Wrapping up my stay in Italy, I thought I’d reflect on my most surprising moments as a visitor to this lovely country – those times when I thought “Whoa, I’m definitely not in New Zealand any more!”
My very first shock on arriving in Italy was the presence of dogs in the airport. Exhausted after 30 hours of continuous travel, I could barely deal with this clear violation of airport etiquette.
But Italy is a very canine-friendly country and you will find man’s best friend in a whole slew of situations which would just not be on in New Zealand. And these aren’t your average mutts either – pure-breds, every one of them.
I know a few dog-loving Kiwis who’d love for New Zealand culture to be just as accepting of their four-legged friends.
No Electric Kettles
I mentioned before that Italy is currently the world’s largest net importer of electricity, and that is reflected in some interesting ways, the most surprising for me that electric kettles are practically unheard of here. If you want hot water you have to make it the old-fashioned way (as we would consider it) by boiling it over the gas stove. Electricity is too expensive to waste on something that can be done by gas.
What is this nightmare? I ask for my favourite tipple and receive only a blank stare in return? I’m told to “just drink rum” instead? You cannot be serious!
Speaking of alcohol…
When I finally located a bottle of bourbon at the supermarket, I was able to purchase it without so much as a second glance. They have a rather more relaxed attitude to alcohol in Italy – it’s cheap, it’s available everywhere, and they trust you not to ruin things for everyone (clearly they haven’t met enough Kiwis).
You can go to any convenience store and grab a beer. You can walk into a bar and order a drink to go. At events, you can get a cup of wine cheaper than a can of coke. And somehow society has not collapsed.
Do not Mention Spaghetti and Meatballs
You do not mix spaghetti and meatballs in Italy. The dish in question is entirely American-Italian in origin and most Italian-Italians will roll their eyes at you if you mention it. Above you can see spaghetti applied correctly.
On another note, pineapple does not belong on a pizza, you monster.
Homeless and Panhandlers
My first encounter with homelessness in Italy was in Milan, after following the suggestion in a tourist brochure to visit a park in the heart of the city. Unfortunately, the brochure didn’t mention that if you go too early in the morning, you will witness the morning routine of the city’s homeless population.
Elsewhere in Italy’s big cities, beggars of the most heartbreaking kind will plead with you for spare change – disabled people, old women, women with babies. Every time I ignore a person in need, I feel a little part of my humanity is stripped away. I know that homelessness is a hot topic in New Zealand right now and I take this as a dire warning of what things can come to.
On the other hand you may find yourself chased down by multi-lingual panhandlers attempting to sell knock-off goods or products appropriate to the situation. It’s startling how soon umbrella-salesmen will appear as soon as it starts raining. My solution is to pretend I don’t speak any language at all. Yes, I have become that universally-hated foreigner who pretends not to understand in order to get out of awkward situations.
The Fruit and Vegetables are Amazing
It must be the climate, but in Italy they have some of the biggest and most delicious fruit and vegetables I’ve ever encountered. Not only does the quality far surpass that available in New Zealand but the prices are rock bottom. Instead of $3 for one measly capsicum you can get an entire kilogram of big juicy ones here for the same price. Truly a paradise for a food lover.
By the way, that is an entirely normal watermelon you see above. My hosts were highly amused by my request for a photograph with it.
The Sun Doesn’t Hurt
While in New Zealand we have one of the highest skin cancer rates in the world and can barely think about going out in the sun without getting scorched, in Italy they have something called “ozone”. Sure, you can still get burnt, but it takes a lot more work. And I am willing to put in that work.
Have you ever had a surprising culture shock moment?