The Italian culture and lifestyle would be nothing without the people of Italy. The rolling green hilly landscape and amazing delectable cuisine full of handmade pasta and gelato help-but the Italian people themselves are truly special. Stereotypically Italians are known as being loud, passionate, confrontational, and full of gestures. My first day in Macerata, a friend and I were walking down the main street Coso Cavour and immediately heard two very loud voices outside a “pasticceria”(pastry shop). There were two middle-aged women standing very close to one another screaming high-pitched Italian at each other. One was carrying a plastic bag full of vegetables and using her other hand to wave dramatically up in the air while the other was looking up into the sky rolling her eyes with a hand defiantly on her hip. Walking towards them, I whispered to my friend and noted, that they seemed very angry they must have be in an argument. Not thinking anything of it we walked past them and went into a store.
Coming out five minute later and still hearing the same voices I turned toward the two women. To my dismay the two women were air kissing each others cheeks while smiling and enthusiastically singing, “Arrividerchi, Ciao, A Demani” (Bye, See you later); pleasantly walking away from each other grinning. I was stunned, was it not minutes earlier that I had just witnessed these women in a huge fight. Confused I thought back on the situation. Although I didn’t realize it then, Italians are very passionate people and very family oriented. What I first assumed to be an argument from my Americanized perspective was actually just a normal Italian conversation that consisted of loud voices, big gestures, and highly engaged conversations. Passionate is the best word to describe Italians in my opinion. Italians demonstrate passion in forms of love, friendship, and for their homeland and country.
This passion transfers not only between friends and family but strangers as well. One of the most memorable experiences and true representation of the Italian people and culture was meeting my neighbors Silvia and Marco. The first month in our apartment in Macerata, my roommate and I were cooking dinner for some friends in the program and had the door slightly open for them to walk in. As we were cooking dinner chopping fresh vegetables and boiling water, we heard a knock on the door and bursting in came this older Italian lady into our tiny apartment filling the small hallway with a huge smile.
She was tall and had a head full of curly grey hair with piercing blue eyes and was wearing layers of jewelry on her neck and fingers. She looked at our stunned expressions and started greeting us with “Ciao” and other Italian phrases with such a warm smile that it didn’t matter that we had never met. She quickly enveloped both my roommate and I into a huge hug and put a gift-wrapped bag into our hands, which we later discovered was full of lemons and a mason jar of prune jam.
I was stunned, who was this Italian lady and why was she being so nice to us? In Italian she was asking us our names and where we were from. I was surprised I understood her after only a couple weeks of Italian. Silvia was smiling and was genuinely interested and seemed overly excited to meet us. After exchanging names and that we were from America, Silvia kept pointing up to the ceiling and then to herself. Silvia was telling us she lived upstairs and rapidly grabbed my roommate’s hand and was rushing her out the door up flights of stairs. I quickly grabbed my Italian dictionary and followed them up to her apartment. Unfortunately, the basic Italian phrases would only last us so long. (put somewhere else)
My roommate and I ended up spending a couple hours with Silvia. We met her husband Marco and their son. She fed us delicious traditional Italian Easter cake and gave us a tour of the apartment. The older couple pulled out old family photos and went through each one of them with us pointing out their other children and different vacations around Italy they had taken in the past. They showed us pictures of the Italian coastal beaches and slowly pronounced the names of the cities making us repeat it with an Italian accent. Then they would either smile energetically at our achievements or sourly shake their heads at our botched Italian and would repeat the word until it was identical to their smooth Italian dialect.
We also discovered that Silvia’s husband Marco was an artist and Silvia proudly displayed all of his many types of artwork to us making gestures of painting on a canvas. All of this time, it was my roommate and I speaking English and Marco and Silvia speaking Italian. Although there was a language barrier, it was as if it didn’t really exist because of hand gestures or commonalities. Somehow we managed to understand one another without the use of language. They taught me so much about the Italian landscape, and I even learned the days of the week from Silvia and Marco later on.
We left with smiles on our faces and I felt truly at home. Silvia was the perfect Italian grandma and opened her house to two random strangers she just met. I don’t think she realized it at the time, but she created a sense of family for me, without knowing it. Although Silvia didn’t speak English, and I never really knew in-depth Italian we managed to create and form a relationship and her passionate persona is one I will never forget.
* All names have been changed for privacy
– Rachel Davidson, Food & Culture in Macerata