School is out, the rains have gone, and once again, the beach umbrellas are up along the curving beach. It’s officially my third summer on the Italian seashore. Lather up the sunscreen. Rinse off the sand. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat.
I’m a pro at this Terracina beach life by now. The tourists are back, just as I knew they’d be. They are clogging up my parking spots and making noise at night once again. I’m not white like mozzarella anymore, but toasty beige like scamorza, yet the villagers continue to ask me: Aren’t you going to the beach? I no longer get annoyed; by now, I know it’s just Terracina small talk.
We have, once again, the weekend dithering: Which city? Which outdoor concert? Which English-themed pub? Which summery dress? and the boys are back to their Uh oh, here she comes – the foreigner with her foreigner hat! Seriously, you can just tell she’s a foreigner when she wears that hat. Could you BE any more American right now? Followed swiftly by – wait for it – Come on, let me try your hat on.
There’s a rhythm in this town and you’d think that after nearly almost 2 years here, I’d be integrated. You wouldn’t be wrong. There are lots of things I’ve gotten used to living away from the United States; living in Southern Italy. Celsius is slowly beginning to make sense – heck, I even voluntarily switched my Google weather reading from Fahrenheit the other day. I’m used to the bacetto. I’m used to the hand gestures (love it). Used to people crossing the street any time they damn well please, and I’m used to the fact that the police are useless and I’m not to count on them for anything. Ever.
I now have a guy for everything – my frizzed out hair, my worn down heels, my persico fillets, my spicy local sausage, my rattly alternator, my leaky washing machine, my spotty polyester dresses.
I now can direct tourists on where to go (the Temple of Jove), what to see (the ancient quarter), and what to eat (bombe, boar sausage, muscatel grapes).
I now plan my meals based on what foodstuffs I am gifted on any particular week: eggs from Piero’s neighbor, a foil-wrapped wedge of Parmigiano Reggiano from Old Man Angelo, lemons or avocados from Flora’s garden, a surprise kilo of mussels from Maria.
I no longer have a problem with the “pausa di pranzo” – those 3 or 4 hours that Italians take for lunch. Plan around it, that’s all. Enjoy.
I now often think and dream in Italian.
I’m accustomed to the fact that if I turn on the radio, there is a 90% chance that I will encounter a Police song.
I’ve made peace with the existence of Fabri Fibra.
I agree that Terracina should be named a UNESCO heritage site and will be indeed signing that petition!
But even with all this assimilation goin’ on, there are some things I still cannot, simply cannot, get used to about life in Southern Italy. Namely:
- Speedos. I know I’m just a prudish American, I know this is Europe and y’all are happy and free with what nature gave you but I’m sorry; you men look ridiculous. Even when your bodies are perfect, even if I derive great pleasure from watching you frolic on the seashore looking like glistening Greek deities or muscly ponies, you still look ridiculous.
But apart from that, as soon as you come within five feet of me, I can barely look you in the eye. Perhaps this is because
your secret plan is to have me look you in the dong. That’s why you put on a spandex garment that clearly shows its shape, isn’t it? You could have just asked me out, you know. You didn’t have to resort to witchcraft. Maybe I don’t want to know that you wear it to the left, ANDREA. Maybe I don’t want to know that you’re hung like an elephant, GIORGIO.
Seriously. I don’t.
- Sharing the club scene with young children. Maybe this is just something that happens in my small town. Maybe I should, instead, applaud “cool” parents who don’t want to sacrifice a night out just because they got knocked up 7 years ago. I mean, why shouldn’t people have it all? After all the effort one puts into feeding their children soda and candy and taking them barefoot through the streets, why shouldn’t they get to sit back and relax with a plastic cup of Peroni while their spawn races around the bar and does cartwheels through the reggae concert? Timekeeping is clearly for the antediluvian killjoys, like myself, who believe in bedtimes and think it’s just plain weird to share a dance floor with a child who’s up past midnight. A child who will go home reeking of cigarette smoke; visions of tequila and desperation in his head.
- Adults living at home. I’m sort of used to this. My brain accepts that it’s a reality and that it’s a cultural thing I just have to get over… the same way my Italian friends have to get over the fact that I wear a hat and that I, conversely, live “all alone” – like a prostitute, like a freak. But I can’t. It is literally impossible for me to wrap my brain around the idea that my 40 year-old friends have never paid a bill and need to check in with their mothers if they’re coming home late. I might be a prostitute, but at least I am the captain of my own ship. My own filthy, filthy ship.
- Nothing and nobody freaking work. This is another one that I understand in my head, but not in my heart. I park and go to the parking meter – broken. I go to the information desk at the hospital – no one’s there. There is a near total lack of street lights on most roads, which makes driving the winding, mountainous Via Appia at night a special treat. Of the five stoplights in my town, two of them currently work; the others have been broken for months. The police refuse to come to the scene of a fender bender, even though you tell them that the jackhole who hit your car is drunk. The gas company says: We’ll process your information by Monday; you can come and make the appointment for your gas hookup then. But on Monday they say, It’s not done. Come back tomorrow. And on Tuesday they say, It’s not done. Come back tomorrow. They tell you to keep coming back until Friday, at which point they say, It’s still not done, and after today, we’re closing the office for a month so we can all go on vacation. Deep breath. Count slowly backwards from ten. Ten… nine… eight… does… anything… fucking… work… in… this…. country…?!
I can’t even count on the fact that the Maga Circe will be on the sea: sometimes heavy fogs wipe her and the other islands out. Therefore, there is no greater joy in my Italian life than when I find I can count on something; the generosity of my friends, the kindness of strangers, Old Man Angelo’s rants, the technicolor sunsets, the brilliance of the full moon, the madness of the Thursday market, and by golly, the fact that when I head to the beach, I will be staring into the vortex of some dude’s spandex-wrapped cock.
- Laughter in the face of seat belts. Seat belts, in case you didn’t know, are only necessary when you’re driving. SCIENTIFIC FACT: Because the steering wheel is a powerful magnet, it is literally impossible to be injured while sitting anywhere besides the drivers’ seat in a car. I am routinely laughed at when I buckle up, and have suffered agonizing car rides during which my friends’ young nieces and nephews bounced around free and loose in the back seat. Sweat dripping down my cheeks. Hands clenched on my knees. Forced to tattle: Flora, the kids don’t have their seat belts on. Hearty chuckles. Oh, they’re fine. The seat belts hurt them.
When I think about all the things I’ve had to get used to in all of the years I’ve lived away from my home country, I wonder if my brain hasn’t become a twisted patchwork of right and wrong; the eternal sunshine of Opposite Day. At what point does one’s cultural bias give way to acceptance of foreign ways? I ask myself why some things that were extremely foreign to begin with – pointing to my nose to mean I, spelling center C-E-N-T-R-E – are now ingrained, and why others that should be simple to accept – I mean, what do I really care if parents bring their kids to nightclubs – set off a frantic alarm each time I encounter them. Why I still make mistakes when using essere and avere. Why I’ve adopted the lolling cadence of the Southern Central Italian dialects, but continually mess up the double consonants.
It took five years to get used to Celsius; three years to add grand and brilliant to my lexicon; six months to get used to bowing and leaving my shoes at the door. A year to get used to giving the bacetto. One fender bender to realize how worthless are the Italian police. Mere weeks to forget Memorial Day and Superbowl Weekend, but never the Fourth of July.
Sooner or later, something has to give.
I have a feeling it will be my hatred of Speedos.
26 Replies to “Things I Will Never Get Used to About Living in Italy. A Love Rant.”
The first year I was appalled by the speedoes. The second year I’d got used to most of them but still couldn’t deal with white speedoes. Now, in my third year, having seen my hottest student at a club, wearing the dreaded white speedoes, I’ve given up on my anti-spandex bias and embrace all-comers.
I will never *ever* get used to condom machines on the street, though.
My friend Fabrizio has a bright orange Speedo. It’s obscene!!!
My hottest student – the owner of my gym – strolled up to us at the beach over the weekend, in a black Speedo. I could barely look at him.
Sometimes I do think they’re growing on me, though. I mean, at least it’s the men with great bodies who wear them. That helps a lot. A hell of a lot.
I’m SO glad that speedoes haven’t caught on here. And what is a guy doing with his life if he still lives at home at 40? I can’t understand that. But yeah, I definitely relate to a lot of stuff in this post, although I wish my neighbors would give me avocados and mussels.
Kristin – I’m sure you’ve heard the “arguments,” We’d love to live in our own home, but financially, it’s not possible for us like it is for people in other countries and Well, if you live on your own, then you have to think about things like food and bills and stuff. I really have to bite my tongue at times like that.
I read it. Must stop laughing so I can get somehting done today. Must stop going to the guys in speedos…must. stop.
The dudes in the photos are men I don’t know; I took their picture at a Ferragosto party last year. My actual guy friends look about ten times better in their Speedos. Or so I am coming to believe.
[…] Things about Italy that Liv of I Eat My Pigeon will never get used to. […]
Ah ah ah!:) Wonderful, true, and very well written! Nice and authentic portrait of a nation!
Congratulations from a guy living near you (Latina), who always reads your posts and is about to make the opposite, big leap in his life (from Italy to the other side of the Ocean)!
PS: I think you’ve got a talent for writing, and I wish you all the best in your life and career!
Thank you, Luca! I’m glad you enjoy the writing. I wish you the best, too, in your move. Bocca al lupo…!
Grazie mille Olivia! Keep your fingers crossed for me! 🙂
Though – I’m an American who wears speedos (albeit in the South of France). Most of the time it’s because I’m actually swimming in a pool where shorts are not allowed but from time to time when going to the beach or the river or lake I’ll wear em under my trousers to save having to change into swim trunks or deal with post swim frottement. I may need to start a frottement awareness campaign.
A Speedo would be a terrible idea at a Polar Bear Swim.
Anyway those days are long gone: I got cold swimming in the very warm mediterranean yesterday. 🙁
At least you have the photos to prove that at one point, you were a polar bear!
I don’t own a pair of speedos and don’t ever plan to. It’s basically a bikini for men. Giusto? I’ve spent 2 years in Italy so many things are normal now. For example: I saw a child of 7 cycling his miniature bike around the piazza last night until 4am. Normal?
I hope it wasn’t normal! Sometimes stuff that’s weird to us is just plain weird to them, too.
Stay tuned for this week’s piggyback post: Ways I’ve Become More Italian
5 weeks around Italy and we never got used to the speedos either. Made me kinda wish I had taken mine along as I felt like such an outsider.
Can’t get used to speedos either! And I am still trying to get used pranzo break and eating pasta every single day!!!
New reader here…. I am having a similar experience where I find a good tv show and have to spend hours or even days catching up on all of the past seasons until I have absorbed all of the character details. Yep, rest assured your blog will be taking up hours or even days of my time as I start from the beginning and hopefully catch up on your story.
I had a few similar experiences when I was temporarily living in Nairobi. I was the American doing research at a few particular establishments, who definitely wasn’t living there long enough to get used to certain “cultural” norms.
Anyways, thanks for some great reading. Looking forward to catching up on previous posts.
Hello there, I think that since since i came here i haven’t discovered any good tv shows, don’t know why! I am slowly getting used to the cultural norms and really glad you liked my blog! Do keep in touch!! Ciaooo
It is a sad commentary that American men and women here are raised to hate the male body, especially anything that goes on below the waist.
We circumcise our sons because we were taught that the male genital is dirty and vile and then we hate the speedo because, let’s not kid ourselves with anymore rationalization and justification, because it shows the male bulge. Americans don’t want to see it and hence the current trend of trunks hanging all the way down to the ankles.
Then we travel to other countries and make derogatory comments and even laugh at other people because they do not have the same hang ups that we do and are more mature when it comes to the human body.
They do not coin the term Ugly American for nothing.
This blog may be written in jest but is a symptom how male bashing is so accepted and common place that the writer here probably doesn’t even realize it and male readers actually chime in, agreeing with her.
Hi, Ken. Thanks for your concern. Yes, it was a joke. Don’t worry – I think penises are swell.
Let me give you a list of things I HATE about Italy and Italians:
– Extremley judgemental. All things to an Italian is either bello or brutto. Nothing exists in the middle.
– Very ignorant of other people’s culture and customs
– They have a hard time trying food from other countries
– They have no filters between their brains and mouths
– Largely provinicial and unrefined
– Supeficial, uncivilised and fake
– Far too intense/dramatic about life and politics
– They dont bother learning the name of your country. Instead, they always say ‘tuo paese’ – your country.
– They think they are experts on all subjects – especially food, fashion and football.
– Their women’s idea of being sexy is border line hilarious. I have met a few who made me erupt into laugther, when they ‘tried’ to act sensual and sexy.
– They are racist (even though they dont want to admit it)
– They don’t like ignorant people who generalise some evident negative experience they had linking bad characteristics to 60 millions of people, and then accuse us of racism without even realising how hypocritical that sounds
I HAVE TRAVELEDTHIS WORLD OVER, AS A US CITIZEN, AND HAVE BEEN IN MORE THAN 40 OTHER NATIONS! EACH HAS ITS OWN HERITAGE AND ‘PECURALAITIES’ TO ANYONE WHO IS SO VISTING SUCH INITIALLY! YET WE HUMANS SO DO HAVE SO MUCH IN COMMON, THE MOST SIGNIFICANT FACTOR THAT WE ‘CHOOSE’ OUR OWN ATTITUDES PER ALL THINGS IN WHICH WE SO ENCOUNTER IN LIFE! SO WE CANNOT JUDGE OTHERS, UNLESS THEIR OWN CHOICE IS CRUEL AND UNHUMANE TO OTHER PERSONS OR EVEN TOWARDS ANIMALS! YOU CHOOSE YOUR CHOICES, A REDUNANCY, OUI! YET LOOK IN THE MIRROR FOR THE REAL TRUTH, IT JUST MAY SO SURPRISE YOU! MERCI BEAUCOUP! MUCHO GRACIAS! GRATZIE! TAK! TAIHEN ARIGATO GOZAIMASU! ALL MEANING ‘THANK YOU’ ! AU REVOIR! AND YES, ‘ FOREIGN IS ONLY APPLICABLE TO THOSE WHO SO DESPARATELY CLING TO THEIR OWN BELIEFS AS THE ONLY TRUTH’!