From Italy, I wish I could bring back:
- Little, local shops. There is one grocery store in Macerata that resembles a Safeway, but most locals go to the little butcher shops and fruit stands too. There is a shop called La Casa Di Parmigiano that sells nothing but cheese. That is kind of extreme, but it's much better than Walmart would be in this town; everything is local and the money stays in the community.
- Health. I don't really know how to explain it, but everything is somehow healthier here even if it's an American product. You can find oreos and ritz crackers here, but they're a little different (i.e. not as good, but more natural). And NO ONE is obese in Macerata. Seriously. Not even a little bit. Yet, at the same time, there are no gyms or fitness centers and they eat mostly carbs. People just eat less and walk more and the result is (as far as I've seen) 0% obesity.
- The piazza. Every day I walk through Piazza Mazzini multiple times and every morning there are the same three old men, smoking their pipes on the benches and other people just in giro, out and about. The piazza is the center of Italian towns, they're always full of people socializing, especially at night. There is no where to just hang out in America, other than parks, and they aren't safe at night. You have to go into a coffee shop or restaurant and buy something to be able to just hang out anywhere in the U.S. Maybe that's why we hang out in front of the tv so much more.
- Living with less. Italians have just what they need in my experience. Macerata is a relatively rich town. Most people work for the university or one of the banks that are based here. Yet things like dryers (which I really miss, I have to admit. I love warm jeans fresh from the dryer), dish washers, toasters, microwaves, and big tvs aren't particularly common and you are only allowed, by law, to have the air conditioning on for 10 hours a day. I'm not saying I don't miss all of that stuff, but it is kind of nice to see that a whole town is doing just fine without it. Also, they just have less of other things, like clothes. People don't have huge wardrobes, they wear the same few shirts a lot. Being here makes me notice how materialistic the American culture is, even more than I did before. It bothers me how everything is made to just be thrown away.
- Multilingual people. Okay, not so much in the Marche region where I am because it's pretty out of the way and theres no real need, but in most of Italy (and Europe in general) people speak 2-4 languages. English is now compulsory in Italian schools whereas in the U.S. students only take 2 years of a foreign language, and they don't start until high school when it has become much more difficult than if you start before age 12.
- Closer families. In Italy, Sunday is family day. Which makes it a pretty boring day as an American whose family is like 6,000 miles away because nothing is open and no one is around. But I still think it's nice. It was really shocking to me, at first, how dead the town actually is on Sunday. The buses and trains don't run, and if you don't have any food in your apartment you will starve that day. I know this from personal experience. I'm close to my family, but I know a lot of Americans who aren't and I think it's really sad.
- Grass. There is a park in Macerata where you can go on the grass, but in the city there is nothing green. It's sort of picturesque, but there are no trees in the city walls so you can't see the leaves turn colors in the fall. In towns we have visited where there is grass, you're never allowed to walk on it. Filiberto studied abroad in Portland, Oregon when he was in college and said that one of his biggest culture shocks was that walking on the grass is allowed.
- Diversity and the ability to embrace it. There is a little racial diversity in Italy, but most people are white and catholic. I think diversity is really valuable, and part of the reason the U.S. is so modern while Italy is still so old-fashioned. There is definitely a negative side to that diversity though, since the U.S. is also deeply divided on almost every important issue and Italy is not.
- Optimism and smiling! :) Italians generally think Americans are really odd in how much we smile, especially when it's directed at random people on the street. Filiberto said, so I don't feel guilty repeating it, that Italians have a much less optimistic view of the world than Americans do because they have been through so much more in history than we have. I'm not saying they aren't friendly, they really are, but you have to work a little harder for it than you do in the U.S. It's just sort of odd to me since I like smiling, smiling's my favorite :)
- Schedules and organization..not really, because it's part of the reason you come to Italy, but after almost 4 months I still find the relaxed way of life here kind of frustrating. Stores just sort of open when the owner feels like it and there is reposo for like four hours in the middle of the day. The reposo part I kind of understand, because shops then stay open until like 8 instead of 5 like in the U.S. Also, this probably is only necessary for Americans in Italy because Italians seem to have a sixth sense. If a schedule says a train leaves from platform 3, I go to platform 3 while all the Italians walk to the bus stop down the street because, for some unknown reason, that train is actually a bus when the moon is in the 3rd house, but only if it rained the previous wednesday. Or something like that.
- Breakfast. Italians don't really partake in it. Lunch is the most important meal of the day here, and for breakfast they generally have a cappucino and maybe some toast. This toast, by the way, comes pre-toasted in little packages.
I absolutely love Italy. I am somehow already homesick for it, since this is my last week, so I've been trying to go to all my favorite places one more time. Last weekend I got up at 5:30 am and took the first train to Civitanova at 6:30 with my friend Annalise to watch the sunrise over the Adriatic sea and it was so much fun! Filiberto is from Civitanova and will, given the chance, explain in great detail why it is the center of the universe. I can definitely see that being true, it's my favorite small town for sure. Afterward, we went to a cute cafe and got cappucini, then walked around the outdoor market.
We took a bus back to Macerata and went to an evening church service, then to a bon fire. Macerata is close to a small town called Loreto, where the House of Mary is located in the center of a beautiful church. The house, where the anunciation supposedly occured and where Jesus spent his childhood, was brought to Loreto during the Crusades from Jerusalem. The bon fire is supposed to guide the way of the angels who carried the house. It was the shortest bon fire I've ever been to, just thirty minutes long, but it was so much fun and I've never felt so immersed in the culture of Macerata before. It's incredibly corny, but my heart was just so warm inside standing in a circle with about eighty Maceratans, holding candles and standing around the fire, singing songs in Italian and even one in English.
I'm going to miss Italy in general, but especially this region. The Marche is so authentically Italian, I didn't realize it until I visited Florence and Rome. At first it was kind of terrifying, but now I love how no one speaks English, because it forces me to try to speak Italian, and how half the time I don't really understand what is going on. Coming here was such an adventure,and I know I wouldn't have had as amazing an experience as I did if it hadn't been so nerve wracking at times.