Monday, September 1, 2008

What I Love about Rome (part I)

The food is enough reason never to move. The olives and olive oil, the pasta at almost every meal, the bread, coffee, in-season fruits and vegetables, all these and more are a great part of why I love living in Italy. More than the quality and deliciousness of the food is the attitude of the Italian towards it. The food and the meal are not exactly considered sacred, but there's something of that in their attitude. We Americans often note how Italians sit for much longer than we normally do at the table. For an occasion like a birthday or anniversary it's not uncommon to sit at the table for three or four hours. Now this is something I never really mastered, but when watching it in action, I marvel at their priorities. They value the company of one another. A simple lunch-time conversation seems to them more important than whatever might be scheduled for afterwards. I like that.

The driving in Rome is quite a shock for the newly arrived expat. Immediately the excessive speed and reckless maneuvers on the part of the Roman drivers make quite an impression. Upon reflection, what's missing is the police presence. Growing up in New Jersey, our driving lives were spent with one eye on the rear view mirror on the lookout for the dreaded State Troopers. My ambivalence about the pros and cons of driving here is typical of much of what I love and hate here. I don't like the inconsiderate recklessness and even dangerous stunt driving some of them do, but I like the freedom to make an occasional deviation myself from the established driving norms, the rare u-turn, the double parking or even parking on the sidewalk - only when necessary, of course.

These days on the news there's a lot of talk about the malady of coming back to work after summer vacation. They've actually named it "mal di rientro." According to the experts, a full 50% of Italians suffer from this insidious disease. Symptoms: headache, irritability, inability to concentrate, sometimes even nausea or backache. My first reaction is what a bunch of wimps. But then I remember their way is better. Considering leisure time more important than the career is a good thing.

The Italian family is more in tact than it's counterpart in America. Divorces are less commonplace and the grown-up children usually live with the parents until age 30 or more. The low divorce rate must be a vestige of the Catholic influence on society. The kids staying home is usually due to economic necessity. This situation has given rise to a mildly pejorative word, "mammoni" which describes young men who are overly attached to their mothers and usually live with them until marriage. We would say "mamma's boys." Putting the American judgment on it, we quickly disparage the entire society which encourages this. But, once again, theirs is a better way.

And how about the sites? During the first five years I lived here my lifestyle allowed me to explore the art and architecture daily. Today I still drive around the Coliseum regularly and marvel at it's grandeur. Here's a video I found which shows some of the main attractions, every one of which I've walked around and investigated and snooped into countless times. What a city!


  1. Mike,

    I've talked before about the difference in culture and how that affects violence and much else.

    Given that viewpoint, how much of Italy's culture has changed / is changing / will change due to immigration?

    I don't know they numbers, but I wouldn't hesitate to claim that America has a greater immigration rate then Italy. Adding all the differing values, principles creates problems. Add to the issue the vast differences between North/South , Rural/Urban America; you can see there is an incredible amount of variety in culture/values.
    How much variation is there in Italy?

    I have been to Germany, unfortunately it was only a 30 day temporary duty, have friends who have traveled extensively and found much to be admired regarding the family, time, dealing with what is important in life. I also wonder how much of the mindset Italians have of being owed a living, a decent way of life versus something they earn.

    What I'm trying to understand is how the assimilation of the culture and the culture itself affects the levels of violence, unemployment, etc.

  2. The immigration, both legal and illegal seems to be at an all time high. I don't know how it compares to the US, but with Italy's much smaller population, it might very well be greater. From what I see the Italians are intolerant in word, which sometimes translates into laws and policies, but tolerant in deed. Most people have a fairly laissez-faire attitude about this and other issues.