Coming from the bustling town of London and having transferred to the more modest and reserved town of Castelvetrano in Sicily, I have noticed that life here (and most probably in other parts of Southern Italy) is conducted at a nonchalant rhythm. A lot of this, I believe, is to do with cultural heritage, customs, and traditions that have settled and liquidated into the societal values of modern day Italy. I thought it would be interesting to explore these mos maiorum and share a snippet of my own experience living on the splendid island of Sicilia.
la famiglia has a long-standing 1st place seat in Italian society, with its origins rooted in classical antiquity, and the emphasis of which, is still very much alive and present in modern day families. I was made aware of this in almost seconds of arriving. Although I had only bought gifts for the immediate family members of my host family, it was important that these gifts were stretched out to everyone in the extended family, even if it meant having one pencil out of a whole set.
My host family convene for a home cooked lunch every single day without fail. Again, this doesn’t just mean the most immediate family (e.g. mum, dad and the children) but often includes the interlocking networks of the other 6 family members– sister, brother-in-law, nieces and of course the chef of the feast, the grandmother. It also seems that the flow of society is synchronised to the songs praising the prominence of family, with majority of schools and businesses closing between 12-1:30PM, just in time for a hearty family meal.
Scheduling, at its very best seems to be a distant, hypothetical idea. Okay– maybe that’s an exaggeration, but seriously, time here is very chilled. Unlike the Londoner’s motto that ‘time is money’, here is seems to be that one’s body clock takes precedent. Going to the cinema to see alla ricerca di Dory there seemed to be no rush to either get people to sit down in time nor to organise people into a queue for entry. I was surprised to find out that there are also intervals during the films, and although I was amazed by this small consideration, it is something which is so normal and mundane in their community. Time is not of the essence, but rather should be taken as a guideline.
I also found that this slow pace of life is reflected in the bureaucratic system. I didn’t find out my working hours to until I actually started working and even then, it wasn’t exactly clear: ‘Come in around 8:30 am…’. Now two months into working I still find myself using a ‘temporary’ timetable. When I asked my mentor tutor if it would be possible to work out a definitive timetable, she replied: ‘of course, once I find out my own hours.’
The more I’ve interacted with people from other backgrounds, the more apparent it has become that ‘common courtesy’ is very much a British value. There is very little emphasis placed on common courtesy here but people don’t seem to mind in any case. Any deed which causes an involuntary action on the behalf of a stranger is avoided as much as possible. Holding doors open for the person behind you, placing the divider between shopping, or even just moving in a little on the bus is just one ask too much. I don’t believe that it is the case that people intend to be ‘rude’ but it is just another cultural discrepancy which perhaps stems from the laissez-faire attitude (especially in the South), or perhaps due to the strong emphasis on family ties rather than on non-familial ones. Talking over each other seems to be a very Italian thing, and from my personal experiences, group conversations never really finish off with all the loose ends tied up. Certain threads will be tugged on more than others and the conversation will definitely snowball into endless anecdotes.
Ironically, one of the many (unimplemented) ‘classroom rules’ is to put up your hand before speaking and not shout out. I’ve come to accept that this physical manifestation of the Italian passion, be it through gesticulating or calling out, cannot be doused, no matter how hard one may try. Just a case of nature over nurture eh?
Whilst the UK over 48.5% of the population declared themselves with no religion in 2014, religion is still very much deep-rooted in Italian society. According to The Global Religious Landscape (2012), a healthy 83.3% of Italians identified as Christians. Based on my interactions and conversations with people it seems that being a Catholic is almost the ‘default’ in Italy, and why not? With a country that is adorned with lavish churches and equally invested in the Vatican’s capitalism, it seems only natural. Religion seem to be the verging point of almost every aspect in society: politics, economy, morals, state education– you name it.
That said, I have definitely noticed that the older generation seems to be more practising and active in their religion beliefs. Unlike the UK, where Christian denominations can spread far and wide, it seems that being ‘Catholic’ is just the prosaic, whether your church of England, church of East, Protestant, Eastern Orthodox, Oriental Orthodox, Anglican, part of the Restorationism and Nontrinitarianism movement, or simply a follower of The Flying Spaghetti Monster, you might as well all be clumped into one. It is so much so the norm to be Catholic by convention that I’m regularly updated of any encounters with Muslims or people with different cultural backgrounds, who of course, are the ‘exceptions’.