5:38 am

Hi Nora,

so( in reference to your response to Natasha ) you won’t eat any authentic Italian food for the rest of your life!!

What a pity!!

All people in the world would have liked to see the fleshy sexy version of Nora after tons of excellent Italian food (eaten in Italy ) and not the slim and fit version of international Nora!!

(I was just kidding! Keep on being slim and fit!! )

However, here are the 10 most common errors in Italian Culinary Tradition which people around the world think are the true Italian style…

http://www.italian-food-lovers.com/2011/05/the-10-most-common-errors-in-italian-tradition-which-people-around-the-world-think-are-the-true-italian-style/

Hence, it isn’t a matter of “the secret is in the unwritten recipes that pass from generation to generation of Italian women”.

In other words, there aren’t any secrets about authentic Italian food beacuse there are tons of books ( written in Italian ) about true, authentic Italian cookery which vary very much from North to South Italy !!

Anyway, if by chance in the future, you feel like enjoying a complete ( food products and recipes from North to South Italy ) experience of authentic Italian food at an affordable ( not expensive ) price, have a try at Eataly!!

Let’s change subject!!

You said that in general speaking, Italian men are pretty metrosexual, I make you know that Italian people are very sedentary!!

Eurobarometer on sport reveals high levels of inactivity in the EU

60% Italians never exercise or play sport…

http://europa.eu/rapid/press-release_IP-14-300_en.htm

Hence, you have spotted a niche of Metrosexual Italian Men in a tiny part of Italy, which is quite different!!

All the very best for your new venture in Peru!!

Fab, greetings from Italy.

Reply

6 Nora Dunn September 3, 2014 at 1:29 pm

Hey Fab,
Do you mean that Italian men don’t generally focus on dressing well and looking good? I had heard this stereotype years ago….is it not true?

Reply

7 Fab September 3, 2014 at 4:44 pm

Hey Nora,

generally speaking, Italian men focus on dressing well which means buying expensive Italian brand clothes and shoes to look good and because of the fact that most of them never exericise or play sports and so they are a bit( or quite, it depends on the cases!! ) overweight, they can’t focus on looking good by definition!!

To sum up, in general they focus on dressing well to look good but they can’t focus on looking good because most of them are out of shape!!

And so the real question is this:

why, generally speaking, do they focus on dressing well to look good?

Because Italian women like that kind of men!! And Why? Because Italian women are much more focused ( in some cases literally obsessed!! ) on dressing well and looking good!!

In other words, like attracts like!!
Partially, it also depends on a particular Italian concept “Fare Bella Figura”, if you feel like reading “A good Field Guide to the Italian Mind” here is the book:

http://www.amazon.it/La-Bella-Figura-Field-Italian/dp/0767914406

Ciao! Fab

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8 Nora Dunn September 4, 2014 at 7:41 pm

Hey Fab,
Totally makes sense. Thanks for the explanation!

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9 The Guy September 3, 2014 at 11:33 am

Nice insight Nora. Clearly you had a genuine experience spending time with the locals and partying with them. It reminds a little of when my flight home from Tuscany was snowed in for 48 hours a few years ago. Since I was stuck in a hotel all day a colleague brought me to a house party which was a great memory. Oh, my goodness the food and servings was immense. Not everyone spoke English but we were able to communicate and enjoy the evening (I don’t speak Italian).

As for that song, I’ve never heard of it before. I may well be researching on YouTube tonight. I think it also sums up why I like our chart songs to be in English so I can understand it. If a song is in a language I don’t understand I feel very uncomfortable saying I like it or dance to it because I really don’t know what it is.

Reply

10 Nora Dunn September 3, 2014 at 1:37 pm

Hi Guy,
Getting those truly local experiences are priceless in my mind….and it’s ultimately why I travel.
The song is….well you’ll hear it. It’s ridiculous, but funny.
And I’m not nearly that discriminating about songs – if the tune is good I’ll dance to it, even if it’s in another language. I guess I’m the Anglo version of my Italian compadres that night! Ha ha!

Reply

11 Valerie January 7, 2015 at 3:26 pm

When you are traveling abroad, I would recommend living like a local in order to get an accurate view of the culture and lifestyle. So many delicious Italian restaurants exist around the world, but it’s nothing compared to authentic Italian food while in Italy. Thanks for sharing this!

Reply

12 Nora Dunn January 7, 2015 at 4:48 pm

Hi Valerie,
Amen! Since staying with this family, I can’t look at Italian restaurants the same way. I’m ruined! 😉

Reply

13 Ivan June 27, 2015 at 11:58 pm

Hi Nora
Great blog Wow what an amazing time in Italy
My wife and I live in australia and about to embark on a trip to Italy any suggestions to spending 10 days and taking in the some very local hospitality

Cheers
Ivan

Reply

14 Nora Dunn June 30, 2015 at 12:15 pm

Hi Ivan,
Ooh – you must be excited for your trip! For a way to get some local hospitality, you might want to look into doing a hospitality exchange (couch surfing). Here’s some more info on that:
http://www.theprofessionalhobo.com/2013/06/financial-travel-tip-82-free-accommodation-with-couch-surfing/

And if you have a home that needs some care in your absence, you could look into doing a home exchange:
http://www.theprofessionalhobo.com/2013/04/financial-travel-tip77-free-accommodation-with-home-exchanges/

And if you’d like a local meal (which in Italy is a must), you can try a program like this:
http://www.theprofessionalhobo.com/2014/10/financial-travel-tip-121-eating-locally-withlocals/

Hope this helps!

Reply

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