Some things I found strange the first time I went to Italy
Last week Caterina, PocketCultures contributor from Italy, wrote about some things she found strange when she lived in England. As an English person who has spent a lot of time in Italy (I am married to an Italian!) I thought it would be fun to look at it the other way round – things I did not expect when I visited Italy.
Italian food is famous in many countries around the world, and one of the most famous Italian dishes in Britain is Spaghetti Bolognese. Or so I thought. It turns out in Italy each sauce is normally combined with a particular shape of pasta – spaghetti with clams, penne with arrabiata (spicy tomato), … Bolognese sauce, or ragu as it’s usually called in Italy, is rarely served with spaghetti.
And whilst we’re on the topic of food, let’s talk about breakfast. The typical Italian breakfast in a bar is a cappuccino with a ‘pasta’ – a croissant, doughnut or other pastry. As Caterina wrote, it’s very different to the traditional breakfast served in British cafes. At home Italians might eat biscuits, or even a piece of cake, to go with their coffee. I have to admit I was surprised – In England we might eat a couple of biscuits mid-afternoon, but only as a treat, and definitely not as a meal.
One thing which makes me very happy whenever I visit Italy is how encouraging people are when I try to speak Italian. Unlike some other countries, where people might switch to English when they notice my accent, become nervous or even pretend they don’t understand, in Italy I have always had very good experiences. No-one seems to mind my English accent, and when I make a mistake I might be gently corrected, or not. Most importantly, it doesn’t seem to get in the way of communication.
Finally, how can I talk about Italy without mentioning the famous Italian style? Before I went to Italy for the first time I knew Italian designers were famous, what I didn’t expect was how stylishly people dress in general. In England we would not hesitate to go shopping in a tracksuit, whereas when my mother in law goes into the small town near her home, she always looks impeccable, wearing a co-ordinated outfit and nice shoes. Also, high street clothing chains are less common in Italy than in the UK, and Italians are more likely to buy their clothes from small boutiques, which I think enables them to have a more distinctive personal style.
Photo credit: Marcello Boschetti
Have you been to Italy? Or are you from Italy? What did I miss?