8 things Italians can’t live without

8 things Italians can’t live without

As a straniera (a foreigner) I’ve noticed that the Italians have some things that they just can’t function without.  They are the linchpins to Calabrese culture without which everything would fall apart.  As the years pass I have definitely become more accustomed to these traditions and admit that a few things on this list are now essential even for me. Am I becoming more Calabrese?!?!

So here is my list.

  1. Coffee

Before coming to Italy I thought I liked coffee. To the extent that every day I would exit Starbucks/Costa/(insert generic popular coffee chain here) with my pint-sized hazelnut skinny mocha clutched in my hand and guzzle away to my heart’s content.  That’s just how you deal with London life.  How wrong I was.

Real coffee, as aitalian coffeeny Italian will tell you, comes in a teeny espresso cup, ideally taken black, or at the very most with a splurge of foamed milk under the guise of a macchiato, and is almost legally obliged to contain one sugar.  It’s drunk on your feet, standing at the bar (with the rest of the town) and is appropriate at any time of the day.

N.B. Cappuccino is the exception to this rule! Think you can have one after a meal, think again. This is a cardinal sin.  Cappuccinos are to be consumed only during breakfast hours, ideally with a croissant (cornetto).  To request one after midday is a crime punishable with ostracisation.

2. Gelato

One of the best things (or worst if you’re on a diet) is the Italian love of ice cream.  It’s not relegated like it is in England to summer’s days or bouts of depression, instead every day is a gelato day and my god it’s good.  A calorific Calabrese fave is the ice cream sandwich, your choice of gelato served in a brioche, guaranteed to leave you in a calorie coma.  And I wonder why I’ve gained weight…

3.  Sunglasses


The bigger the better, ideally with a designer label, boy do these Italians like their brands. To be worn at every opportunity, for a walk in the park, in the supermarket aisles, in church (yep, I know).

Sun not necessary.

4. Football

My husband is cheating on me.  A few years ago I discovered he had another love. One with which I can never compete: football.  If he’s not playing it, he’s watching it, reading about it, talking about it or dreaming about it (as a few late-night bruised shins can testify).  And it’s not just my husband. Hours, days, weeks even (ok I’m exaggerating) can be whiled away in the piazza talking in an animated fashion about so-and-so’s penalty or some referee’s bad decision.  Don’t get me wrong, I’m partial to the odd game or two, just not the obsession. I guess I just hate being the ‘other woman’.

5. Pizza


Any time, any place, anywhere. Romana or Napolitano. Whatever the question is, pizza is the answer.

6. Pasta

When I first met my husband we would often cook for each other, I’d do far-flung thai or Mexican dishes and he’d cook tongue tantalising pasta concoctions.  Over the years, with lots of help from Mamma, I’ve picked up Italian cooking and now, like most Italians can’t seem to go more than a day without craving pasta.  However, initially my ignorance to pasta had my hubby recoiling in horror.  Apparently the answer to “which type of pasta would you prefer?” is not “Any honey, they’re pretty much all the same”.  Different dishes require different types of pasta (the different shapes and forms aren’t, I’ve now learned, simply to look pretty). It comes in different grades, requires different cooking times and is as versatile as…well, something very versatile.  It’s an art, a science and something not to be scoffed at, instead just to be scoffed. Who’da thunk it!

7. Noise

There is one volume here: loud.  If it’s your first time in Italy and you see what appears to be an argument don’t worry it’s just a conversation.  If you go to the cinema but aren’t overly enthusiastic about what you’re going to see, no fear, the people behind you will talk so loudly you can simply listen imagesto how Giovanni doesn’t treat Francesca with respect. Much more entertaining.  Fancy a conversation with your neighbours? Who needs a phone when you can simply open a window and bellow down the street.  Want to get your point across in a
discussion? Easy. Simply start speaking louder than the person you’re talking to until they stop.  See a spec of dust at 3am, don’t wait till morning get the hoover out NOW. At a wedding but bored by the sermon, chat to your friends it’s much more interesting.  Get the picture? Silence isn’t golden in Italy, it’s a wasted opportunity to talk.  While these are all real examples I’ve experienced I don’t want to be negative. At least you’ll never be short of Italian practice!

8. Mamma

One in three Italian men see their mothers every day and the average age for moving out of home is 36.  While this may come as a shock to, well, everyone from the rest of the world, a simple look at why Italians still hang on so tightly to mamma’s apron strings makes everything clear.  The Italian mamma is a domestic goddess.  She labours over a hot stove, cooking a variety of restaurant quality dishes for every meal time.  She starches shirts until they’re crisp and gleaming. She cleans every room within an inch of its life, until it sings it’s so spotless. Every. Single. Day.  And of course, she dotes on her children.  I know of a man (it’s not my hubby I promise) whose mother used to cut his toe nails, up until he got married.  With this kind of attention, heck I’d move in!!!

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