“A journey is best measured in friends, rather than miles.” –Tim Cahill
I truly think that in some ways, America suffers from multiple personality disorder. This is not necessarily the fault of the country, but is one of those things that just…happened. I mean, how is it possible not to suffer when you have people and cultures entering from everywhere throughout its entire history? From the very beginning America has been a hodge-podge of cultures and traditions. The country never really had a chance to develop and identity on its own–it has always been melding different people and cultures together. This is not necessarily a bad thing all the time, but in some ways, American culture can come across seeming schizophrenic and underdeveloped, always borrowing and never truly creating. I mean, I think of cuisine. When I think of genuinely American food, the first thing that comes to mind is a hamburger and french fries–some of the most fattening and unhealthy foods ever. Of course, they had over foreign food, but that food can in no come up to the standard that it is at in its native country. Even with language–English is the national language, but there are so many languages spoken that can there even really be a national language?
Being in Italy has been refreshing for that very reason: the people here in Italy know who they are and what they are about. They have an identity and they are proud of it. They have a well-developed cuisine that makes the taster like even foods she thought she hated, and it is truly their own. They have established routines during the day that don’t change, even for the convenience of foreigners (don’t even think about going shopping at 3 in the afternoon, because everything is closed!). They have a beautiful language, and while they almost all speak other languages, they don’t go out of their way just to make sure you understand–if you ask, they will tell you graciously, but you’d better do your part in listening and paying attention.
So where America sometimes isn’t sure which had to wear, Italians always wear the same hat…and the same scarf, for that matter. It’s okay if you don’t blend in–they’ll still accept you, just don’t try to change them.
In terms of experiencing Italy, we had real Italian pizza last night, and it was phenomenal (I realize I talk about food a lot, but the food here really has an identity of its own!). I feel like I might have actually liked pizza growing up if I had eaten this kind. It was different than American pizza–the crust was flat, almost like a tortilla, but crisp. The sauce was not oozing off it, but it was still enough to keep it from being dry. They brought out five different kinds, and I could have eaten more than my six slices. The most normal was the plain cheese, which we started with, followed by bacon and potato, beef and corn, hot dog and french fry (I thought that type of thing only happened in Taiwan!), and finally black olive. Dessert topped it off with tiramisu–another phenomenon.
Today I also went back to a pastry shop and tried an Italian pastry, filled with chocolate. I think I will be frequenting this shop quite regularly. The best part about the trip, though, was the woman serving the pastry. My friend had just ordered, and as I walked up and pointed to the one I wanted, she asked me if I wanted it to take out. I said yes, and then asked how to say take out in Italian. She pretty much lit up when I asked. I never knew an ignorant American asking how to say something in Italian could evoke such a response in an Italian. She told me, and then as she stuffed napkins into my bag, asked me what the word for them in English was. The pastry was delicious, as usual.
I’ve also discovered that Italy is becoming just as crazy about recycling as Taiwan. They’re just a little late in figuring it out.