Robert Downey Jr. will be the first to tell you that you never go full Italian. But if you’re planning on living in Italy for more than a few months… the chances of going “full Italian” are pretty strong. Truly being an Italian is rooted deeper than the country in which you live or the ancestors to which you are tied. Being Italian is a state of mind. It will affect the way you think, the way you eat and the way you love. Did I mention that it will affect the way you eat?
If you’re unsure whether or not you’ve gone “full Italian” – here is a list of telltale signs. The longer you live in Italy, the more susceptible you are to each and every point. If you’re happy with the changes (perhaps the improved fashion sense and appreciation of wine) – stroll in to your favorite enoteca and plan to stay a little longer. However, if the changes scare you (perhaps the increased volume at which you speak or your daily critique of the food you’re eating) – well then, hop on the first olive oil freighter and high-tail it home (there’s one leaving now… there’s another one… and another one…).
1. YOUR HAND WORKS IN CONJUNCION WITH YOUR MOUTH
This is probably the first visible transformation as you begin to morph into a full Italian. When you consistently discover your thumb meeting your other four fingers as if you’re tenderly cupping a tiny quail egg… and then shake it vigorously up and down like you intend to scramble it inside the shell – you’re starting to look a lot like a local. Italians are very expressive and use their hands to illustrate their points. Apart from hand gestures working in harmony with your words, speaking with just your hands is a language unto itself. The same gesture can mean, “he’s always late”, “that’s expensive”, “that’s inexpensive”, “stop busting my chops”… and much, much more.
2. IT’S SEVENTY DEGREES AND SUNNY BUT YOU’RE WEARING A SCARF
OK, it’s seventy and sunny – but is it November? Oh, well in that case – you’d better have your scarf on. And a hat and a heavy coat and two layers beneath it and don’t forget the gloves, just in case. You did say it was November, right? Italians dress for the season – not the weather. This means that no matter what the weather brings – you can always tell who is Italian and who is just visiting. I turned every head in my grocery store when we first moved here by shopping for toilet paper wearing shorts and flip flops… in February.
Scarf… check. Hat…check. Gloves…check. Big puffy coat…check. “Mom, am I supposed to be sweating this much?”
3. YOU CAN SET YOUR WATCH TO YOUR STOMACH
The time lunch starts deviates slightly throughout the country – people eat earlier in the north than they do in the south, but one thing never changes. You eat at the exact same time as everyone else in your region, every… single…day. This means planning an entire day around lunch. Shops are closed for lunch, parks are emptied for lunch – basically the country shuts down until lunch is over. You can’t schedule a visit to another city unless the timing of that visit works with your lunch plans. Once accustomed to the dietary habits of your region, don’t deviate from the script or your stomach will start kicking harder than, Dominic the Christmas Donkey.
“I’m hungry… let’s get some lunch!”
4. IT’S TIME FOR COFFEE… AGAIN
I don’t mean the Starbucks 20 oz coffee that gets you through the morning drive. I mean an espresso – quickly and skillfully delivered by a barista that will make a thousand more in the same day. You can drink your coffee at the bar or at the table, with a little milk or without – but you’re virtually required to have more than one. You’ll need your coffee with biscotti(breakfast cookies) in the morning, a mid-morning coffee, another immediately after lunch, an afternoon cafe and possibly one after dinner. And that’s if you’re conservative – we have friends and family that drink as many as a dozen espressos’ in a day. The Italians didn’t invent coffee – but they elevated drinking it into a form of art.
“15 espresso’s a day multiplied by 7 days a week divided by 24 hours in a day times 31 days in a month…
forget it! Bring me another coffee!!”
5. YOU SERVE BREAD WITH EVERY MEAL
This was a great mystery to me. There is always bread served with every meal, but no one ever seemed to eat it (you don’t eat it withyour pasta and by the time your secondohas arrived, it’s too late). Magically, the bread always disappears and yet everyone in the country remains skinny. I thought there must be an overweight fatina dei pane (bread fairy) flying across tabletops with an insatiable appetite for baked goods. What I learned is that Italians eat the bread in moderation and at specific points in the meal (as a conduit for sugo, for example). When you can skillfully (and secretly) devour the appropriate portion of bread – you have mastered one of the finest and least-known Italian skills.
Keep an eye out for the Italian Bread Fairy to help you eat your bread
6. YOU CAN FIND THE COUNTERPOINT IN ANY DISCUSSION
You know that you’ve gone full Italian the moment you voluntarily enter into the arena of Italy’s most popular sport – discussing politics. Once you start cutting and slicing across your political talking points like a young Barry Sanders dancing across the Silverdome, you’ve reached the Champion’s League of your Italian-ness. A less challenging, but still very “Italian” way of thinking is to engage in a conversation at argument-level volume by simply disagreeing. Or better yet – agreeing, but doing it so loudly that non-Italian passerby’s surely think you are involved in a spate with a mortal enemy… not a good friend.
Bonus points if you can use an Italian soccer play in your analogy as opposed to American Football player.
“Heyyy, I told you I wanted a BIG salami”
“I told YOU, that WAS a big salami!”
7. YOU WILL LITERALLY GIVE THE SHIRT OFF YOUR BACK
Living in Italy is good for your soul – especially when it alters how you treat other people. It is impossible not to let the infectious Italian generosity and hospitality seep into your persona. Embrace the change and soon you’ll find yourself at the airport at 1:30am – picking up a cousin’s friend that his girlfriend met in college six years ago. But you’ll be glad that you can be the one to help and you’ll surely get rewarded for your efforts somewhere down the line. When you’re willing to give someone in need the shirt of your back – even if it’s Armani; you are on your way to full Italian.
“Here, take mine. I’ll get another one”
8. YOU ACCELERATE WHEN YOU SHOULD BRAKE
Everything you’ve seen, heard or read about Italian drivers is true. Little old ladies whisk past at 140 km per hour. Motorcycles weave dangerously into oncoming traffic. When you can safely and comfortably join the challenging dance that is played out on the winding Italian roads each day – you’ve become a native. Bonus points for any guy that can drive a Fiat 500 and still look like a typical Italian ladies man.
“Vai! Vai! Let’s go! Move it, buddy!”
9. YOUR FAVORITE PAIR OF SKINNY JEANS MAKE YOU LOOK LIKE A 90’s RAPPER
When you first moved to Italy, it’s highly likely that you bought some nice clothes so that you didn’t stick out too badly. You probably bought an expensive pair of jeans and even purchased a cut that is skinnier that you’re used to. Once you’ve lived in Italy long enough, you’ll think that “skinny” cut is so baggy you are not sure how you ever dared don those parachute pants in public (and that accounts for the extra 10 pasta pounds you’re sure to have gained). Italians wear their clothes very fitted, very tailored and very well. You’ll also discover that your fashion tastes in general have changed – a puffy winter coat? How could you have ever lived without one?!
Julia wouldn’t be caught dead without her puffy coat and skinny jeans
10. YOU THINK YOU’RE BERLUSCONI WHEN YOU PARK YOUR CAR
Italians drive fast and they drive aggressively. Parking is no different – forget circling around the block, looking for a spot. You can comfortably double or triple park your car and then casually stroll into your favorite coffee bar for an espresso. Airport run? Throw your parking brake on and walk in to wait for your arrival. It’s always amazing that everyone is so comfortable leaving his or her car parked illegally. If they do actually get a ticket – the issuing officer better not be nearby, lest they get an earful about having the audacity to ticket such a law-abiding citizen. When you can leave your car in the middle of a busy intersection with less stress than boiling an egg – you’ve definitely gone… full Italian.
“What sign?! I never saw a sign!”
So there you have it – ten telltale signs that you’ve “gone full Italian”. Have you developed some or all of these habits (whether intentional or not)? If the answer is “yes” – then pull out the grappa and make sure your meal is properly digested… you are an Italian. If not, stay a little longer – it’s only a matter of time.