Tuesday, January 10, 2012

"It's not bad, just different!''

My friend Amy (whom I met here in the hotel, doing laundry...she has four kids too!) was telling me how she catches herself saying this when referring to being here, in Italy.

"It's not bad, just different'' and I think that's the best way of describing it. I haven't been here for very long and in all honesty, I haven't seen very much in the grand scheme of things but so far we are enjoying ourselves. A lot of what we do on a day to day basis is similar to life in the States. We're on the military base so we go to the PX, the commissary, eat a mediocre lunch at Burger King...pretty much the same thing you can do on any military base. But off post, things are different. Not bad, just different.

When we first arrived here and ventured out, I was kinda shocked at how old and (for lack of better word) trashy parts of our new country looked. Dilapidated houses, dogs and cats roaming freely, abandoned buildings, laundry lines everywhere, billboards/advertisments in random places...but then it kinda hit me. It's not trashy....it's old. Italy is waaaaaaay older than the United States. Vicenza (the biggest city near us) was settled in the third and second centuries BC. In 49 BC Vicenza received Roman citzenship. We're talking about a place, a city that is over 2000 years older than the States. The area is very rich in history and these "dilapidated/abandoned'' houses are here because here, they don't always upgrade. They're passed down from generation to generation. Many of them look abandoned but in actuality, people live there just fine.

I was trying to explain this to Bubba, who on Saturday asked how old these buildings were downtown, near the Piazza dei Signori...
There was a plaque explaining that the Church (on the right side) was constructed in 1560-1565... So I explained to him that it was almost 500 years ago. I told him how when these buildings were constructed, America wasn't even the United States yet! He asked if these buildings were older than the Alamo and I told him, "yes! Much, much older...by over 200 years!" He was floored! We explained to them how the bricks and stone that made up the road were just as old. As were most of the bridges and lots of the buildings. It was really hard for him to grasp how Italy could be so much older. 

And it isn't just the buildings and construction. Everything is kinda stuck in the past (except fashion... definitely not in the past!) Italy isn't a country obsessed with having the latest and greatest in everything. Even technology is waaaaay behind the states. The Italians all use phones that I swear, T-Mobile was giving out as free phones five years ago! I'm talking phones that have one screen that is just the green backlight with the grey numerals/letters. It's not a bad thing, it's just different. The cars are all very small and I'd say about 1/2 are at least over 20 years old. Not restored as antiques, but just that old. They still work so why buy a new one? An attitude that could definitely be a lesson to many Americans!

Here are some other differences we've noticed or gotten used to:

-Grocery stores don't take debit cards or credit cards...everyone pays in cash. Everytime we plan on hopping on a bus and going somewhere you'll always hear Ron or I ask each other ''Did you take out Euro yet?". Gone are the days of just grabbing the debit card and heading out!

-Public toilets here have two buttons for flushing. One button is for number #1 and another for number #2, it's to conserve water. The boys have learned that they need to push the bigger button so they don't waste water.

-Trash is divided into 5 categories: glass, plastic/aluminum, paper, dry waste and then organic. In some parts, recycling is mandatory and punishable with a fine or jail time if you're caught not separating!

-When you go into a small grocery store, you DO NOT handle the produce. You tell the owner what you would like and how much. He will put on a pair of disposable gloves, then get the produce for you.

-Having four kiddos is rare here. Even more so than in the States. Italy is small, for the most part. Smaller houses, smaller cars, smaller families. While yes, there are the stereotypical ''big'' Italian families...it's usually made up of extended family members. I have quickly learned that anything that sounds like "Mama mia! Sono tutti e quattro i vostri bambini?" is responded with "Si, sono madre a quattro". Yes, I am the mother to all four. I get asked this on the bus, sightseeing downtown, in restaurants and usually the next question (though I'm not sure what they are saying, I can tell by the word 'femme') is something along the lines of 3 boys and just one girl.

-Not a lot of Italians know English. Luckily when shopping, several store owners know just enough. Gelato stands know enough to help you order (at least the time we did it!). Restaurants are hit or miss but usually pointing and displaying fingers of 'how many' works just fine. Most of the Italian food words, are the same words. Spaghetti, pizza, calzone, cappuccino. Ragu means a sauce with meat. Prosciutto is ham. Formaggio is cheese then obviously parmesan, mozzarella, ricotta....are all the same. When ordering water make sure to say naturale, otherwise you will get carbonated and while some people like it, I think it's gross!

Oh and word to the wise if you have kids, get ready to push their bedtime back. Italians eat late...like restaurants don't usually open until almost 7pm and service is slow. Not bad, just different. Italians take their time eating. You're not rushed to give up your table. They won't even bring you your check until you ask for it.

While eating late was fine for us over winter break, now we're back to cooking as much as we can during the week and then going out on the weekends. I just can't keep my littles up that late regularly.

-Drivers here are nuts. I'm used to the "Motorcycles are everywhere...LOOK twice'' mentality of the states. In Italy it seems to be the "oh look a motorcycle in my lane...i'll just stay here, drive 2 inches from their handlebars and then HONK because they are in my way''. It seems like the lines painted on the roads in Italy are merely suggestions. I've seen people make a one lane into two. They do not stop for pedestrians in a crosswalk unless there is a light telling them to. They will come within inches of pedestrians as well, so word to the wise...do not walk in the streets and when you have to, walk as close to the curb or the parked cars as possible.

I know that there are more differences that we encounter each day and I'll continue to share those as we go. Until then, I leave you with this sign to ponder...
Yes this on post, but being a joint post (meaning the Italians are sharing it with the United States...both Americans and Italians work here) we see quite a few new signs!


  1. Wow...now that is fascinating stuff! Thanks for sharing all of that.

  2. Thanks for taking the time Shannon for doing all this. Really enjoy hearing all your adventures! daD

  3. Love to read all about your adventures! You do such a good job of describing your world that it is like we are "tagging along" with you. Thanks for sharing . . . thinking about you all. Paula


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