It’s curious how ordinary things can be inspirational. As I attempt to make note of every detail of my experience in Europe prior to my departure, I find myself inspired by travertine.
This marble is prevalent throughout Italy. It’s everywhere. Last night I took a late walk to the seashore. The sidewalks were all travertine. In America, sidewalks are usually concrete. But here, travertine is the rage. The whole country is pretty much either marble or rich topsoil so travertine is apparently as cheap as cement.
It got me to thinking about other simple things that I noticed while in Italy…
When approaching someone on the sidewalk, the other individual always moves to the left, quite different than in America where it’s always a move to the right.
Cashiers and baristas never hand you your change. They place it on the counter or, usually, on a traylike container for you to pick up.
There are no one- or two-euro paper bills. They’re all coins. This is also the norm in Canada.
One always removes one’s shoes upon entering someone’s home. The homeowner provides slippers. I’ve found this to be the case throughout Europe.
No one buys coffee to go. It’s always drunk at the café, in a ceramic cup.
No one sits in a café and works on a laptop—except me.
Smoking is much more prevalent. Many bars still allow smoking.
People do not clean up after their dogs, leaving the dog’s deposits on the sidewalk.
Breakfast is usually a cappuccino and a pastry.
Cappuccinos are not to be drunk after noon.
Beef is more likely than not to be used as a condiment, not an entrée.
Wall-to-wall carpeting is non-existent.
Refrigerators are tiny.
Microwaves are not ubiquitous.
Many homes still do not have dryers. Most people hang their clothes outside to dry—or inside if the weather is uncooperative.
Except for the larger cities, everything really does close for three hours in the afternoon.
Italian “fast food” is generally a slice of warmed-over pizza—and it’s usually not that good.
It is possible to find cruddy food in Italy.
Convenience is not important.
Showers are built for small people.
Space is not utilized efficiently in apartments.
Italians cut in line.
One must actually purchase kitchen “units”. These include sinks, dishwashers, stoves and ovens, in addition to cabinetry. They are not built into the apartment.
Litter is accepted.
Overhead power lines are not as common as in America.
Virtually all apartments are in security buildings. Apartment doors cannot be breached without a battering ram.
Only once have I ever felt that I might be in danger.
Young people want out because they feel they have no future. Many want to go to America.
Obama seems to be universally admired. This seems to be true throughout Europe.
Virtually nobody understands why Americans like guns.
I miss popcorn, peanut butter, deli sandwiches and diverse cuisine.
One must walk into a plexiglass “tube” and be scanned before entering a bank. Only one person can enter a bank at a time.
Street signs are on the sides of buildings at intersections (sometimes).
American-sized billboards are unheard of. Signs advertising businesses are usually placards along a railing at an intersection or directional in nature along a street.
Crosswalks are generally about thirty feet before the intersection.
Mass transit is quite reliable and very affordable.
It’s impossible to find a “venti” or “large” anything.
Most foods are in small portions in the grocery store—eggs, cereal, milk, meats, juice. No Costco-sized containers.
Coffee drinks are obscenely inexpensive. Espresso is generally about $1, cappuccinos about $1.20. The equivalent corporate swamp bilge at Starbucks is two to three times the price. This is quite possibly the one thing I will miss most when I leave. Need to lube myself up on caffeine.
Doors open inwards.
If you want the American version of a “latte”, you must order a “latte macchiato”. Ordering a “latte” just gets you milk.
Italians love you forever if you try to speak in their language—no matter how badly you mangle it.
Italians are loud.
When you see two Italians yelling at each other, it’s because they love each other deeply.
Italians can make the most godawful-looking clothes appear fashionable and cool. I’m talking purses the size of a Volkswagen with bolts, doorknobs, studs and metallic half moons glued on, lime green tennis shoes or skin-tight orange pants.
Scarves are a religion.
Artichokes, eggplant, mushrooms and zucchini are very popular.
Internet service could drive a person to drink.
Utility invoicing is occasional.
Lawns American-style are not unheard-of.
Flower boxes are much-loved.
Italians know how to dress up any outdoor space and make it magazine-worthy.
These are just a handful of small observations. They are minor yet they are things that require adjustments. I think that we oftentimes prepare ourselves for the big differences we expect when a major change occurs. But it’s really the small every day items that are probably the hardest and, sometimes, the most cumbersome.
I always find myself doing a dance with the person approaching me on the sidewalk. I am envious that Italians look good no matter what they wear. Sometimes I want a bucket of coffee, not a cup. Yet one adjusts.
There are more things that I haven’t remembered. Some will pop into my mind after I return to America, I’m sure. And I will think of them with a smile, as I remember Italy fondly. I’ll be settling back into old ways, occasionally reminded of my time in Italy.
It will extend into the future the year that I spent here.