Ahh the Italians, something about them keeps me coming back for more. It isn’t solely the delicious way they talk or even the heavenly way they cook, but it is the love they exude. I am in Torino, Italy for the next two weeks visiting my host family that I lived with during my semester studying abroad. It has been a long two years, but even 5000 miles apart, we still communicate at least once a week. My mum and my Italian mamma talk pretty much every day. It is so cozy and comfortable to be back in Torino.
My host family is from the north of Italy, so they are smaller than the large Italian families we know in America. Those families with 7 or 8 kids and thousands of cousins, aunts and uncles, that’s all from the south. My family consists of my host parents, 7 year old brother, 2 year old sister, grandparents, one set of aunt and uncle and their one child. Tiny by stereotype standards right? That’s the north for you.
They may be different in size but the amazing love of family and food that we all imagine, that is absolutely the same. My first full day in Italy I spent just relaxing on the balcony, writing, editing pictures, etc. Over the course of a 6 hour period I was asked 5 times if I was hungry and then listed everything in the house. Each time when I said that I was fine, the response was “posso fare il pasta!”. Translation: I can make you pasta. Needless to say, I worked my way out of it only twice and had three lunches of pasta that day.
This is how Italians show love, with food. It’s really no wonder that I love this place. My host dad is notorious for asking me if I am full at the dinner table and before I can even respond that I am stuffed, he is filling my plate and emptying the bottle of wine into my glass. The more they can feed you, the larger amount of love they can show you. When I arrived in Torino, my host mamma spent about a half hour showing me all of my favorite foods she had stocked the kitchen with. I kid you not, she has 3 bags of mozzarella, 6 packs of each prosciutto crudo and cotto (cured ham and cooked ham), tons of fruits and veggies, great breads, all the pasta and olive oil you can imagine and a giant block of parmigiano cheese.
But even more than their amazing food, these people are simply the best people. Sure they have their grouches or people who woke up on the wrong side of the bed, every country does. But the Italians have a saying they live by, “dolce fa niente”, the sweetness of doing nothing. Northern Italians have a bit harder time doing this than the southerners, but they are still leaps and bounds ahead of everyone else in the world. The idea that meals take three hours, or that people will sit in the park for an hour, just to sit. They are completely content with just enjoying life and do not need to pack every second of everyday with something.
The Italian people are also some of the most helpful people to travelers, especially when you get out of the cities packed with tourism. Torino has about 1 million people, but zero tourism to speak of. This makes it a great city to live in and to learn the culture or language. The amount of times I have completely messed up a word in Italian or made a hand gesture that meant something I didn’t mean, is astronomical. But either they let it slide completely, or they kindly tell you what you did wrong and how to do it correctly. The owner of my favorite gelato shop in Torino used to not give me my gelato until I had asked correctly in Italian, making me repeat it over and over.
Not only are they helpful with foreigners learning their language, but they will try so hard to learn yours. People are always excited to practice their English with me. One of my grandmothers here in Torino will carry a tiny pocket English Italian dictionary with her. Rather than speak to me in Italian (which she knows I would understand) she looks up each word, sounding it out, and makes the simplest, most beautiful sentences in English. I dont think she does this because she wants to learn the language, but rather as a way of making me feel comfortable. This is just who they are.
I love my Italian family so much. They are so loving and welcoming. I have always felt a part of their family and they are a part of mine. I am a big believe that people are people all over the world. There are always good people waiting to help you, if you look for them, in any city, any country, any corner of the world. But there is something special about the Italians. If you have the opportunity to spend time in Italy, especially in the less touristy parts, make friends with the locals. They are amazing people with a delicious culture and they are waiting to welcome you, probably with pasta.
-The Very Hungry Traveler