Italian Culture

“You may have the universe
if I may have Italy.”

Giuseppe Verdi

Individuality vs. Community
By Sarah Vierling

As Simona entered my apartment the other night for our bi-weekly Bible study she didn’t even bother to take her jacket off before she made

the obligatory round of baci to everyone present. If she didn’t know someone, she took time to introduce herself and after about five minutes she was able to unwind from her scarf and settle into the evening—now that the introductions were finished.

As I watch her go through this same routine every other Tuesday I have started to wonder, “Is there more to Simona’s behavior than just being polite?”

As we learned from Elfi last month, Americans tend to value individuality more than Italians. This affects us in a wide range of areas–from our outlook on life down to our clothes. To take this thought one step further this month, we wanted to look at how our independence can affect relationships.

Do we end up disregarding community because we value individuality?

The more I think about it, Simona is not only honestly sweet to everyone-even strangers- but when she enters our full apartment she isn’t thinking about herself. Her focus is on the group.

Examples of this community-centered mindset abound in Italy. In the education system, the success of the whole class is of utmost importance. The teacher pairs up kids who are struggling with the kids who understand the lesson so that everyone can learn. The Galloways witnessed Italian community in a unique way in the hospital. Shared rooms, families caring for the other patients, and an overall sense that it is more enjoyable to share the experience with others.

Marti Sanders learned a lesson about community on a recent train ride. The elderly woman across from her pulled out a bag of cookies and before eating one herself, promptly offered her snack to the three strangers sitting around her. Marti appreciated this thoughtful and yummy gesture, but didn’t think too much about it. Later, she was traveling with a group of Italian friends and bought a snack for herself. After eating the entire helping, her Italian friends kindly told her how strange it was that she never offered what she had to the others. After slight embarrassment, Marti now understands. It’s not about the food, it’s about being aware of those around you. “Even if it’s as little as offering each person in my train car a piece of gum or a cracker. It communications a wealth of caring to those around me,” she says.

As we try to build movements everywhere they will take place in community. It is vital for us to understand what community means to our Italians friends.

So, the next time you enter a large group, don’t stand in the corner only talking to the people you know. Embrace the Italian perspective. Get to know everyone there. Not only will it kill that wallflower image, it will express genuine friendship and care.

Oh, and share any snacks you may have on you. It can’t hurt.

Lessons learned from JELLO


Sometimes all things “American” can seem quite normal within our 50 states, but as soon as you try them here in Italy, you begin to realize… “what is NORMAL, anyway?” Shandra, one of the CCC staff in Florence, Italy had such an experience while serving JELLO to her son’s friend, Alessio. It’s a cute little story with lots of culture lessons inside!

“Have you ever had one of those moments when something that had seemed normal your whole life, whether it was a way of thinking about life, a phrase, fashion, or food, all of a sudden seemed well, strange. It really can be surreal, like you are outside yourself looking at whatever that thing is with different eyes. Well I had a moment like that last week when I served blue jello on a plate to Alessio. It all started when Shad invited some friends over for an American lunch. As we were planning it he said, “Let’s make jello!!!” It’s not that I didn’t know that jello would be a bit strange, but it wasn’t until I set it down in front of Alessio and watched the expression on his face that I truly saw jello for what it is. It’s really more of a toy, or science project than a food. As it wiggled on his plate and he looked up with an expression of pain (you really expect me to eat this!), I felt like I was playing a cruel joke. In fact what self respecting mother serves food coloring, artificial flavoring, sugar, and water all congealed together with some mysterious ingredient for lunch! I quickly assured him it was a joke and that he didn’t have to eat it, much to his relief.

This made me start thinking about the process of how we change as we live here in Italy and see things with new eyes. How are you changing and what surreal cultural experiences have you had? Have there ever been any moments where you have thought, our American culture can be so weird!” -Shandra Galloway


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