My Weird American Habits (According to Italians)

One of the things I love most about living abroad is how it makes you reflect on yourself and where you come from. You would think that when immersed in a foreign country your focus would be on that culture, which you inevitably do, but it also stimulates a lot of introspection. I love noticing what is “American” about me.

1) I have wet hair, and I don’t care.
I have no problem letting my hair dry naturally (also it’s healthier to lay off the heat). And since I have a lot of hair this can take a while. At home, nobody looks twice when I leave the house with damp hair. In Italy, however, I get so many stares! Italian women wouldn’t be caught dead in public with damp or wet hair.

2) I dress for the high temperature of the day.
I dress for the temperature of the day, not the season. This means that on a warm day in April (like yesterday), I am wearing a skirt, espadrilles, shirt, and denim jacket, while the Italians are still wearing puffy jackets, boots, and scarves. Italians wear a lot more clothing (even year round) to protect themselves from “bad air.” Italians believe that sudden fluctuations in temperature will make them sick (this is why they eschew air conditioning and leaving the house with wet hair). I really don’t know how they do it. I start sweating just looking at them in puffy jackets when it’s 70 degrees out.

3) I love lines.
I am really into lines. There is something about queuing that eases my anxiety and assures me that everyone will be served in a timely and orderly fashion. The lack of queueing in Italy seriously stresses me out!

4) I am always smiling.
This might be partly because I am from the south, but I smile at everyone, always. Some Italians find this endearing while others seem more perplexed. But, I have no intention of stopping!

5) I dress loudly.
Sorry, all-black everyday just isn’t me.

6) I need lots of personal space.
I never realized how much personal space I required until I started living abroad. And for all of my time in Italy, I am still not 100% comfortable kissing strangers or cozying up to random passengers on a bus.

7) I am deceptively polite.
As an American I feel obligated to ask how you are doing. But often when Americans ask that, we don’t really want to know, we are just being polite. We often give the canned reply “Good, thank you. How are you?” It’s funny that when I ask in Italy I get honest and often more in-depth answers to this question.

8) I am always eating.
First, I am always hungry. Second, I eat when I am hungry. Thus, unlike Italians, I don’t stick to a regular meal schedule, I like to snack all day!

9) I am always on time.
I am not just on time, I am often early. This of course is unheard of in Italy.

10) I have no patience for smoking.
Since smoking is (thank goodness) a dying habit in the U.S., I forgot how much I abhorred it, especially the smell!

Anyone else notice anything about themselves that was decidedly American when studying or living abroad?

  1. Alex

    Sometimes we Americans forget there are completely other worlds out there with different customs and routines. I would definitely stand out in Italy because once it warms up, I'm often leaving the house with wet hair. Also so far the only negative you've shared with Italy is the smoking… but I could live with that if I got to see the views you do, haha!

  2. Bronwyn

    Great list. My Canadian self agrees with all of them! I've never been to Italy (I will be there in July for the first time!) but I feel the same in France. Not so much in England. I was there in March and found I fit in pretty well with the British people. I guess that's because Canadians live like British people most of the time. Never really lost that connection I guess over the centuries… πŸ™‚

  3. Katie Boyle

    I'm Irish and I'm early to everything, the rest of the country are always late. I'm moving to Denmark next year where apparently people are just as early as I am, so that should be a nice change of pace.

    If it gets vaguely warm in Ireland people break out shorts and head to the beach. With weather in the seventies no Irish person would be caught dead in puffy coats, they'd roast to death.

    Finally we do the wet hair thing here too. It's cold a lot of the time so wet or damp hair will make you more susceptible to catching a cold. I normally wash my hair at night and let it dry overnight so I'm good to go in the morning.

  4. June, The Serial Hobbyist Girl

    #3! I lived in Naples, Italy for over 3 years in the early to mid 2000's. The lines, or lack of them, was one of my biggest pet peeves. They just don't know the concept of an organized formation and how this actually speeds things up. No, lets all just pile up in mosh-pit like fashion at the front and trample each other, why don't we? Also, personal space! I understand that different cultures have different ideas of what constitutes personal space, and being of Hispanic heritage I get the Italians, but it was still shocking at first. Of course, Naples has many redeeming qualities and I miss it, although I would have never admitted to that while living there.

  5. jess

    I share SO many of these (especially the wet hair and smiling!). I have learned that being a vegetarian makes me stand out like a sore thumb overseas. It's just a concept that is not very popular or understood in other countries. I'm trying to move to more of a 90% vegan diet and it's difficult in the states, so I can only imagine how difficult it is to be vegan overseas!

    jess | Bows & Bouquets

  6. Ashley B

    I was giggling as I read your description of lines, or lack there of. It is so true and so frustrating! But as you said, Italy makes up for it in other ways. Maybe one day we can convince them of the glory of the line!

  7. Kristen Magann

    I've never been to Italy but while in Vienna this past summer, I was waiting in line for the bathroom (paying for pottying was also super weird) when a tour group of about 10 Italian ladies swarmed in and cut me. I stood there jaw dropped and quietly huffed to myself and thought, maybe they didn't notice me there. Well, this happened again in line for a crypt tour at Stephansdom when a large family of Italian speakers completely line jumped my husband and I. I wondered then if lines weren't a big deal in Italy and now I have my answer. Adjusting to different cultures abroad is always very strange…but I imagine a lot of American customs (especially Southern ones, hello from Georgia!) are weird to foreign visitors as well.

Write a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

%d bloggers like this: