Hannah Shaffer’s article from her semester in Viterbo, Italy.
After hitting the snooze button twice, I reluctantly roll out of bed to get ready for class. I drag my purple slippered feet to the balcony window and pull back the floor length curtain to see the usual, dreary grey Italian sky and rain pouring from the sad clouds above. I see that it’s going to be a floral rain-boot and polka dot umbrella kind of day, yet again. I struggle to get ready, changing my clothes in approximately thirty seconds flat since the apartment feels about 15 degrees Fahrenheit. Slipping in to my rain gear, I walk down the apartment stairs and out into the street.
I decide to go to the café across from the apartment for a breakfast pastry, and my bleak mood alters immediately upon walking in the door. “Buon giorno”’s ring throughout the air and smiles are seen on each face in the café. It seems as though I have made their day, just by entering the café doors. Upon entering any café, restaurant, office, or little shop in Viterbo, you are immediately greeted with a warm smile and truly genuine greeting.
Not only the café employees, but the customers as well, treat you, a complete stranger, as if you are family. I feel as though I have been coming to this café for years, as a regular customer. After the café, I make the trek to the Santa Maria di Gradi campus in the torrential downpour and relentless winds, walking as fast as my legs can possibly carry me. I am always in a hurry in Italy, rushing to get out of the cold and rain. The quaint little shops and medieval buildings are simply blurs; I see only my feet as I keep my head down, attempting to avoid the brutal wind. I can’t remember the last time I was warm. It was definitely not in Italy. My mood returns to its original, downhearted state. That is until I enter my classroom and am greeted once again with multiple friendly “ciao”’s and sincere smiles from my teacher and classmates.
The smiles and heartfelt greetings continue throughout the day, upon arrival at the supermarket, the book store and the restaurant I meet my friends at for dinner. In America, if you are lucky, you may get a “hi” or a “welcome to so and so..,” if it is company policy to say so. And even then, you are only greeted with a half-smile, one that is nine out of ten times forced.
Shortly after my arrival in Italy, I was told that it is easy to separate an Italian from an American.
While Americans make life happen, Italians let life happen. Italians live in a world where “to go” orders, pizza deliveries and driers do not exist. They are in no hurry to get from point A to point B. While their snail-like moving pace on the streets simply annoyed me when I first arrived, I began to realize that perhaps they are not the ones who have it all wrong.
While American waitresses bring the check to your table almost immediately after setting your main course down, you have to ask for the bill to be brought to your table in Italy. While Americans seem as though they are on a mission 24/7, always in “go, go, go” mode, Italians have “pausa pranzo.” From one p.m. to four p.m. each day, almost all shops and businesses are closed. This time is set aside for rest, a break from business for a few hours, time to see family or enjoy lunch with friends.
While I was rushing my way to class each day, I wasn’t experiencing Viterbo. I wasn’t giving myself the opportunity to experience Italy. I never saw the friendly smiles on the streets. I never noticed the rows of optimistic flower pots placed along little shop walls. While I was only focused on the cold and rain in the morning, I wasn’t appreciating the beautiful view I had of the Viterbo sunrise from my balcony, or even realizing how blessed I am to have the opportunity to be studying in Italy.
While Italians find it a pleasure to take time to send warm greetings to everyone upon arrival, I find that a simple greeting when entering a café is enough to turn someone’s entire day around, enough to remind them to slow down and take the time to appreciate life. Taking time to acknowledge someone sincerely, and sending them a smile, can change their entire perspective. Some see Italian’s slow pace and relaxed attitudes as laziness, but I argue that it’s not laziness at all, but appreciation and love of life. While I’ve been spending the last twenty years in a rush, always on the go, trying to make life happen, I think it’s now time to simply let life happen.