Living in Italy today is in many ways is like I what imagine it would have been like living in the 1950s. Most of the time the little idiosyncrasies are charming and there are many lifestyle choices that I want to bring home with me, but there are some things about 2010 that I miss a lot.
How is Italy like 1950 you ask? Well, I've taken the liberty to outline of few of my thoughts on this topic in the paragraphs below.
Everyone smokes... everyone.
Campari and Martini Rossi are very popular here. What, never heard of those mixers before? Yeah, that’s because they’re from 1950!
Everyone dresses in their Sunday best at all times. Fedora hats with wool scarves and overcoats, Italian leather dress shoes and gabardine slacks are the standard winter dress code for older men. Take away the Fedora hat and you’ve got the standard dress code for the rest of the men in Italy. Many Italian women continue to proudly wear fur coats because no animal rights organization is going to impose on their right to stay warm and be fashionable. Actually, the dress here is surprisingly conservative for men and women.
Walmart, Target, and Costo do not exist (although IKEA does. They pronounce it EE-KAY-AH). The concept of bulk buying does not exist. People shop daily and they buy in small quantities as there is no “extra” room to store that 20 roll pack of paper towels. Paper towels are seen as luxury and a waste. Dish towels are the norm. Just imagine the dish towels your grandma had in her house and you’ll understand what is used here.
Refrigerators are the size of "ice boxes" and eggs are not refrigerated. Microwaves are exceptionally rare. You’ll stick that last piece of pizza in the oven if you want to warm it up. And if you want to heat up some left over pasta or soup you’ll use the stove. There’s no instant gratification in 1950!
The weather still plays a major factor in how Italians live. Most Italians cannot afford clothes dryers. The machines themselves are expensive, but more so Italians cannot afford the electricity that is required to power a clothes dryer. Because they dry their clothes on an outdoor clothes line (even in the middle of winter if it’s not raining) or on an indoor fold away rack, drying time must be taken into consideration for what is washed and when it’s washed. For instance, the clothes you want to wear on Friday had better be washed on Wednesday to allow for the proper drying time.
Apparently the fear that one can catch their death of a cold is not just the stuff of Jane Austin novels. Italians (and many Europeans) still believe they can get sick from being out in the rain or out in the cold. They'll decide whether they'll leave the house based on the weather. Of course not having a car to get you from one point to another plays a major factor here, but still, Italians don't want to hear any scientific mumbo jumbo about how only viruses or germs can make you sick.
Many Italians cannot afford a car so they own a bicycle. People of all ages dressed in their Sunday best ride their bikes everywhere; to work, to the market, to restaurants, to bars, to school, to church… everywhere. But because it’s common for bikes to get stolen, no one invests in a new bike. That’s why so many “vintage” bikes are still in existence. These bikes have not changed much since the days of poodle skirts and saddle shoes. The bikes here still have chain guards so your dress pants don't get stuck in them, utilitarian baskets so you can carry your fresh bread and vegetables from the local market, and bells so that you can signal for the frustratingly unaware Italians to make room for you on the street.
Very few people, including students, walk with earphones to listen to music. It's a little strange to see because in Washington, DC and many other major metropolitan cities in 2010, earphones are an essential component of any wardrobe. It is still common and acceptable to be late for work because you ran into a friend on the street and were catching up. Italians believe wearing earing earphones isolates people from one another and that's not acceptable behavior for 1950.
Office dynamics sound quite Mad Men-esque. For instance, smoking in your office is allowed. Drinking at lunch is common place and sexual harassment is a relatively unknown and un-feared concept. Dating the boss is certainly not frowned upon. In fact, several of my girlfriends working for Italian companies have been told that women who “fuss” about suggestive comments at work probably just need to get laid.
Of course Italy is not COMPLETELY stuck in 1950. They have high speed Internet for goodness sake! Then again, you do have to sign a 2 year contract to get it. This forces many Italians (and visitors) to survive on an Internet key. An Internet key is the equivalent of an air card in the U.S., but it’s way more expensive and way less reliable. And then of course there’s the… the… umm… Okay, let me think… how else is Italy not like living in 1950? Hmmm (long uncomfortable pause)… Nope just that little wormhole called the Internet; that’s pretty much it!
Allora, welcome to 1950!