When you relocate to Italy, or even just visit for a few weeks, you’re bound to notice that there are many strange and interesting contradictions about the country! All nations and people have their quirks but in Italy it can often feel more pronounced than almost anywhere else that you might have visited before.
So what do we mean by the contradictions that exist in Italian society? A contradiction is something which clearly opposes another belief or action that somebody, or something may do. For instance, it would be contradictory to know it was raining outside but then leave your umbrella at home when you went out! Italy is full of such contradictions but they are undoubtedly part of what makes the country so special.
Italians have a well established tradition and cultural way of life which means that most of the contradictions in the country are probably far more obvious to foreigners who have moved to the country because most locals don’t seem to notice them at all!
Italy’s Slow Pace of Life vs Fast and Dangerous Driving.
One of the things that Italy is best loved for is the casual and relaxed pace of life. It’s not at all unusual for people to spend several hours having their dinner – not once a week, but every night! This might seem like an outrageous waste of time to some Westerners but it’s a vital part of the fabric of Italian culture and helps to maintain the strong family bonds they are renowned for.
Following a long meal, Italians will often take a slow walk around the town, stopping in the squares or on benches where they’ll start conversations with anyone who is passing by!
However, against the backdrop of this casual attitude to time management you can quickly see one of the strangest contradictions in Italian life – the driving is done at breakneck speeds, and often, with no consideration for the rules of the road. Drivers will cut you up and swerve across lanes without worrying about what’s behind them!
Every time you get onto the roads in Italy it can feel like you’re taking your life in your hands as you struggle to stay safe amongst the almost suicidal drivers that you’re sharing the road with! Italian drivers, who have been voted the most dangerous in Europe, take enormous risks to save themselves a few seconds on their journey. There never seems to be any rush in the life of Italy, except, that is, when it comes to driving!
By contrast in America, where people are constantly on the go and rarely give themselves the luxury of long dinners, slow walks and a relaxed pace of life, the roads are extremely orderly. Americans live life at a fast pace but at the same time they take the rules of the road, and their safety while behind the wheel, much more seriously than the Italians seem to do!
The Dolce Vita vs Waiting in Line.
The Dolce Vita, the hallmark of life in Italy, is passionate, friendly and relaxed. People all over Italy will stop and talk to complete strangers on the street as if they were long lost friends and rarely seem in a hurry to break off the conversation.
However, here we find another glaring contradiction in the life of Italians because when it comes to queuing in line they will often just push in front of others as if they didn’t have a spare moment to waste. And furthermore, when people behind them complain they might well launch into a tirade of defensiveness, albeit it in a passionate way.
This can be daunting and frustrating if you’re new to the country because in most other parts of the Western world, including America, people are extremely polite and respectful when waiting in line, whether it’s at the post office or in a bus stop. People in America consider it to be very rude to jump the line in front of others who have been waiting, however in Italy it seems to be normal practice in most situations!
No Diversity When It Comes To Cuisines.
Everybody knows that the food in Italy is absolutely incredible and no matter where you go in the country, from the smallest rural village to the major cities, you’ll find world class Italian food at extremely reasonable prices. You can drop into a small tavern and enjoy a meal of several courses and a fantastic bottle of locally made wine any time you want!
Even so there is an interesting contradiction when it comes to general cuisine in Italy. If you’re in the country and you feel like having a Chinese, Indian, Malaysian or American meal you’ll find it very difficult to locate a restaurant serving any type of world food!
In most parts of the modern world, you can find specialty restaurants serving food from all over the planet without any trouble at all, including takeaways. In Italy though, unless you’re in one of the larger cities you’ll struggle to find any type of food except the local Italian classics! In my view, the average American city offers a much wider selection of cuisines than even the largest Italian cities like Rome.
Italians are proud of their culture and their food and this might be part of the reason why they seem to show so little interest in the cuisine of other cultures. If you find yourself in Italy craving some high quality American food then your best bet might be to drop into one of the international hotels which cater to tourists. There you’ll find a full menu of choices that will include American food as well as many of the traditional Indian, Chinese and Thai dishes that you might be missing.
Convenience for the Customer vs Meeting on the Street.
Italians are extremely friendly and open to foreigners and strangers alike but when it comes to customer service you might feel a bit let down! In the US, most stores and businesses open for long hours and almost never close during the middle of the day, yet alone for several hours at lunch!
Many small convenience stores in America are open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, providing services for their communities, even in the smallest towns. It’s completely normal in the US to swing by a diner at 2AM and have brunch, even on a Sunday!
It’s not just the convenience stores, pharmacies and other businesses which are open all hours of the day and night in order to give their customers the services they need whenever they need them. If you call a customer service help line it will usually be open 24/7 as well and you’ll be treated with a great deal of respect.
In Italy, it’s not like that at all. Many shops and businesses close for several hours during lunch, especially in the South of the country. These same shops and businesses will often close early in the evening and your chances of finding a 24 hour customer service helpline are practically to zero! Another thing that you won’t often find in Italy is a drive through.
This is a strange contradiction when you think of how friendly Italians are in their daily lives – always ready to offer you help or advice if you ask them in person. For some reason though, when it comes to business practices, this attitude does not prevail.
Meritocracy vs Nepotism.
In the USA people are proud of the fact that their country is a meritocracy where if you are willing to work hard you can make a great living and get ahead in life. No country is absolutely perfect, but in terms of the opportunities available to anyone who works hard there is nowhere quite like America.
The world famous art, architecture, literature, fashion and cuisine that Italy is famous for is a result of competition and excellence. But competition and excellence are not key virtues in Italy now. When you arrive in Italy, as an American, you will be amazed by how nepotistic the country is. There is far more corruption in the bureaucratic systems and authorities. In most cases it matters more who you know than what your own skills, qualifications and hard work have produced!
Italy is an extremely traditional society and so family connections and government contacts have a far greater say in what you can do compared to meritocratic countries like America and much of the Western world. This can be frustrating for Expats and younger Italians alike who find that they can’t achieve what they feel they deserve because of who they are instead of what they can do!
Italy is a Land of Contradictions But They Just Add To It’s Charm.
There’s a great number of contradictions about life in Italy but in many ways these are an important part of the tapestry that make up the wonderful life that many people relocate to be a part of.
Certain aspects of the traditionalistic culture, such as the nepotism that seems to run through all areas of life, are frustrating but it does help to hold the country’s family oriented society and heritage together, even in the face of a globalized world.
As an immigrant, you’ll have to be prepared to accept these contradictions about life in Italy because at the end of the day you’re a visitor and will need to fit in with your new community.
The difficulty in finding food from other countries is something that will take some getting used to but you can find it, albeit at a higher price, in the international hotels. The high speed driving is definitely a little scary at first but you’ll soon get used to it and the slow paced Dolce Vita more than makes up for it!