It’s surprising how I have developed new habits since living in Italy. These Italian habits are easy to acquire, and very difficult to lose. They are also likely to annoy or surprise your friends and family if you take them back home!
However I’ve been assured that this is normal! The subtle changes in my behaviour since living in Italy are merely part of a healthy process psychologists call “acculturation”.
That said, some of them might raise a few eyebrows if I keep them up when I’m outside Italy!
Here are seven of the new habits that I’ve noticed so far ….
Kissing everybody goodbye
Anyone who has spent more few weeks time in Italy will find themselves automatically leaning in to give friends and family members of either sex a couple of pecks on the cheek when it’s time to say goodbye. As a reserved Briton this could seem very awkward, but it only took me two weeks to do this as a matter of course.
Outside Italy, rules about kissing are often very different. This can lead to some pretty awkward moments if you accidentally do the Italian thing on one of your mates or worse, your auntie or your cousins!
In many other countries eating late is associated with weight gain but in Italy, a country renowned for its healthy diet, the idea of sitting down to dinner at 6pm is bizzare.
In Italy, lunch tends to be the largest meal of the day and it’s common not to dine until as late as 9.30pm. Scientists say it can help regulate blood sugar and keeps hunger at bay, stopping you from mindlessly snacking on junk food in front of the TV later on in the evening.
Going out later
Obviously, eating dinner at a later time means most Italians don’t go out until long after sundown. After living in Italy for a few weeks, it’s a habit that I fell into very quickly.
While in UK it is common to meet for a few after work drinks in the pub at 5.30pm, in Italy it’s not the done thing.
Here in Italy, an early pre-dinner drink and snack otherwise known as an ‘aperitivo’ might happen at around 7.30pm, but if you’re just meeting your friends for drinks a 10pm start or later is not uncommon.
In the UK heading out so late will mean you arrive at the pub just in time for last orders!
In other countries it is common to add a certain percentage of the bill as a tip. In Italy you just round up to the nearest euro or if the bill is really large, the nearest five euros. There is not a strong tipping culture in Italy, so if you leave a large tip everywhere you go, this will mark you out as a tourist!
Feeling the weather
Italians are a weather-sensitive bunch. Heavy rain is normally enough to cancel a social engagement and once the thermometer dips below 20 degrees Celsius, failure to leave the house without at least a coat (preferably with scarf and gloves) will raise eyebrows among your Italian friends.
There is an Italian idiom that says that you should “dress like an onion” or in other words you should wear several layers of clothes.
I used to think that this was completely crazy, but now my blood has become Italian, and I have fallen into this way of dressing!
Adopting strict rules about food and drink
We knew before we arrived in Italy that there should be no Parmesan cheese with fish dishes, no cappuccino at mealtimes or after noon, and absolutely no pineapple or ketchup on pizza or pasta.
After a short time in Italy I started telling my British friends just how they were going wrong in their consumption of Italian food, for example telling them there’s no such thing as ‘bolognese’ as it’s ‘ragu’ and by pointing out how different pasta shapes are better suited to different types of sauces.
My wife and I have also started to drive everybody crazy by complaining about the terrible quality of the Italian food or coffee on offer whenever we are outside Italy.
Strange hand signals
Italians gesticulate more than most other cultures and after spending some time in Italy I’ve started to adopt some of the 250 gestures in common usage. Also, my hands now look like I’m conducting an orchestra every time I speak with my Italian friends!
Some of these gestures are highly infectious.
For example , you can show your appreciation of good food by drilling your finger into your cheek. You can also display indifference by running your fingernails from your neck to your chin. My favourite is to indicate ‘nothing’ by making sort of gun shape with your thumb and forefinger and rotating it.
These are obviously best left in Italy, as your non-Italian friends will have no idea what you’re doing!
What habits have you picked up while living in Italy or visiting Italy? Leave your comments below.