Monday, August 30, 2010

Perfectly acceptable (and sometimes encouraged) things Italians say and do..

Thank you to all my Facebook friends who have shared their point of view and contributed to compiling this list!
If you'd like to add to this list, please email me or connect with me on Facebook.

Social interaction.
- (Women) Dressing up to go to the grocery store or taking out the trash in heels.
- (Men) Kissing other men on both cheeks (in public) and calling them with terms of endearment such as "Ciao carissimo" (hello my dear!) and "Ciao bello!" (hello handsome!).
- (Men) Living at home with your parents after you turn 40 makes perfect sense, because "the cost of living is way too high". Since Mamma is so nice to do your laundry, why not go shopping for new Diesel jeans and plan your annual trip to the Maldives?
- Walking arm in arm down the street or in a park as you chat is common among same sex platonic friends, in the US it means you are a same sex couple.
- PDA (public display of affection) is acceptable at any age, at any moment, in any given place.
- Having sex in a car, regardless of its size or where it's parked.
- Wearing a Dolce & Gabbana belt, Luis Vuitton purse, tight Versace pants, and fuscia Converse shoes are typical male fashion items and accessories.

Eating & Drinking.
- Having 2 courses as a prelude to your main course.
- In America a rabbit is usually a pet, in Italy it's a main course.
- Having a glass of wine during the middle of the day.
- Drinking hard liquor such as grappa, amaro, or limoncello, with the justification that it helps with your digestion.
- If you're out of wine or beer, you can send your 12-year old son to grab some.
- Asking for ghiaccio "ice" will get you 1, maybe 2 cubes, if you are lucky.

Business practices.
- Managing to have all attendees show up late for a business meeting.
- Whereas in the US you could be sent to sexual harassment training for saying to a woman at work "Hello, gorgeous!", in Italy "Ciao bellissima!" (and sometimes raunchier remarks) is perfectly acceptable, if not expected.
- Unlike many in the US whose lives revolve around work, Italians' lives revolve around leisure. Therefore, closing your business down for the month of August because you're going on vacation is perfectly acceptable, even if you're a Gelato maker.
- Getting a good position at the bank because of your connection to uncle Franco.

- In some areas of Italy a red light is, let's say, a suggestion.
- Jay-walking is just normal. And it's perfectly acceptable to honk, insult, make jerky hand gestures, not to mention tailgating while driving 90miles an hour on the highway..

Join the discussion about Italy and the U.S. on Facebook and Twitter!!


Some of these may leave you scratching your head in need of an explanation. But I ask you: Did Moses give an explanation? Just obey these commandments and thou shalt have a wonderful vacation!

1. Thou shalt not ask for a doggie bag in Italy nor will you "donate" your leftovers (no matter how good they look) to the hotel staff or the driver, or anyone.

2. Thou shalt know that Tuscany is a region, as there are 20 total in Italy. Florence is the principal city in Tuscany. You're not going to Tuscany from Florence. When you are in Florence you are in Tuscany. Oh and "Firenze" is Italian for Florence.

3. Thou shalt learn at the very least to correctly pronounce and use "Buongiorno" (good morning), "Per favore" (please), "Scusi" (excuse me), and "Grazie" (thank you) before your trip.

4. Thou shalt not ask for a "sconto" (discount) for imports less than €20.00 and then expect to use a credit card.

5. Thou shalt not exchange money from an "Exchange" booth as you will get ripped off. Instead, thou shalt exchange US$ before leaving the US, or use your ATM/credit card in Italy.

6. Thou shalt not bring flashy jewelry, cameras, designer luggage, and other bright, high-end fashion items that may attract people with shady intentions.

7. Thou shalt (if you're a single woman) not flirt with just about every guy in the piazza and then complain about the cat-calls and evident attention.

8. (In a restaurant) Thou shalt not ask for: grated Parmesan for your salad and/or pizza, extra sauce for your pasta, cappuccino after lunch or dinner. Thou shalt not ask for a "Bistecca fiorentina" (Florentine steak) as well-done.

9. Thou shalt not continuously compare Italy to the U.S.A. Italians are Italians, Americans are Americans, and Italian-Americans are Italian-Americans.

10. Thou shalt remember that Sunday is closing day in Italy. Many stores are closed, especially in less touristy areas. Usually stores also close (depending on season, region, and how the owner wakes up that day) from 1pm-3:30pm.

11. Thou shalt not be ripped off by Roman taxi drivers. International Fiumicino to the city of Rome is a flat rate of €40, up to 4 people (that means €40 in total, not per person).

Alright, I added an extra one.. but can you blame me? I now have spoken and thou shalt not forget!!

Things I have learned since becoming a tour guide in Italy...

1. People love good food, but they love good wine even more.

2. No matter how many times I repeat something, there will always be someone who isn't listening.

3. Air conditioning is as optional as blinking.

4. Someone will always look at me as if somehow I'm responsible for causing rainy or cold days, or even say "Great job getting us some nice weather!" when it's sunny.

5. When we can fit all the suitcases in the trunk on the first day of the tour, I call that an intricate mind-bending jigsaw puzzle. However, when we do it on the last day, I call that a miracle.

6. I feed them. I provide a clean and soft bed for them. I make sure they're on time and don't forget anything. I plan their day and take them by the hand. I make sure they don't get lost. I believe this is as close to motherhood as you can get without actually giving birth.

7. When traveling, the most important organ capacity is not of one's brain, but of one's bladder.

8. There are two types of travelers: those who pack light and those who wish they did.

9. There are two types of travelers (part II): those who buy too much and regret it later, and those who don't buy enough and regret it later.

10. People are as fascinated by the architectural enigma that is the Renaissance Dome of the Cathedral in Florence by Brunelleschi as they are by Italian bathroom devices, bidets, flushes, strings, buttons, pedals, and other wondrous plumbing mechanisms.

11. Whenever I hear the words "this was the best trip we've ever taken"... somewhere an angel gets its wings.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

What Italians Don't Do...

10 things people think are Italian, but really aren't.. in other words, 10 Things Italians Don't Do:

1. Putting grated Parmesan on top of Pizza
(or salad). Why? Because there is already Mozzarella cheese.. Parmesan is only going to add more salt and cover the flavors. Italian cuisine is all about balance.. covering and adding ingredients isn't going to make a dish better. When you have fewer ingredients, you can taste their true flavors. This also means that they MUST be fresh.. putting too much on something makes Italians think the chef is trying to "hide" something that may not be fresh. So, when eating pasta or pizza, we don't smother them with sauces because we also want to taste the flavor of the pasta and dough.

2. Drinking coffee during lunch or dinner. We usually have an espresso (caffe') after a meal and cappuccino is only for breakfast. Any coffee with the addition of milk is seen as being too "rich" to have during a meal.. changing the flavors and interrupting digestion. For sake of comparison, it would be kind of like having a milkshake with a hamburger... oh wait, did I just say that?! Well, I guess that example doesn't count....

3. Drinking wine outside of a meal. With the exception of Prosecco, Italians think someone drinking wine without food is an alcoholic. Sorry, did I just call YOU an "alcoholic"!?!? Well, I sure didn't, but wine for Italians is perceived as a complement to a meal, an inseparable element of it. There is no meal without wine, there is no wine without a meal. Wine is a pleasure to be enjoyed in moderation.

4. Dipping bread in oil and vinegar before a meal. Yes, I know.. you're thinking "But THAT'S exactly what Italian restaurants serve in the U.S.!!", however, it's still an American thing. In Italy this is actually looked down upon, as if you're "starving" or a very cheap person who can't afford to pay for an Antipasto (which may be true in some cases). The fact of the matter is that we don't do this here. A possible reason to why Italian restaurants do this in the US is to offer a better alternative for customers who like to eat bread and butter before their meal.

5. Putting garlic on pizza. No need to scare off vampires in Italy.. And don't forget that Italians love to kiss.. garlic is romance's greatest nemesis.

6. Putting garlic on everything. We use it very lightly and often remove the whole clove before serving sauces. I know, it's hard to accept, but just let it sink in for a few minutes... it'll all be alright.

7. Having a lot of kids. We used to in the old farming days, when families needed more "arms" to help out in the fields. But with people living in small spaces in the cities now, the Italian birth rate has dramatically dropped down to a low 1.2, the second lowest in the Western world. Oh, and although the Pope may not like it, Italians have caught up with the practice of birth control...

8. Doing shots of any hard liqueur. We see liqueurs as "digestives" (aids in digestion.. especially after a big meal, you can consider some of them a sort of "liquid plumber") so we like to savor them taking our time, enjoying them with friends at the dinner table. Popular ones are Grappa, Amaro, Limoncello. The first two can also be added to espresso, making it a "caffe' corretto" (corrected coffee).

9. Using "Italian salad dressing", Alfredo sauce, garlic breadsticks, spaghetti & meatballs, and other unfortunate culinary mishaps. These things are not Italian and you won't find them on your trip. If you do, you may want to go to another restaurant for dinner as the one you found specializes in serving tourists.

10. Eating lasagna in a restaurant. Lasagna is typically a home-made dish, which pretty much any common soul is able to make. Ricotta cheese, mozzarella, and plain tomato sauce DO NOT GO in lasagna. Ok, I'll give you that in some areas in Southern Italy ricotta is used, but most Italians use "besciamella" (white sauce) and "ragu" (a meat-based bolognese sauce) instead. Check out the original recipe here (warning: it's in Italian!)

Finally, when in Italy... do as the Italians!!! But also relax and have a good time.. who cares what people think, just enjoy your time there and you'll be just fine!!!

Ciao for now!

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Monday, February 22, 2010

Being Italian: Pros and Cons

Being Italian: Pros and Cons

You've taken the appropriate steps to becoming Italian (following my suggestions from the last newsletter) and now you're not sure what to do with your newly found super-hero status.. So here are some of the pros and cons about being Italian.. enjoy!

Pros about being an Italian Man

- Getting hit on by foreign women for merely having an accent.
- You can be homeless, jobless, hairless, not speak a word of English, grunt, and still be assaulted by women... because you are "God's greatest gift to women."
- You'll never have a bad meal in your life, whether it's made by your mom or your wife.
- You can eat pasta pizza every single day and still be considered a perfectly well-adjusted adult.
- If you cheat on your woman, you can say "it's a cultural thing". (addendum: this only works with foreign women though).
- If you make a bad joke, you can say something was "lost in translation" and that people in Italy are still laughing.
- Anytime you feel you're being taken for a ride, just say "this is not how we do business in my famiglia..oops, I mean, in my neck of the woods".. which should be enough to qualify you for speedy service.
- You have a maid that takes care of your bachelor pad, your laundry, cooking, sewing, and even gives you money and her car keys so you can go out and shop Armani's fall collection... oh, wait, that's not a maid, that's your mother... ah, what's the difference anyway?
- If you're a business owner, you're expected to take a 3-hour lunch break, close down for vacation the entire month of August, close on Sundays, plus 12 days for national holidays.
- You can totally pull off wearing a "man-purse" (or murse).

Cons about being an Italian Man

- The whole "God's greatest gift to women" thing tends to wear off after the 6th or 7th time you stare into another girl's cleavage within five minutes of the start of your date.
- You must be a soccer fan and know how to rip the hair off your own head and yell "GOOOOOOOAL"!
- Whoever you want to marry has to be approved by Mamma first. Just keep in mind that the word "approved" is not in Mamma's vocabulary.
- You have to get used to having sex in your car.. how could you ever do it in Mamma's house?
- You have to say things like "How d'you say..?" and "In my country.." over and over until all the girls in the room are completely entranced.
- You have to get used to kissing other men.. on both cheeks.
- Say "buh-bye" to worn-out baseball caps, acid-washed jeans, and tapered khakis. Say hello to "manscaping", Dolce Gabbana sunglasses, and $150 designer jeans.
- Your Grandma doesn't talk to you much anymore since she found out you stopped going to church and since you told her Santa is cooler than the Pope.
- You're wearing a man-purse.

Pros about being an Italian Woman

- If you're running late, you can say you're on "Italian time" and still look cute.
- You can mask your PMS symptoms by reminding people you're a hot-headed, stubborn Italian.
- You can easily turn down an undesired dinner invitation by saying "Sorry, I only eat my own food".
- You will have the right of way, even if driving down the wrong side of the street.
- Having ├╝ber-tanned, prematurely aged skin (with a generous amount of sun spots), a chip on your shoulder, being bitter about life, and smoking Camels only makes you look more interesting.
- People will be OK with your mustache because you're the "Mediterranean type".
- You've become a pro at using a bidet.. and it's become your best friend on quiet and lonely nights.
- Your fantasies are happily populated by Raoul Bova, Riccardo Scamarcio, and last but not least, Rocco Siffredi (girls.. go ahead.. look them up).

Cons about being an Italian Woman

- Horses and rabbits can be both your pets, as well as your favorite delicacies.
- You certainly don't consider yourself a racist... but come on, who likes Gypsies..and Southern Italians.. or Albanians.. and those annoying people from the town next to yours..
- You have to deal with an Italian man's B.S. (and laundry).
- Your grandma still has hopes for you to repent and become a nun.
- You have developed "geisha-feet" from walking in stilettos 24/7.
- It's totally acceptable for you to be over 30 and single. You've gotten used to staring death in the face at every family gathering anyway.
- You've never been able to talk with your hands in your pockets.
- You go through more Gillette razors in a week than Norway does in a year.
- You're mostly likely going to name your son after your grandfather. Oh, and "great job!" for having a son.
- What is peanut butter? You're only true friend in good times and in bad is Nutella.. she has never let you down (well, bidet hasn't either).

How to be Italian in 5 simple steps.

"How to be Italian in 5 simple steps."

Step 1. Dress Italian - (Ladies) Wear 6" heels no matter where you're going. Picking up the mail? Taking out the trash? Just wear them, the look of pain on your face will only make you look more interesting. (Guys) Wear shirts a couple sizes smaller, unbutton your top 3 buttons, let the hair get some air (if you don't have it, consider getting a transplant), always tuck the shirt in, and be generous with your cologne (make sure it's a designer one though). Develop an accent, a personality, and start making sexual innuendos with all women you meet.

Step 2. Eat Italian - Cappuccino is for breakfast only. Just follow this rule and nobody will get hurt. After 11am you're on your own with an espresso shot after each meal. Start actually cooking your meals (Prego and Pasta-roni don't count) and make sure your pasta is always al dente (i.e. firm). Say hello to your new BFF's extra virgin olive oil and Parmesan cheese (make sure it's the real stuff.. NOT the stuff that comes in a green can.. for God's sake, are you out of your mind?). Never, and I say NEVER ask for Fettuccine Alfredo in Italy (or anywhere else), unless you want to look like a fool. Why? Just try it.

Step 3. Work Italian - Mamma comes first. Period. Need to move because of your job? Either find a job near Mamma or take her with you. Oh and erase the words "sexual harassment" from your vocabulary.. it's just ordinary professional interaction between colleagues. Don't forget to complain to family and friends.. it's just something we love to do, it's what makes us happy people. Complain even if you get a promotion (which is highly unlikely unless it's a government-imposed salary increase). On a positive note, where will you go on your 30-day vacation? Wherever it is, make sure it's where Mamma wants to go.

Step 4. Drink Italian - Is there any other drinkable liquid other than Italian wine? No. That's why you have to drink it with both lunch and dinner. If it makes you sleepy, get over it with a shot of espresso (see Step 2). Italians drink sparkling water - we like to keep water interesting too. The only other thing you're allowed to drink is Grappa. If you think it's too strong for you, you can't handle being Italian... try Swedish or Canadian.

Step 5. Love Italian - (Guys) Make your woman feel like she's the only woman on earth, a heavenly site of perfection, the most beautiful, the most amazing creature to walk this planet. Repeat Step 5 with every woman you encounter. (Ladies) Make your man feel like he doesn't have a chance in hell to be with you (even though he's the most smoldering hot, tear-his-clothes-off stud that you'll never see again in your life). Watch as he walks away humiliated. It's ok, you're an Italian woman now.. who needs sex?

Finally, give yourself an Italian name.. it's easy to do, you can just quickly change the one you have. Examples: Matt Damon = Matteo Damiani. Paul Newman = Paolo Nuovamano. Johnny Depp = Gianni Deppi. Robert Redford = Roberto Fordrossa.

That's it! You're officially Italian!!! Now, go and make Mamma proud!

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Italians do it.. better? Why people (women) are so in love with Italy and Italians.

It's hard not to be captivated by Italy's charming towns, superb wines and delectable cuisine.. not to mention its iconic awe-inspiring historical sites. Falling in love with Italy has always been easy. For centuries travelers from all corners of the Earth have been drawn to this diverse country, which truly offers something for everyone, from stylish bustling cities, to the aah... postcard-perfect hills lined with vineyards and olive groves, to vertigo-inducing seaside towns perched on cliffs along the coast.

And just when you think you've seen the most beautiful places and experienced the most unique aspects of the culture, you feel irresistibly tempted to explore more of it.. because you know that an undiscovered whole-in-the-wall trattoria that makes the best fresh ravioli to be enjoyed from its amazing panoramic terrace, is waiting for you just around the corner. And this seductive, magnetic quality is what keeps bringing people back, it's what makes Italy so addictive... a sort of travel-crack.
Before you empty out your dryer with clothes from your last trip, you're already sitting with a cup of coffee in front of your computer looking at airfare.
For some people the fascination with this extremely popular destination does not fizzle out after forcefully showing photos, souvenirs, and telling every breathing being around them about each minute of their so-amazing trip. They are not satisfied with a simple "I'm glad you had a great time.", it just doesn't do it for them. What more could you want? Oh, I see, you want the fairytale.. hmm, where have I heard this before?

I was recently having brunch with a few friends one late Sunday morning and the conversation quickly converged on sharing thoughts about relationships and dating practices between Americans and Italians. After I finished posing a casual question on why Italian men seem to attract American women very easily and chomping on a colossal piece of pancake, my friend, who we'll call "Stephanie", swiftly takes off her shiny Gucci sunglasses, sets them on the table and holds her impeccably manicured hands out in front of me, takes a deep breath, then adamantly says "Listen, Italian men know how to make you feel like a woman. If they want to go out with you, they will ask you, they don't play games. They know what they want and know how to get it - they don't care if you speak Italian or not, if they're interested, they'll find a way to communicate."

Sure, Italians are usually outspoken and will tell you what they want, but is this enough to make them "better"? Some of them don't seem to have a filter.. thus suffering from a sort of "loose verbal squirting" that may seem a little offensive to those who are not used to it. However, they mean no harm and just want you to know what they're thinking (whether you want to or not). This goes for politics, religion, soccer, food, opera, and of course, love. Which makes being a shy Italian awkward, rare, and painfully uncomfortable.. kind of like a pair of tight, stone-wash jeans from the 80's.

Italians, men and women, young and old, are very much driven by the moment and can be spontaneous in organizing their social life. Want to get a quick coffee? Sure. Want to stop and see what Giorgio's doing at the bar? Sure! Want to drive to the beach after work and drive back before dawn? Absolutely. Want to get a gelato and make out in the middle of the piazza? Can't see why not.
Whatever Italians feel like doing, they do it. However, this nonchalance for instant social gratification has often gotten them into trouble. Like the common stereotype of naughty Italian men cheating, which is continuously being reinforced by the media. See for instance our Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, a chronic sufferer of "verbal loose stools" with his on-going collection of love mishaps and embarrassing speeches, somehow seems to become a sad but endearing caricature of things we love and hate about Italy. He's kind of like a cross between Hugh Hefner and Donald Trump.. need I say more?
Anyway, I digress. Let's go back to my brunch..

My "Italiaholic" friend is a sophisticated and attractive woman in her late 30's from North Carolina, a successful business owner who travels to Italy at least three times a year, and is so hopelessly in love with it that she's even thought about moving there. After four failed attempts for long-distance relationships with Italian men, she's still determined that when she finds her Mr. Right, he'll most certainly be from Italy.

"I was Italian in my past life." she says. "I know I belong there."

So what is it about Italian men that when a single girl from America lands in the Belpaese, she feels inspired by so much more than just the site of Michelangelo's Sistine Chapel? (ok, I didn't want to be raunchy and say the leaning tower of Pisa, he he).
Is it the heavy accent and the cheesy romantic cliche's? Is it the designer cologne and the hair? Is it the intrigue of being away from home? Is it the vino? Whatever it is, some people are convinced that somehow Italians do it better.. whether it's love or how they live.

But in Italy there is a stereotype that American women are easy..
"You see Nada, American women are deprived for compliments and attention, that's what they want and that's what an Italian man gives them." explains my Stephanie. Even experts say that a huge turn-on for women is to feel desirable, so for that alone, a good trip to Italy can be seen as great therapy.

On the other hand, Italian men are tired of being given the cold shoulder by local women who've gone cynical and are fed up with hearing their b.s. I mean, how could you blame them for having a chip on their shoulder? After all, the only choices an Italian woman has is either a future of folding laundry and cleaning up after a Mamma's boy, or being single and hearing about it for the rest of her life. Of course, this is Major generalization with a capital M, but it's also quite common for Italian men to be fascinated by American women with their smiling faces, energetic personalities, and curiously colorful fashion..

"American women talk to you, they say hello, they smile, they're not bitter." intervenes my other friend at the table who we'll call "Carlo". "It's easier to approach American girls, because they're friendlier than many Italian women who just ignore you." He's from Italy and has been living in the US for several years now. Our little brunch has now officially become an inter-cultural forum.

"I've been accused of being too needy and overbearing though. American women want their freedom, they're independent, they don't want to give anything up about their social life, work, and other commitments. You say you want attention, but when you get it, it's too much!", says Carlo.

The issues normally arise in an Italian-American relationship when there are difficulties in understanding each other's differences. Woo-hoo! What a revelation (not..)!!

Yes, Italian men have a bad reputation for being womanizers and "wham-bam, Grazie Signora!" kind of guys, but let's not forget that perhaps in the end, we're more similar than we like to think. Do names like Bill Clinton, Tiger Woods, Mark Stanford, David Letterman, Eliot Spitzer, and John Edwards sound familiar?

"You see, it's not just the men, Nada. Italians know how to enjoy life. Everything is an event. They know how to eat, drink, talk with friends. Not only do they value that time, they absolutely make it part of their day. They know how to live.", continues my friend Stephanie.

To conclude, this piece is not about determining who is better, Italian or American.. it's about living the dream.. the fairytale.. the fantasy.

Let's take a moment to remember a scene from "La Dolce Vita" (1960), which could make just about any woman with a pulse melt just like gelato in the August sun..
The smoky, deeply seductive stare of Marcello Mastroianni as he holds a voluptuous Anita Ekberg in his arms while dancing to the tune of "Arrivederci Roma" softly speaking to her:

"You are everything, Sylvia. You are the first woman on the first day of creation. You are the mother, sister, lover, friend, angel, devil, earth, home. That's what you are: home."

Oh yes, the fantasy is still alive and well!

Nada Vergili.

Click here to view the scene from La Dolce Vita.

Enjoy some of my favorite romantic movie clips:

- Even Lady could not resist Tramp's charm with the Italian chefs serenading her..(click here to view the clip)

- How could we forget the carefree ride through Rome with Audrey Hepburn and Gregory Peck in Roman Holiday? (click here to view the clip)

- And what about Roberto Benigni in La Vita e' Bella (click here to view the clip), taking advantage of each chance encounter to call his love "Principessa"!

So why not give it a shot and see if you can live the fairytale?!
Check out my Girls' Gone Italian trip coming up June 25 and the dream could come true!