Big City Meet Small Italian Village

23 Feb

My program, CIMBA, is located in the tiny town of  Paderno del Grappa, Italy, located at the base of Mount Grappa. For all you that saw the Sex and the City movie, you’ll understand this reference upon arriving at my new home for the next three months, “Hello! I live here!” My dorm room has those red shutters you see on Italian villas that unlatch and fling open to show a panoramic view of cobblestone walkways, terra cotta tile roofs, and the Italian pre-Alps. Buon giorno, indeed!

As gorgeous as this town is, PdG, (the CIMBA abbreviation of Paderno del Grappa), is very tiny.  I think the best way to stress the miniscule size of this town is to use an example. Let’s say you need directions to Alpina, la pasticceria (the bakery) here that serves delicious doughnut holes filled with Nutella that instantaneously melt the moment you pop them in your mouth (Did I mention only 90 euro cents?). To answer your question, “Dov’e’ la pasticceria?“, I would think most helpful would be to eliminate where it isn’t. It is not La Piazza, the bar and restaurant of the only hotel in PdG, where they love to play Michael Jackson’s greatest hits CD on repeat. It is not the pizzeria, Il Sole, where the owner Fabio is also the town’s taxi driver. It is not the sports bar, which was given that name because of its proximity to the soccer fields, that closes at 11 PM. It is not the tabacchi (pronounced tuh-bock-ee), the miniature grocery store that makes an addicting panino (sandwich) with fresh cheeses, vegetables, and meat. It is close to la farmacia, but it is not that building. So recap: It’s not La Piazza, Il Sole, the sports bar, the tabacchi, or la farmacia. If you were here in PdG you would know the precise building I was talking about after this process of elimination. Yes, there are only about 6 buildings in PdG and within the first day you know them all.

We were warned about culture shock during our last pre-departure meeting at school, especially in a tiny Italian town. Italy has incredibly different values and customs than America and sometimes it can create annoyance, frustration, or even make you homesick. Things here are different, but I cannot say that I ever felt discouraged by the cultural differences. All of the differences are fascinating to me. They really make you take a look at the Italian way of life and the American way of life and compare the good and the bad. Now I do miss the States. I miss ranch dressing, skim milk, and peanut butter. I miss being able to hop in the car to pick up something I need (or want) from the store or the mall. Those days when I could push a button and magically my guilty pleasure was playing on my TV screen, instead of waiting 30 hours for an episode of the Bachelor to download, seem so far away. It would make life a bit easier if I could just text people of my location or to give them a quick message. Oh gosh and all of the embarrassment I could save trying to string a simple sentence in Italian together, fumbling over my words. It would be nice to hear a coin drop and say, “Oh well, someone lucky will find a penny of mine today.”, instead of searching the ground frantically to insure that I did not drop a whole euro or 2 euro coin.

But I have come to realize that what I miss are the spoils of America, the convenience and the familiarity. Italians have a different value and idea of time. Even in the richest areas of Italy you will see clothes lines hanging out the window with all of the house’s laundry. Very few people in Italy own dryers. Why? It is a long line of beliefs and values that stem to the Italian value of beauty. If an Italian sees something that is beautiful they are quick to comment and verbalize their appreciation for that beauty. Not exactly a reason to excuse the cat calling and overly flirtatious nature of the Italian men towards us American women, but it gives us a better understanding of why they do it. This appreciation of beauty connects to the Italians value of appearance. How you dress here directly relates to what you feel and think of your inner persona. If you dress in sweats, then you do not care about yourself. This value of appearance connects to the value of clothes here in Italy. Thus, the Italians air dry all of their clothes because, though it take much longer, it keeps clothes in better quality and there is less of a chance they will be ruined.

This value of time is present in everything they do in Italy. I’m sure you’ve heard of siestas and probably wish that America would adopt this long lunch and nap time in the middle of the day. In our town everything closes at 1:30 and does not reopen until 3. The purpose of this break in the middle of the day is not because everyone wants to rest before they return to work. Italians value time with family and use this break to have a long lunch with their families. Even our American program closes their office for lunch and does not schedule any classes between noon and 1 so that everyone eats lunch at the same time. In restaurants you would never find a waitress laying the check down on the table telling you, “Whenever you’re ready.” In Italy, once you have a table in a restaurant it is your table for as long as you want. When you are ready to leave you must go up to the bar and ask for your bill. However, do not expect to have the waitress zoom back over to your with il conto (the bill). Expect to wait atleast another 10 minutes for your bill after you ask for it. Even in the business world, it is not uncommon to have your Italian business partner to be 15 or more minutes late. When that business partner arrives, he may even ask you out to coffee before starting the business. Italians want to get to know you as a person before they talk business with you.

So as I said, life here is different, but it has definitely rubbed off on me. I just returned from my travel week in London and found myself becoming irritated at their regimented queuing and their emphasis on the fast paced. I cannot even imagine at this time about the reverse culture shock I will most likely encounter when I return to the States. I’m hoping I can retain my newfound values for time and who knows, maybe even influence a bit of change in the States about slowing down a bit. Well I only have three minutes before class, which means I’ll be right on time! Ciao for now!

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2 Responses to “Big City Meet Small Italian Village”

  1. Michael February 24, 2010 at 3:13 pm #

    A very insightful post. Sounds like after just a short time, you are really figuring out the Italian way. Keep it up. The donut holes with Nutella sound like a dream!

    • April April 21, 2010 at 1:28 pm #

      Very thoughtful comments Colleen. I hope every study abraod participant will take your words to heart.

      Hey, if you like Nutella — have you tried Crema Novi (get the one in dark brown and gold container)? It’s even creamier and more luscious than Nutella. Oooohhhh….

      Shared your blog with Prof. Sam McCormick, a COMM professor who will be teaching at CIMBA next fall.

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