And so it is, that I get the privilege of turning quite a few pages with my American nieces & nephews and hear their thoughts and views on 'Life in Italy'. If you are within earshot of their observations, you can gain a totally different perspective than that what the teachers will read about in their 'My Summer Vacation' essays upon their return. As they've grown older, there are the obvious observations like "What is that bowl used for in the bathroom?" (what they charmingly call the "butt cleaner" but use mostly for dirty feet), or their marveling at "old people's alley", a stunning panoramic terrace over the Maremma lined with park benches where the old men & women sit all day long (except lunchtime, when they're indoors for the meal & subsequent siesta).
And after years of coming to Italy, they look forward to imbibing in fruits galore which actually taste like they should, perfect summer weather, and a nightly dose of excellent gelato.
Sadly, they've had little opportunity to mix with the locals, other than from afar, but, every once in awhile they do, leading to our personalized list of WHAT NOT TO DO WHEN TRAVELING TO ITALY (and probably any foreign country for that matter). According to my niece, "Every day in Italy I discover something new I do that offends someone."
So, for anyone traveling with kids, here's our primer of rules & regulations so as not to be a total Houseguest Fail:
- Whenever you walk into a store or even a pizza joint (for the daily fix of pizza-by-the-slice) always say hello -- not saying "Ciao" but rather a more formal, Buon giorno (if it's before say 3pm) and Buona sera in the evenings.
- I confess, when not in mixed company, we all go totally footloose & fancy free, barefootin' it is not something that one does in Europe (and Asia as well). Despite the hospital-level sterilization of Italian homes (especially their floors), going barefoot in the house is seen as a marked characteristic of primitive peoples living in 32000 BC. Ditto for outdoors.
- Lying sprawled out on a couch (even with shoes off) will also be sure to provoke nervous grins across the faces of your host, and jealousy in the hearts of their children.
- Grabbing food (except bread) with your hands, even the pizza if eaten in a ristorante, will generally confirm to your hosts that you are in fact the missing link between the neanderthals & homo sapiens.
- Drinking huge glasses of milk (or even a demitasse cup of it) after breakfast is seen as something so fowl that you might as well have puked directly on the Signora's plate. The same goes for that post-dinner cappuccino order.
- And finally, there's the mini-roster of incredible audacious behavior running the gamut of: laughing or talking loudly, going bare-chested off the beach, or leaving the house with wet hair which will always instill scorn in the hearts of Italian men & women alike.