My Italian Experience #1: Style, Food, and Sports

WARNING: This article contains material that may be sensitive to over-patriotic and inflated Americans. Do not get your freedom in a twist. 

Last December, I was fortunate enough to go to Italy and spend a second consecutive Christmas with my father. While I was there, I took the liberty of evaluating certain aspects of life in Italy and contrasting them with those of the United States of America. Because that’s what the people want. I am also completely unbiased and definitely not influenced by my own heritage in any way, shape, or form.

Let’s start things off with what really matters: style. Now, since I was there during the winter, I couldn’t really examine what the most fashionable trends were. The one thing I will say for sure is that everyone, and I mean everyone, wears black coats. Not navy blue, not dark brown. Black. I’m not sure if it is because of some universal unspoken agreement, or if every Italian is secretly goth, but the majority of coats are very dark. Those who don’t wear black still wear something dark, including grays, browns, and some blues. (I guess this kind of negates my previous couple sentences, but you get the gist.)

I, who apparently hadn’t learned from my trip the year before, showed up wearing a nice big shiny white coat. Though it didn’t affect a single aspect of my stay there, it was strange standing out like a black (or, in this case, white) sheep. But whatever. Who cares about coats, anyway? Italians hold themselves to a much higher standard of style than Americans, which doesn’t seem that hard to do, since in some parts here it is still popular to wear birkenstocks with socks. Or those freaky shoes with toes. (Seriously, whoever invented those was so preoccupied with whether they could, they did not stop to think whether they should.) Also, sweatpants are a common public article here in the States. In Italy, some people don’t even wear sweatpants at home. For casual outside wear, most Italians opt for a nice pair of pants (ones that would here be referred to as “school pants”) a regular shirt or collared shirt, and a sweater. Because this is all I’d known for the first several years of my life, I find it somewhat barbaric when I see people wear sweatpants and those stretchy, staticky polyester pullover hoodies to school on dress-down days. It’s still a public event, and should be regarded with at least minimal respect, even when the dress code permits certain liberties. I guess the main takeaway from this is that, at least according to my comparatively limited experience, Italians generally dress more nicely because it elicits more respect and esteem.
The next discussion topic (less “topic” and more “yet another category in which Italy outperforms America to a ridiculous level”) is food. There is very little to be discussed here. Home-cooked food in Italy is on the same level as some restaurant food here. My own father often says “the only good place to eat is Italy and some parts of France.” Mind you, that’s not actually what he said; he said “L’unico posto dove si mangia bene é l’Italia e un pó della Francia,” but you Yanks wouldn’t know what it means, so I accommodated you. Anyway, contrary to popular belief, Italians are indeed aware of foods that do not involve pasta or pizza. There’s pesto and pâté and other foods that somehow all share the letter ‘p’ as an initial. Also, “Italian classics” like Kraft Easy-Mac’n’cheese, DiGiorno Rising Crust pizza, and Chef Boyardee Gourmet Ravioli simply do not exist there, and personally, should not exist anywhere. At all. Hint to the aforementioned companies: using Italian words on your packaging does not make your product any more Italian. Just based on that alone, it should be clear that Italy outdoes America in food.

Lastly, the aspect which 90% of McQuaid boys deem to be the most important thing that has ever existed on our sweet wonderful Earth: sports. Without doubt, the most popular sport in Italy is calcio, or soccer. One thing that I immediately noticed was how many small public stadiums there are for everyone to enjoy “the beautiful game, and there is almost always a group of people, ranging throughout the age spectrum, occupying said fields. This is contrary to America, where public sports venues of any kind are few and scarce. Calcio is a very significant part of Italian culture. I was fortunate enough to witness an encounter between Internazionale Milano and SS Lazio, which I will write up shortly. During my time at the magical San Siro stadium, I witnessed a certain passion that can only be outdone by English fans. There was none of the barbaric tailgating, or the practice of spelling out a word across the bare chests of several persons. There was, however, lots of singing, chanting, and vulgarities reverberating throughout the stadium. The players themselves have a much more affectionate relationship with the fans, and they seem to play more to please the fans than to maintain a paycheck. However, as important as it is, it is not as glorified as it is here. Whenever I talk to a stranger, the second most common question I get asked is “do you play any sports?” which, in part, I understand. With such a wide variety of activities available, it is very likely that a single given person is involved in at least one. However, Italy seems to find that the happy medium of “this is an important part of our culture, but we will not make it into some sort of expectation that everyone must strive to meet in order to be accepted.”

In general, life in Italy is much more enjoyable, personally speaking. Everything is more laid back and therefore easier to enjoy and appreciate. This article is not meant to ridicule aspects of American culture in any way; rather, it is a foreigner’s insight with a satirical twist.

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