On October 8, 2017, my husband and I took a leap of faith and started a new life in Siena, Italy.
I still remember the long flight from Manila to Florence. I still cannot imagine how we managed to survive the plane ride with a one-year-old and a five-month-old. (Thank you, Denise and Robert for helping us out- we still owe you the Chianti wine.)
I remember being in awe when I saw Le Meridiane for the first time: a restored 17th Century Tuscan farmhouse surrounded by olive trees, where my family lived for six months. It was love at first sight.
After the initial excitement, we experienced the pros and cons of integrating into a new culture. The most difficult part for us is learning a new language. When you are learning Italian to survive (instead of simply adding a new skill in your “toolbox of knowledge”)- you will experience a lot of frustrating moments as well as small wins.
A year later, after experiencing all the stages of culture shock, I can say that I have learned quite a few life lessons from the Italian way of living.
Just a disclaimer, the content of this post is solely my personal opinion. I have no intention to offend any class or culture. Also, I have affiliate links in this post- which means that if you click a link and make a purchase, I will receive a small commission at NO extra cost to you.
Life Lessons I’ve Learned After A Year in Italy
1. Take your time.
Take your time to eat, drink, or do whatever you are doing at the moment. There is a reason why many Italians say no to takeaway coffee: drinking coffee is a sacred thing. You drink coffee standing up at the bar, or you drink it sitting down at a table so you can relax and take your mind off the busyness of life.
When you are in Italy, you will hardly see anybody eating while walking. There is always a special place for eating. It could be in an osteria, a ristorante, a bar, or at home- wherever it is, when you eat, you sit down and you take your time.
I have learned to eat slowly and mindfully. When I take my time to sit down and eat and interact with my companions, dining becomes a beautiful experience.
2. Take a break.
It is always important to take a break. In Italy, I noticed how people value their holidays, vacations and daily breaks.
The Italian “pausa” is a three-hour lunch break. During this period, most stores close from noon to about 4 PM. Because shopowners and staff members take a break- perhaps to go home to enjoy a home-cooked meal or to rest a little. At first, I found it quite strange because you are going to sacrifice of making some money for business so you can take a break. Now I understand why this is important for many Italians. Rest is more important than wearing yourself out to get rich.
Sundays are reserved for families. It is really a rest day for many Italians, as many establishments are closed that day. Many Italians take advantage of this day to take a passegiata, or an evening walk.
3. Take a walk everyday.
Walking outdoors every day has become my daily ritual. When I take my kids out for a walk, we get to exercise our bodies and minds. I am able to think more creatively when I take a walk.
Many Italians love to walk. The “passegiata” is an early evening stroll through the main streets of the city or town. It is an especially popular ritual on Sunday evenings. For my family, Sunday evening is when we take our out the boys for a walk in the main plaza or around the suburbs. We also take them to the playground or the park. Walking together has become a bonding experience for my family.
4. Bring beauty into your life.
Take some time to maintain a respectable appearance. Italians keep a “bella figura” (lit. “beautiful figure”), a philosophy that means to make the best possible impression in all things. By putting an emphasis on aesthetics and presentation, you will feel more confident and happy with yourself. It is also a way of showing respect to other people you interact with.
Aside from making yourself beautiful and presentable, bring beauty into your home and space by adding that extra touch. Italians like to make their homes and surroundings beautiful by adding simple elements of nature. By keeping your home simple and orderly, you can live more happily. This is easier said than done, I know. But if you have this goal in your mind- to bring beauty into your surroundings, there will be more joy in your life.
5. Use clear language (and gestures) to express yourself.
Let other people know what your relationship status is by using clear and concise language. Italians have specific greetings depending on their level of relationship.
Salve is a formal way of saying “hello” in Italian. It comes from the Latin verb “salvere” (to be well, to be in good health). When you say “salve” to a stranger, you respectfully acknowledge her presence. Then, you both go on your separate ways. There is no need to stop what you are doing and engage in small talk.
I find this word and the concept of greeting someone “Salve” so profound. I cannot think of a Filipino word for “hello” other than “kumusta” (lit. how are you doing). When you say “Salve”, you wish that person well, and then move on with your day.
Arrivederci is a formal way of saying goodbye (lit. until + again+ see+ each other). Again, I like how saying “arrivederci” shows respect to another person while setting boundaries. There is no pressure to be extra friendly or to pursue a relationship further.
I love how this word is reserved for people whom you are familiar with (family members, relatives, friends). Ciao can both be used as an informal hello and goodbye. When you are greeted with a “ciao”, you know that you have established a clear close relationship (most of the time). There are some contexts though when “Ciao” is used as flirtation or as a request for friendship or closeness. If you do not accept the request, you can always answer with a “salve”.
Apart from clear language, Italians also use gestures for added emphasis. Body language can help with self-expression, and I use a lot of gestures to make up for the words that I don’t know. Our actions should backup our words.
I know that I have barely scratched the surface of what it is really like to live in Italy. For us, our adventure has only just begun. I guess the most important lesson that can sum up all these lessons I have learned, is to live la dolce vita. Life is too short, it is meant to be savored.
Can you relate? I would love to read your comments.