News - India Outbound
Life, Italian style
Being the centre of the erstwhile Roman Empire, modern-day Italy still reflects its traditional culture and style with the most number of UNESCO World Heritage cultural sites. We take a walk in the country through its streets smelling of espresso, and greet friendly strangers as we understand Italy’s food and coffee culture.
Take a stroll in the streets of Italy during the afternoon and almost everywhere you will be greeted with a sign saying ‘chiuso’ (closed). This traditional early afternoon shutdown, locally called ‘riposo’ is Italy’s midday siesta that varies from business to business, but usually lasts between 90 minutes to two hours.
The root of Italian lifestyle is a dedication to living life well, and so Italians work around the body’s internal clock. During riposo, most museums, churches, shops, and businesses, except restaurants, lower down their shutters as people head home for lunch and perhaps rest a little during the day’s hottest hours.
While in other parts of the world many eat lunch on-the-go or as they work, Italians consider lunch as the most important meal of the day. However, with globalisation reaching all parts of the world, malls as well as little shops in Italy, now remain open during afternoons. Nevertheless, many places still resist the wave and place a ‘Chiuso’ sign during lunch hours.
Welcome to Italy – where people are willing to sacrifice the possibility of making more business for the purpose of having a relaxed home-cooked meal. Only in a few places do both art and modernity, and cultural values intermingle so effortlessly. Italy may be the home of Prada and Renzo Piano, but it is also the land of chef Massimo Bottura and poet Dante Alighieri.
Just like in India, elements of contemporary lifestyle but also cultural art and values furnish every aspect of daily life in Italy.
No matter whether you live in a palace or in the countryside, the centre of most activities in Italy will be the kitchen. There are as many Italian spices as there are Indian. In fact, from the carbonara to Bolognese, every bite can be a surprise – thanks to the unique Italian ingredients and know-how. Italians love sharing their meals and time. Though people in other countries eat together too, but in Italy, preparing and sharing food together happens way more often.
Just like in India, Italians like to cook meals from scratch and elders pass down their ‘secret’ recipes to the younger generation. Talking of cuisine, Italy is known for its pasta and pizza culture. The streets in Italian cities are filled with stalls selling slices of pizza and menus at restaurants include variations of pasta. However, the pasta habit changes from family-to-family. Some may eat pasta every day, while others may only do so four days a week.
It is true that Italians love pasta. In fact, pasta is a proper meal and not just to accompany something else. “I grew up with pasta. It is a meal that every child eats. More precisely, children usually eat white pasta with pasta oil, parmesan cheese and few leaves of basil, because usually they don’t necessarily like all kinds of sauces,” Valentina Bonente, an Italian working in New Delhi, tells India Outbound.
After meals, having a coffee is a small, quick affair in Italy, whereas elsewhere in the world catching up over a cup of coffee involves lingering sips. Italians never drink a cappuccino after afternoon or evening meals. They prefer something smaller like an espresso or a macchiato. “Cappuccino is only for breakfast,” says Bonente.
When it comes to food, culture and social life, following the Italian lifestyle can be of benefit for all – from fresh and healthy food, to family ties and traditions, and simplicity.
The availability of fresh fruit and vegetables in the country is vast, and a person following a seasonal fruits and vegetables based diet is normal. Most towns and cities in Italy come up with a street market at least once or twice in a week, offering everything in the local area. Natural and fresh foods, as well as organic produce, are sold in these markets, buying from where can save money too as you can buy the same quantity in these street markets for lesser prices. Italians also frequent local farmer’s market every week to buy breads at bakeries and meat at butchers.
Moreover, many Italians grow their own spices, vegetables and fruits. No matter how small a plot of land they have, herbs and tomatoes in house balconies are common.
Traditional Family Structures
“Amongst the other things that are common between Indian and Italian lifestyle and culture, the most striking is I would say how both value family and culture,” says Neha Singla, an Indian who got married to an Italian and moved to Italy in 2016.
Italian families are indeed large. Until the previous generation it was common to have four or more children but today, things have changed and each family usually has one or two children. However, family lunches and dinners, and weekly reunions with close family and friends in Italy are not rare.
Grandparents, cousins, uncles and aunties are as important to Italians as they are in the Indian culture. This emotional reliance and bonding within a typical Italian family owes its onset to the 1950s and is a consequence of both necessity and habit.
Many say that the habit sustained their social systems as keeping the family close was necessary to keep everyone working in the fields, especially up until the economic boom of the 1950s in Italy, before which Italy was largely a rural country. Furthermore, for others, family values have always been a central point of importance for Italians.
Decoding Italian Myths and Beliefs
“Apart from the conception that Italians are all about pasta, another stereotype about Italians is that they have a lot of gestures while they talk and they speak loudly…and that is true,” adds Bonente. Just like other countries, from cats to broken mirrors, Italy too is a country where a lot of superstitions are followed – some of which are similar to India.
A popular belief is if a cat, especially a black one, crosses your path, it brings misfortune. But you can be on the safer side by taking three steps back, according to the locals.
But after years of believing in these superstitions, the way of thinking is changing for many. With time and modern influences, a lot of Italians, especially the younger generation is moving away from these beliefs.