Travelers never think that they are the foreigners. ~Mason Cooley
This past month I have come to learn that Italy as a culture is not only steeped in tradition, but also steeped in the calendar to determine when certain things take place. I’m not even talking about the church or liturgical calendar that dictates when certain holidays take place. These do have an effect on when some of the “key” events happen–like what pastries a bakery will sell–but pretty much every aspect of the Italian daily life is run by what time of year it is, regardless of the temperature.
Primarily, I mean the way you are supposed to dress. In America, on the first day of spring (I mean, temperature spring, not when spring technically starts), you walk out onto a college campus and see 75% of the girls wearing sundresses, the other 25% in other capris or shorts, and nearly 100% of the guys wearing cargo shorts and polo shirts with a popped collar. The skateboards come out again (though some of them never went away) and the whole world deems it spring. If you’re wearing a winter coat, you’re weird.
In Italy, however, spring does not come until at least sometime in April (we have not yet reached that time), or maybe it’s not even until May or June. You can tell who the Americans are just by walking down the street and looking for the skirts, shorts, and tank-tops. The Italians, in contrast, are still wearing coats. Yes, sometimes even their winter coats, and if not, definitely a jacket and long sleeves. Almost all the guys still wear scarves.
The calendar also runs when you would do certain things. For examples, you would never, ever, not in a million years in Italy, set up a kiddie pool for your kids to play in on your porch in April, no matter how hot it is. Hence, when a local American that we know here in Italy (who shall remain nameless) had a son playing in their kiddie pool on their porch one blazing April day and cut his foot, necessitating a visit from an Italian friend who was a nurse, the first thing on the parents’ minds–in addition to stopping the bleeding–is, of course, how to hide the fact that the injury was precipitated by playing in a pool. All plots were foiled by a younger son, and as a result, the word soon ran through all of Orvieto that the Americans had a kiddie pool on their porch and their child got hurt in it. No way to escape that one.
Sometimes I think that American culture is the only culture that actually functions like it does in this sense–doing things when they are comfortable. If it’s hot in February, who cares, take advantage of it and go to the beach. In Taiwan, I always got in trouble with the locals for not wearing a jacket in the winter when it was 70 degrees fahrenheit. So why is it that Americans alone feel the need to do things when they want to? Do they have no cultural boundaries at all?