Cultural Differences: We Are Definitely Not in America Anymore

Written By: Kim - Aug• 11•11

After spending two weeks in Italy, there were some cultural differences that I noticed that are worth documenting.

Europeans are more efficient and effective at dressing.

If you ever have the opportunity to travel to Europe, leave the sloppy dressing at home. No gym clothes, track suits, running shoes, pjs or slippers in public in Italy. The only people I saw with running shorts on were, well, actually running. Not shopping, eating lunch or running errands. No one here wears chinos. I swear. I did not see one pair on either the men or the women.

The women dress sexy. I do not mean tacky. Italian women wear clothes that American women generally view as “inappropriate.” Clingy dresses, high heels, fitted suit jackets and right-at-the-knee or above-the-knee skirts. Even flowing skirts are sexy because the women pair them with sexy tops, belts and earrings. They are definitely not afraid to show themselves or their cleavage off. This dress code spanned across generations. Think Sophia Loren and you get the picture.

Italian diva Abby shows off her local style. Scooters are a common form of transportation and yes, the women drive them to work. ©Mike Howard

And the Italian men? Well, they are generally appreciative of this approach to women’s clothing and return the favor. The men wear fitted suit shirts and narrower cut trousers, whether casual or work. Maybe because it was summer, I did not see any jeans on the locals as either. And definitely no prison baggy pants, track suits, gym shorts or tee-shirts. They have nice bodies and are not afraid to show them off.

The type of food that is available, even in carbohydrate central Italy, was fresh and healthy. Italians don’t eat chips with their panini and you share your panini. There are no convenience stores with aisles of candy, Slim Jims and Big Gulps. Processed foods en masse are not available. The portions served to us were completely appropriate. There are no “all-you-can-eat” places in Italy. Meals are prepared and you take time to sit, wait and talk while the chef cooks. You linger in between courses and don’t rush to ask for the check.

There are no paper cups or travel mugs to put your coffee in. According to my husband, the Italian coffee he drank was better than any he’s tasted. It’s simply too good “to go.” You stand at the coffee bar counter and drink it. Their baristas don’t give you 25 options for your coffee: it’s either coffee, cappuccino or espresso. Coffee is served black, cream, sugar or both. No half shot of this, light whipped that. Americans have too many options. Just ask anyone waiting in line at Starbucks trying to simply order a black coffee.

Take the color of cars. There were really only three colors of cars that we saw: black, silver and white. Occasionally you would see a blue or red car. Why do Americans have to have so many car colors to choose from? Does it make our life better? Nope. For the record, my car is black and so was its predecessor.

Those patterned bags by designers like Vera Bradley? No where in sight. I could get used to looking at all of those lovely Italian bags and shoes. The only tennis shoes I saw were sleek and designed more like a casual walking shoe. No bulky heeled white running shoes except on tourists. But not our family. We wore comfortable sandals during our trip.

During our week at the beach on the Almalfi Coast, bikinis were the dress code for Italian women. I wore a tankini and felt like I was wearing a blanket. My suit just screamed tourist. Even older local women wore a two-piece to the beach. They were so common that they had me brainwashed in to thinking I should get one next summer. Almost. And you know those women’s magazines that tell American women to do the “tug test” on our bathing suits? Italian women don’t care. In fact, the more behind you show, the more you fit in. They simply are not worried about showing off their bodies. That said, their bodies are definitely worth showing off.

Italian drivers are aggressive. You take your own life in to your hands when you walk across the street. They simply do not care if you have the right of way. They just forge ahead.

And, if you drive, please note that the lines between the lanes are simply there to employ the government workers. Drivers don’t really pay much attention to them, weaving in and out without using a signal. Ever.



Almalfi Coast, Here We Come

Written By: Kim - Aug• 10•11

Due to our flight departure time from Rome and the three hours it takes to get there from the Almalfi Coast, we thought renting a car was the best option. Parking at our villa was free and we were not relying on public transportation. Strikes are common in Italy. But, we left Rome with no GPS (they were sold out) nor a country map. We had a map of Rome which showed Autostrada to Naples and the directions were simple: Get on the Rome beltway, take the exit for Naples and once you pass Naples, take the Almalfi Coastal Highway exit. Things always look so easy on paper, don’t they?

The town of Almalfi. ©Mike Howard

We load up the car and pile in. My husband hands me two maps, both of Rome and its surrounding highways and says “Navigate please.” What? Doesn’t he already know, after 21 years together, that I have terrible navigations skills even with a GPS? Doesn’t he notice that all the road signs are in Italian? I already know this will end badly.

The signs on the Autostrada do not prep the driver as we do in the US. There’s no warning about upcoming exits. Despite this, we manage quite well to get to Naples. It’s after Naples that the drama started when we missed, what we now know would be the only exit immediately south of Naples, to the Almalfi Coast.

We saw the correct sign but missed the exit because there were no warning signs. It simply showed up. Thinking that there would be more chances, we kept driving. An hour in to the mountains, we pulled over at an Autogrill (where you can eat and fill up your gas tank) and purchased a map for 7 €. I asked where we were: Campagna. As you can see from the map, this is no where near the water. The upside was that we got to see some Italian countryside.

After three attempts to get on to the coastal highway, we finally were on our way to Praiano….from the Almalfi end of the coast.

The coastal highway was jammed with Saturday transition traffic which makes for curvy and hairpin driving not on only stressful but long. But the scenery was just breathtaking; at every turn. We left Rome around 10:30 am and arrived at our rental apartment at 4 pm. This trip was only supposed to take three hours max. My advice: take the train to Naples and get in a taxi. It is not worth the expense nor hassle of renting a car. Just make sure you watch for pick pockets because this 1/3 of this city’s residents are unemployed.

The apartment was simply lovely. Given all the steep steps in the Almalfi Coast, we had quick access to the front door from the road. The local grocery store was a one minute walk from our apartment. They had a good variety of food options but the local produce…and I mean local, was simply beautiful. Any chef would love to cook here.

We enjoyed the balcony tremendously and watch the hills of Priano and the rest of Almalfi come alive as it got dark. We also experienced our first trip down to the water. A million steps and 500 turns later, we were there.

The never ending StairMaster - Almalfi Coast steps. ©Mike Howard

The water was relatively calm and chilly, but the kids enjoyed a quick swim. The walk back, all uphill, almost killed Mike and I. It was the Stairmaster that never turned off.

We slept well and awoke to 8:30 am church bells on Sunday.