While there are many differences between Sicily and America, I’ve decided to only narrow it down to six. Disclosure: This is not in any way meant to offend anyone and it’s merely what I personally have experienced and noticed.
1. Money talk
We all know that money makes the world go round. But here in Sicily, it seems to have a whole other meaning. There’s a famous motto that they live by that says
“Chi non lavora non fa l’amore.”
Which means “He who doesn’t work, doesn’t make love”. Italians are very hard workers, they put work ahead of many things and are very responsible people. For this reason, money is a very important conversation topic. I’ve noticed that it’s normal to know how much money your friends and family earn annually. This could just be the circle of people I’ve known, but it does seem as though it’s very typically. They also talk about their assets so non-nonchalantly. In the US one of our ice-breakers is “What do you do for a living?” Even some of my closest friends I wouldn’t dare to ask how much they make, or how much “x” cost them. It’s considered rude, and none of your business. So for me, all this money talk is very strange. So much so that when Giulio kept telling me how much money he paid for everything from x-z, I told him to stop because it makes me uncomfortable. Though, I’ll add to this that in general they don’t seem to be envious of each other. If anything they are content to see their friends doing so well. This could have to do with the fact that there is a serious job crisis in Sicily and all of Italy.
2. Emotional Dialogue
My boyfriend is Sicilian and I always thought he seemed a bit extreme sometimes, especially when he’s frustrated. In the US we tend to keep our voices low and if we raise our voices it’s because of something serious. Since arriving in Sicily, I’m realizing that it’s not because he’s trying to be a dick, but because that’s how everyone speaks here.
His parents yell at each other than laugh it off. His friends yell at each other consistently throughout the conversation and call each other names, yet with a smile on their face. The weird thing is, no one seems to be bothered by it! After a while I noticed that this is just how they talk to each other here, filled with emotion. And it show this emotion even more, they complement it with various hand gestures. This is another thing Italians are famous for, their constantly moving hands.
If it’s one thing I’ve learned is that I should probably start raising my voice too, and using hand gestures, or else I’ll never be heard! I’ve also learned not to take my boyfriend so seriously when he starts an argument over small things, like whether or not pineapple belongs on pizza.
3. Italian Medical system
It shouldn’t be a shock to anyone that follows this blog to hear that I ended up in the ER. Again. That makes 5 countries where I’ve ended up in some sort of medical mess. This time in Italy during the summer, where there’s like no one working apparently. Thankfully, this problem wasn’t related to the last ER visit in Puerto Rico a week ago. This was my usual monthly bronchitis that hit me when I woke the morning after my flight. After about three days of coughing up my lungs and introducing myself with snot all over my hands I’d had enough. Because it’s summer and everyone is on holiday, we had to go to pronto soccorso. In Italy, the emergency room is cheap, but people go for every little ailment. They assign you a color from white, not urgent, to red, most urgent. I was assigned green, which is just above white, and sat next to guy whose jeans were covered in blood. Apparently the wait times at the ER are insane! You have to wait hours to be seen and this man was waiting from 11am until 6pm when they finally saw him! I got lucky and only waited 2 hours. I won’t lie, I had a lot of fun and it was an interesting experience. Everyone was talking with each other in the waiting room discussing their problems and laughing at the absurd wait time. When I signed in and told the guy at the front desk that I was from America he asked “What the hell are you doing here?” in Messina dialect. When we told him I’m here on vacation to visit Giulio and we met in Korea, he gave us a look I’d never seen before. He gave the same look when our other friend who lives in Korea walked in.
As far as the overall treatment, I was sent to see a specialist immediately, without having to wait a week or hours. He sent me home with free medication samples and the entire visit was nearly free. A trip to the Emergency Room in America would cost a minimum of 1,000$ with insurance and probably double to triple without insurance. Universal healthcare is something I firmly believe we need in the US and it’s experiences like this that make me realize how amazing it can be.
4. Familiar shopping vs large corporations
In the US we are dominated by large corporations and franchises, especially in Florida. If I need to go shopping for something, I just drive down the street to Wal-Mart where it’s one-stop shopping. This means I can buy: tires for my car, baby clothes, food, and a gun all in one place. Why go to 5 different small shops when I can just go to one? Here in Italy when I go shopping I have so many options within walking distance. My boyfriend’s family has their usual “fish vendor”,”fruit vendor”, “bakery”….etc. They have been going to the same shops for many years, as did their parents. It’s amazing! Can I also say that the food tastes better?? If you don’t like the fruit at this guys cart you can go to the other guys and have a whole different experience.
It’s a completely different way to shop, and I love it! I remember walking into the fish vendor’s shop and seeing the daily spread and thinking, “I’ve never eaten food this fresh.” There are also plenty of locally owned shops where you can find whatever you’re looking for. If you want to buy a suitcase, there’s a shop for that. If you want to buy an espresso machine Bialetti there’s a shop for that. If you need a pharmacy, just look for a green cross and you’ll find that each has its own twist. As I said above, I have some seriously bad luck when it comes to my health so I really need to give a shout-out to Farmacia Papisca. I have literally visited this family’s pharmacy 4 times the past 2 weeks and I’m always treated like a princess. This is something I love about Sicily more than anything. People really try to make you feel at home. So much so, that you become part of the family without even realizing it! This personalized way of shopping, is really something I wish I saw more of in the US.
This is something everyone knows. Italians are known for their impeccable fashion sense. Everyone leaves their houses dressed to the nines and walk around like that all day! I swear I haven’t seen a single person dressing casually unless they were at the beach. This could possibly be my biggest give-away that I’m not Italian. I wore sporty clothes to walk around and explore the city, and then on the way home stopped by the supermarket to buy some milk. I immediately had eyes all over me. People knew that I wasn’t from around here. Americans love to dress practically and comfortably. American men are usually found in jeans and a t-shirt, and occasionally, a button down.
I’m not exactly known to be the most fashionable person in the world, but I don’t think I dress terribly! Apparently no matter how hard I try I still look “deeply American.” This really hit me when I walked into H&M looking for some hairties. Mine had broken, and in the 100 degree weather I desperately needed another one. Rather than search for a shop, I walked into the H&M knowing they’d have them by the register. As I walked in, the girl asked me “Do you want to pay?” I looked at her completely stunned. I had just walked in and hadn’t even had a chance to look before she was pushing me out of the store. Because of my clothes, she knew I wasn’t Italian. If anything, she may have thought I was a gypsy. There are many throughout the city begging for money. Anyway dressing nicely, being neatly groomed, and acting poised throughout the day is very much Italian. I think it may be time to change my casual wardrobe to help me blend in a bit more!
5. Vacation, everyone has it and they all go to the beach!
Okay, this is another strange thing. Everyone is on vacation in the summer. We went to the bar nearly every night, on a weeknight, and all the bars are full of people. The shops are also closed in the city center because everyone is in their beach or mountain summer houses. It’s also a time to be reunited with long-time friends. Every time I go with Giulio, he seems to see someone he went to school with. They both then chat about when their holidays will finish. Like, what?! Back in the US we don’t have holiday, and if we do we are discouraged from taking it! The other thing is that when you take your holiday, you’re usually the only one. You can coordinate with a friend to take holiday at the same time, but otherwise your friends are all still working.
The most holiday an American can get, if you have a full-time job, is maybe a week to a week and a half. In order for me to get a vacation to travel across the globe, I had to take “unpaid leave.” And if I was thinking of taking another trip I would have people asking, “Wow, you’re going on vacation again?“
European culture normalizes vacation, and encourages it. I honestly think that this has been best summer of my life. Why? Because everyone else is on vacation too and we can all hang out by the beach!