Though I knew a fair amount about Italian culture before moving to Calabria last year, I've learned a few things that have surprised me now that I'm here.
1. If It's Your Birthday, YOU Pay
In the U.S., we are used to being spoiled by friends and family for our birthdays, aren't we?
Here, it's the opposite. You, the birthday girl, are supposed to take out your loved ones to celebrate you. I think it's to offset the cost of the gifts that they give you.
This year, I avoided breaking the bank by having a party at my house instead. But I almost made a faux pas by offering to split a meal the day after my birthday with my "Italian mamma" until I remembered this strange cultural norm and quickly went to pay for our lunch.
2. Wet Hair is Taboo
I have never been big on blowdrying my hair, but in Italy, I get raised eyebrows.
It turns out, Italians believe in what they call a colpo d'aria, literally a hit of air. It causes, or so they believe, headaches, colds, and a litany of maladies. And having wet hair invites it.
Whenever I have a video call with my boyfriend Francesco after a shower, he frowns and tuts at my wet hair. Never mind the fact that I have pointed out that I have never once gotten sick as a result of having wet hair. And, you know, SCIENCE.
3. Italians Don't (Always) Walk for Exercise
When my friend Anna asked me if I wanted to go for a walk, I said yes, donned my yoga pants and sneakers, and headed to her house.
She was wearing heels and makeup.
"Uh...I thought you said we were going for a walk..." I said, confused.
"We are," she said, equally confused at my confusion.
It turns out, la passeggiata is more about seeing and being seen than actually exercising. It requires walking painfully slow and stopping 500 times to double-cheek kiss people you know.
4. Italians Don't Love A/C or Fans
I'm at a point in my life where I'm starting to experience hot flashes (vampata di calore) and when I exercise, I don't like being any hotter than I have to be (that's why hot yoga was never gonna happen for me).
But at the gym...there are zero fans. I scurry to get a spot near the open window in my pilates class and just know that I'll be sweating for at least the first half of class. I am sure I will NOT be attending class in the summer!
I also notice that when I have a fan or air conditioning on, Italians don't like it. Likely goes back to that colpo d'aria.
Am I just more hot-natured than everyone in this country??
Every little gem like this I learn about Italy helps me understand it better...and at the same time scratch my head at how different our cultures can be.