Things Are Just a Little Different… Part IV

If you’ve been a loyal reader of this blog or have spent a little time playing around on the pages, you’ll see that I’ve started a “series” that highlights some of the differences between Italy and our native America.  Some of the differences are strange to us, many of them make perfect sense and others are just plain silly.  If you’d like to see where the series began, take a look back here:

Part I
Part II
Part III

Just like the previous editions, I will group these differences by category.  Without further adieu, Parte Quattro (Part Four)…

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The automotive industry in Italy is one of the major contributors to the country’s GDP.  The industry provides nearly a quarter million jobs and produces some of the world’s best cars.  But it’s not just Ferrari’s and Lamborghini’s on the roads here.  We have also learned a couple other things about the automobiles on the road.

Where are the trucks?  A Texan might have a harder time adjusting here than we did.  Finding a pickup truck is akin to finding the perfect blue-ribbon bull at the county fair (did I take the Texas thing too far?).  There are virtually no trucks on the road and I can count the number of large pickups I’ve seen on one hand.  If you do come across a pickup truck, there is a 90% chance that it is for work-purposes only.  No major commentary here, just an observation.

This little guy is about all the truck you're going to get around here
This little guy is about all the truck you’re going to get around here

You’d better not buy the Big Gulp!  At least not if you want to rest it in your car while you drive… most cars don’t have cup holders. This may seem strange to most Americans (certainly, there are times I miss my old car), but it’s not that crazy when you think about the culture here.  Italians drink small espresso’s at the bar (not 20oz Starbucks coffees) and I’ve never seen anyone over 15 years-old drink a soda.  McDonalds drive throughs are not a big thing and so there is really no major need for a cup holder.  And, oh yeah – a Big Gulp was never really a viable option, they don’t have 7-11‘s either.

"No cup holders?  Well, where am I supposed to put this?"
“No cup holders? Well, where am I supposed to put this?”
No space for this adorable Coke (note the spelling of Julia)
No space for this adorable Coke (note the spelling of Julia)

Keep your eyes on the road.  I remember a couple years ago in America, I was driving with extreme caution because I was passing by a cop.  It turned out that it didn’t matter because he was not looking at me, but rather at the text message he was composing while cruising by at about 70mph.  If the police don’t pay much regard to “no texting while driving”, how can citizens take it seriously?  It’s completely different here – I mean, completely!  They don’t even HAVE  a “Don’t Text While Driving” campaign.  You know why?  EVERYONE KNOWS IT’S RIDICULOUS TO TEXT AND DRIVE!  Maybe it’s the narrow roads, maybe it’s the break-neck speed at which everyone drives, or maybe it’s just that people understand how dangerous it is.  In any event, it’s a relief to see.

You don't see texting and driving here in Italy
You don’t see texting and driving here in Italy

Make way for the VIP… motorcycle parking is right over here. Now, this is something I could get into when I move back home!  A lot of places have a designated area for motorcycle parking.  This is great, because cars don’t lose full parking spaces to something 1/3 of their size.  Obviously, it’s great for bikers who don’t have to spend time circling the lot.  Additionally, these motorcycle parking spaces are put to good use year round – bikes are out on the road from January 1st through December 31st; not just in the spring and summer.

Motorcyclists use their bikes year round
Motorcyclists use their bikes year round – she’s wearing a winter coat, gloves and pant warmer
That makes it easy to justify "motorcycle parking"
Year-round motorcycle use makes it easy to justify “motorcycle parking”

A free pen?  Pen-shmen.  Give me something good!  Little freebies are appreciated in Italy, just like in America.  I tease my father in law, because if you open any of his drawers, you are likely to see dozens of TD Bank pens and Wells Fargo notepads (apparently, his banking loyalty goes only as far as their freebies).  It’s no different here, except for the free swag.  I recently got my car serviced and became the proud recipient of a bag of riso (rice).  Leave it to Italians to find a way to incorporate food into anything!


Consumers in Italy shop for many regional goods; they have a strong preference for products made in their native land.  And who can blame them?  Italy is arguably the best place to buy clothes, food and many other products.  Certainly, we are taking advantage while we are here.

Are you happy with your product?  Good, because you had better be satisfied.  Don’t even think about returning it!  I’ve noted in the past that Italian businesses don’t offer nearly the same level of customer service that we’re accustomed to.  But if you want to see the worst they have to offer – just try to return a product.  You’ll get looked at like you just committed murder.  If by some miracle, their store policy actually allows for returns (the newer, big box stores will let you exchange merchandise for credit), a surly employee will demand a receipt before scrutinizing the merchandise as if your intention to swap out the original product for some inferior one as if you were Warner Bros exchanging Christian Bale for Ben Affleck.45555589

SALE!  SALE!  SALE!  Well, you’d better break out the credit card… this stuff is at a steep 30%-70% discount!  SALDI (sale) is the favorite sign of merchants all across the country.  It seems that there are always sales going on.  And you know what… they’ve got this guy hook…line…and sinker!  We love buying our stuff when it’s on sale, be it at the grocery store or the clothing store.

PROMOZIONE!  There is always a great sale going on in our grocery store
PROMOZIONE! There is always a great sale going on in our grocery store
But the BEST sales are when the wine is deeply discounted!
But the BEST sales are when the wine is deeply discounted!

What did I just hear?!  Did you just hear what you think you heard? Well, if what you think you heard was vulgar lyrics while shopping for bread in the grocery store, then you would be right.  Whether from a lack of understanding of English or a lack of censorship; it is not uncommon to hear Brittany Spears telling you to “turn this sh*t up!” when you’re walking through the Bennet (our grocery store).

"Please don't hit me one more time!"
“Please don’t hit me one more time!”


The pets here are more or less the same as back at home.  Most people prefer dogs and cats, but you have your occasional bird or even lizard depending on the personality of the owner.  I would suggest that there are certainly more farm animals that are considered “part of the family” though – Claudia (our aunt) grew up loving her prized cow (and one of her best friends).

We welcome you with open arms, Paris Hilton.  Back at home, only big celebrities can get away with bringing their pets anywhere they want.  Here, it’s normal to see dogs outside of the park and inside your favorite restaurant.  And I’m not just talking about “purse-dogs”.  I mean, full on German Shepard’s in grocery stores, restaurants, subways (the subterranean transport – not the sandwich shop) and museums.  Dogs really are that extra family member.

Jen and Fido checking out the sights from inside Jen's hair salon
Julia and someone’s dog checking out the sights from inside Jen’s hair salon

100 grams of pasta is the rule… no exceptions.  Cento grammi di pasta (100 grams of pasta) is the acceptable amount of pasta to eat (unless you’re having a secondo, in which case 80 grams is the way to go).  Italians can accurately grab that exact amount of pasta from the package without looking twice or using a scale.  So, if we’ve already determined that pets are really that extra family member – why should they be deprived of their daily pasta?  A lot of the dog food here is served in pasta form.  Buster knows the difference between  his fusilli and bocconcini cuts of pasta just as well as his owner, Giovanni.

Pasta Naturale for Fido
Pasta Naturale for Fido
Or perhaps her prefers pasta pre cotta with ortaggi
Or perhaps her prefers pasta pre cooked with ortaggi

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I’ve got even more to write, but then again… I’d like to stretch this series as long as the most perfect franchise ever, Police Academy (and I’m even talking about that seventh installment, the classic gem with a 3/10 rating Mission to Moscow).  See you next time…

2 thoughts on “Things Are Just a Little Different… Part IV”

  1. Even though I am not American, I love this series. So interesting to see cultural differences….especially as you can do it without offending anyone!

  2. When I was in Spain, I was in the grocery store with a friend who was from Barcelona. We saw a bread called “Bimbo” and she didn’t understand why I was hysterically laughing. When I explained it to her, she laughed. Weeks after I got home, she sent me a card with a scantily dressed blonde woman and asked me if this was the “Bimbo” that I was referring to…haha.

    I too have experienced the dogs in restaurants, or cats walking across tables and even stepping over your plate right in front of you. They also don’t seem to have a problem with their dogs relieving themselves in at the water’s edge at the beach. 🙂

    Seeing all these differences was one of my favorite parts of traveling through Europe. Thanks for sharing.

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