It’s easy to think that life between Italy and the United States isn’t so different. Both are first world countries, both are Western, relatively well off and relatively educated. With the safety net of Italian family abroad, it’s easy to think that an American expat would fall right into the swing of things and pick up the Italian lifestyle without ever breaking stride.
The problem with this, of course, is that it completely ignores the fact that the two countries are actually radically different. They have different governments, education and, the hardest one to understand, mentalities. There’s also the fact that I went from the practical, provincial mindset of the Midwest, to the cosmopolitan, frenetic mindset of Milan.
We could talk for hours about the broken bureaucracy, illegitimate government and failing economy of my adopted country (and how those things differ from the broken bureaucracy, illegitimate government and failing economy in my native country), but I prefer to go more micro. This time, I’m focusing on one question: How does daily life in Northern Italy compare to daily life in the Midwest?
The above Buzzfeed video about “Midwest foods” describes much of our native cuisine… and it doesn’t make us look great. My experience (that is, middle class white suburban….like much of the Midwest) is that our food is more to feed us than it is to enjoy. Midwesterners? We’re not impressed by all that fancy shmancy bullshit. If we can’t pronounce it, we don’t want it! We grow our own food and know what to do with it – eat it. Even better when our dinner is liquid gold. We’re known even out of the region for our beer brewing capabilities (wimpy California has nothing on us), our sports teams (OSU, Notre Dame, Cavs…) and parties. Luckily for us, the three go together perfectly.
I’ve written here about the difference between Italian and midwestern winters, but perhaps the best explanation is the sun shining through my window while Ohio is experiencing a high of -9. While Italians cover their throat and arms even on a breezy summer day, real Midwesterners never cover up. Negative 9 degrees? Flip flops same as before. They also tend to never leave their house in the winter though…
(See also: 23 signs it’s winter in the Midwest)
3) Weather in general
Winter can be crazy in the Midwest, especially these past couple of years (polar vortex? What the hell?), but let’s get real, the weather in general is crazy in the Midwest. It’s frigid and pouring freezing rain today? Don’t worry, because tomorrow it’s bound to be 70 degrees and sunny! The weather has shaped our life philosophy: If your life is going bad, don’t worry, tomorrow is a new day and if your life is going well, smile and enjoy it while it lasts!
You go on right ahead. After you. Go ahead. Oh thank you, sir!
It’s not bad dialogue from Fargo, it’s how we Midwesterners often talk with the other cars on the road, usually out loud also. In Italy? Like HELL I’d let you go ahead. More like you better watch out before I speed past you, ramp a sidewalk and cut you off, speeding through the intersection at a red just to get 45 seconds ahead of you. Jerk.
On a similar note, service in the Midwest is just as nice as the Midwesterners themselves. These poor servers have been on their feet all day, usually serving middle-aged fat couples, yet they are still peppy, still bouncing on their feet and asking how they can oh-please-god help you in any way, any way at all? – all in a sing song voice. Service in Italy is nonexistent. If you want something, you better ask for it, and you better be apologetic that you’re even thinking about making a server (or whoever it is) actually work for the five minutes you’re there. Italians don’t get paid by tips, thus they don’t feel required to grovel at your feet. Personally, I miss the groveling, or at least the friendly smile every now and then, but it’s not going to happen. Service is different. Get used to it.
Football, football, football – and not just professional, but college as well! While Italians live and breathe the other kind of football (that is, soccer) us heartland Americans give our true allegiance to American football. From high school on up, fall isn’t fall without the start of football season. Come winter fear not, for then we have the start of basketball, boxing, hockey, (we are southern Canada after all) then baseball, golf…. you get the idea.
Though it’s true Italians tend to be more fashion forward than Midwesterners, this isn’t true for all Italians in all of Northern Italy (the mountain towns are often dressed just as practical and farmer-chic as we are). The Midwest is where UGG boots sunk their dirty little teeth, growing in popularity one warm footed American girl at a time. Sure, they’re ugly, but in the freezing Midwest they’re also a lifesaver. Midwesterners are all-Americans. The fashion stars of music festivals. While Italians dress for the weather, we’re wearing shorts if the thermometer threatens to reach 50 degrees. While Italians have proper footwear, we’re wearing flip flops in three inches of mud or three inches of snow (otherwise known as our seasons). The Midwest is great because we know how to rock a flannel when it’s appropriate and how to rock a little black dress – even in 30 degree weather.
This can’t even begin to compare. Italians don’t have house parties. The size of their houses and the shared quarters of apartment buildings don’t lend themselves to the house party atmosphere. Instead, they go to the club to really party, or go out for a drink, maybe two, with friends. Maybe a happy hour, maybe a pub for some microbrews. Either way it’s just a relaxing time, good conversation and a good way to see or be seen. Few Midwesterners, on the other hand, have seen a true club, but we know how to have a house party. Houses, yards, fields, barns, canoes, we can party anywhere and when we do it’s go big or go home!
I can tease both Italy and the U.S. Midwest for hours on end, but I do so out of genuine love for both countries. Though I am one of the many millennials who left their hometown in the heart of America, I’m not one of the many millennials who did so in disdain of their Midwestern town. I’m proud to be from the Midwest. I like the attitude, the work ethic, the people and the niceties. I’m also proud to be living here in Italy. To enjoy my food, enjoy nicer clothes and drive like a maniac. That said, college football will always reign supreme over soccer.