One of my first thoughts before coming to Italy was “will I fit in”. Not just with my new classmates or with roommates, but with the culture. I’ve been fortunate enough to have traveled a large amount of this world before I’ve reached the age of 20, and one curse of traveling is perpetually being outside the norm. Out of the loop, per say. Venturing into a new and unfamiliar territory is an exciting and informative experience, but leaving my home country for extended periods of time would always remind me how American or Italian (depending on the country) I truly was. Here in Italy, I realize how much of an enigma I am.
I grew up in a stereotypical Italian-American family. Pasta with meatballs, sausage and gravy was a common meal, at least 6-8 times a month, if not more frequent (and yes I stand on that side of the ever-growing debate between gravy and sauce). Large family gatherings were full of wine and discussion, accompanied by the occasional shout and loud exchange. We went to church every Sunday, and I was allowed to drink wine before I was 15. My family was the spitting image of what American’s would consider Italians.
Coming to Italy, however, I discover just how un-Italian we are. In lieu of diving into the debate as to whether or not Southern Italy is it’s own distinct national identity, I will regard Italy as the parts I have explored thus far since being here, namely Rome and points north. Italian’s here aren’t as loud or boisterous as my family…not even close. Every meal except for dinner feels very Americanized, quick or with very limited time. I see Italians on their lunch breaks walking around eating a sandwich. When I heard stories about Italy growing up, I was told that no one would think of eating on the go, that meals were a sacred thing to be shared with others, and people would often close their shops for a few hours just to have lunch. While this may be true in the South or in towns that are less tourist-dependent than ones I’ve visited, in Florence, that isn’t the case at all. Everyone just goes about their business as if New York City had been condensed down into a small, renaissance city. It’s quick, and at many points, impersonal.
I’ve been told that I should probably travel further South, and there I’ll find “my people”, but I’m hesitant. I’m scared that, if I do journey to Naples or Palermo, that I’ll just find what I’ve already discovered here, that I don’t fit in with that culture either. I’m not expecting there to be some perfect match, some “AHA” moment where I see the roots of everything I was raised with, but to discover that the “Italy” my family has been keeping alive all these years is truly dead…that wouldn’t be a story I would like to return to America with.
So, for now, I’ll keep that dream and hope alive. I’ll sit here telling myself trains to Naples and flights to Palermo are too expensive, that I should keep waiting. Maybe one day they’ll dip low enough to make sense, and I’ll take that final journey to see how things really are. Or maybe, I’ll just run out of time, and I’ll be left wondering for another few years whether or not the Italy that I grew up with is alive somewhere outside my backyard and Philadelphia apartments. Until then, the idea of living in between doesn’t daunt me as much as much as it once did.