In some ways, I am still exceptionally English. I insist on going outside even when I have a cold, because – despite the Italians fear that a slight breeze will give us all fever – my mother taught me that fresh air is the cure for everything. I jump into the water before it is as warm as the summer air, because my childhood experience of swimming in outdoor water was always a challenge to how long you could stand the cold. And, frustratingly when it comes to social plans in Italy, I prefer my dinner before sunset.
However, almost three years of Italy is certainly having its effect: on every visit back to England, I notice a few more things about myself that do not fit in here. What is happening to my English soul?! Let’s just hope my love of takeaways and queuing persists, because there’s a few odd changes happening:
I tuck my shirt in (even t-shirts).
Although apparently the height of fashion, certain Italian trends are still stuck in the nineties, one of these being the habit of tucking your shirt, even if the outfit is completely informal. Though originally I felt like I was in an episode of Saved by the Bell, I now feel untidy and judged with my t-shirt hanging out. As long as I don’t take it to the step of tucking it into my underwear or nightwear (yes, that’s a thing, even for adult males apparently).
I pair my food and drink.
Oh, if only my university self could see me now. Whilst previously I was happy to have the cheapest, most bearably alcoholic drink to match my meal, I now have to carefully consider what type of dish I’ll be eating, so that the drink can enhance the flavour and vice versa. Though certainly not on an Italian level yet (I still have some way to go for learning the best dessert wines), a steak with white wine makes me cringe.
I am all about the aperitivo.
Possibly even more than Italians, actually. For those who haven’t been blessed by an aperitivo, or aperitif, it is the tradition of having a drink and appetisers before the main meal. Most bars will offer it in the hours before lunch and dinner, with a specific drinks menu from 2-6 euro (any more and it is massively overpriced). The price for the drink includes various finger foods: mini sandwiches, mini pizzas, olives, crisps, nuts and bread. A bargain, if you ask me. When I have enough time and money, or enough ingredients at my place, I will insist on an aperitivo. It’s a relaxing, social way to start your meal….but mainly, free food! (…okay, perhaps that’s still the English part of me).
I crave fresh food.
Whilst true that Italians love their pizza and pasta, in general they maintain a much healthier diet than us northern friends through their appetite for salads and fresh fruit and vegetables. In summer especially, I will usually have a dinner of fresh salad leaves with ricotta cheese, with a bit of oil, vinegar and salt on top. Although this food is available in England, the freshness and quality is not nearly the same: its no wonder we’re a lot larger.
I’m okay(ish) with public displays of affection.
This has honestly taking a lot of getting used to, but it’s finally happening. Italians are far more open about their affection for people, whether it be a lover, friend, or completely new acquaintance. I still struggle giving relatively unknown people two kisses on the cheek, and often accidentally go for a hug with friends when they want to do three kisses, but I have become far less conservative about seeing couples cuddling and kissing around others. My boyfriend was a little put off when I introduced him to the concept of PDA, and regularly mocked me for it: for him, it was no one’s business how much we kissed or made out. Although there’s obviously a limit, I’m far more comfortable with showing affection in public places now: with everyone else seeming to do it, there’s little focus on you.