Cultural DifferencesRome, Spring 2009

Author: Michael Boswell
Placement: Casa delle Letterature (House of Literature)

Having studied Italian for seven years and grown up as a second generation Italian-American, I believed that there would be minimal change necessary for me to align myself with the Italian culture. I was mistaken. The Italian culture is very different from the American culture I have grown up viewing and experiencing.

One small example is the attire which Italians wear. It is true that jeans, sweaters and suits exist in both places, but there are differences in how and when they are worn. Italians seem to put a higher precedence on their appearances. At home in New England, the weather varies heavily on a day-to-day basis. Some days may have freezing temperatures and snow, but the following days can see temperatures in the 70s Fahrenheit. As a result I would simply switch from wearing jeans and layers to shorts and a t-shirt. Spring has brought warmer temperatures to Rome, but to avoid a cultural faux pas, I have had to wear jeans to my internship when I much prefer shorts. However, I understand the importance of keeping up appearances as a means to better present myself and represent the organization with which I do my internship. This is one small difference between Italian and American culture.

The most significant Italian cultural difference, which is evident within days or even hours of arriving in the country, is the perception of time. In the United States, everyone moves at a rapid pace and uses each moment to accomplish something. People may not eat a full meal until the evening because there is only time for a coffee in the morning and a quick snack at lunch. This could not be further from the Italian perspective of time. In Italy, time is seen in a lighter sense in that people do not seem to rush. Italians will casually walk down the street and converse with friends, snack on some pizza al taglio or simply appreciate their surroundings. In the U.S., time equals money, but in Italy time equals life.

In one example of how time differs between cultures, a law in a certain part of the city of Rome dictates that between the hours of 2 PM and 4 PM quiet time must be observed. In this period of time, not just in this particular part of the city but all over, businesses close their metal gates and take a long break for lunch and possibly even a nap. One might think that the business would reopen and stay open later, such as 9 or 10 PM, but this is usually not the case. An idea such as this would seem ridiculous to an American that is not familiar with or entirely accepting of different cultures because if the store was open longer, it would probably increase its profits. There are two other instances which run parallel: businesses are closed on Sunday as it is a day of rest in the Catholic world, and certain businesses, such as restaurants and pizzerias, are closed on Mondays or Tuesdays as their days of rest. Without understanding that Italians take such measures to enjoy life more, one might believe that they are just lazy; however, this is not the case. It is important to note that things differ from place to place, and one does not need to personally accept these differences but only recognize them and understand them. It may be frustrating at times, but a culture cannot change for one person’s needs. Patience is a trait which I needed to improve, and Italy has helped this in leaps and bounds.

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