Ahhhhh yes… Le Dolce Vita! Just one look at Sophia Loren and you can see how good living an Italian life can look.
Despite being born and raised in Canada, I have always grown up Italian. I would attend Italian Saturday school where from 8-4 I would learn about Italian history, geography, language, math (all in Italian, of course) if I wasn’t going to Italian camp in the summer, I would be in Italy spending time with the family that still resides there.
After recently returning from my latest trip to Italy, I felt even more proud of my Italian roots. Not just for the history, food, and gorgeous architecture- but I connected to their way of life so strongly that it pretty much took a machine operated crane to pry me away to return to the US.
So what about their lifestyle would I suggest the world apply?
Coffee time means coffee time.
Italians do not take their coffee “to go.” Italians do not drink coffee during a meal. Coffee time is celebrated and embraced as an isolated event. And why shouldn’t it be? It is celebrated about 4 times a day where they go to their local coffee bar (Yes, coffee bar, yes local- no Starbucks!), take a quick break from everything happening in the world, and indulge in the gift that java brings. In the morning, you drink it before consuming anything else. In the evening, it is taken after your meal.
It is quite easy to appreciate this concept. We often times try and rush through our day and refer to it as an occasion, or “treat” when we actually take a moment to just have a cup. While most of the world grabs their coffee on the go as fuel for the day, here, it is apart of an every day pleasure.
More than one plate per meal.
Growing up in an Italian family, this was very normal. It is not until you actually need to describe it to someone, that you begin to appreciate it. In Italy, you have a Primo Piatto (first plate) and a Secondo Piatto (second plate). The first plate (naturally) typically consists of carbs- Pasta, risotto, soup, etc. The second plate is your meat plate (fish, rabbit, veal, etc). Food is always seasonal, and local. Ever been to a restaurant and couldn’t decide what to order? Leave it to the Italians to take any pains away from eating.
This truly makes a meal, more than eating- but an experience. But how can one digest all that food you may ask!? Instead of cakes or pastries ate as dessert, fruit is served as a way to help digestion. (cakes, pasteries are eaten early in the day as snacks)
What also helps…
Liquor sipped at the beginning and end of each meal.
It makes all the difference in the world! The right Aperitvo will stimulate the appetite. They are typically light, dry and modest on the alcohol content. There is a Digestivo for every type of meal and are made with natural elements to aid digestion. A bitter Amaro for after a heavy meal, a sweet Frangelico, a refreshing Limoncello (a favourite of mine) or for the bold, a chilling Grappa.
Dogs are treated as humans.
Science has proven that having a dog, improves the quality of your life. Anyone that has one, wouldn’t argue. In most places in Italy, dogs are very much a part of the community. Italians give their dogs human names (because you wouldn’t name your child Rover, would you!?) which I absolutely fell in love with!
They are also taken everywhere with their owners. In Genoa, it is the law that no matter what type of establishment you own, you must allow dogs (inside and out!). Because dogs are brought everywhere, it is very rare to find one misbehaving. Because they are integrated in society, they are well socialised, well exercised and well fed!)
Back to food…
There is a meal after lunch, before dinner.
Antipasto. Oh, how I could live on Antipasto! At around 5, you will see wine bars, and restaurants offering amazing deals on wine and an Antipasti- a wood board filled with deliciousness! Cured meats, variety of cheeses, breads, olives, fruit, grilled veg, pestos, jam, honey, (I could go on!) Because dinner is not eaten until at least 8, Italians need their early fix of wine and food (why the hell not!?). It is also great social time to meet up with friends, share and unwind after a work day. Can you think of a better way!?
A happy life is not validated by the size of your house or the car you drive.
A happy life is defined under the basics. I grew up learning that as long as you have your health, family, food, clothes on your back and a roof over your head- you are doing good! Of course, there are parts of Italy (Rome, Milan) that have a pretentious spirit to them, but those you find in the villages and towns that survived wars, that built communities will lead a life knowing what truly matters.
It is not all about work. Most shops and business close for 2-3 hours in the middle of day to allow for a break, nap, or social time. The entire country gets a 2 week holiday during August to explore and enjoy. Sure, their economy has suffered in the last years, however the culture of life being most important is a lost concept in most places around the world.
Tell it like it is, no matter who you are telling it to.
Italians have no shame in turning on the heat and telling someone to “fu*k off” when they deserve it. This attitude oddly keeps a healthy balance. There is no reading between the lines, no beating around the bush. If you pissed someone off, you will be made aware of it! Italians are very hospitable, friendly and warm. But they also have the ability of being the loudest, most vulgar people in the room. At least there is no questioning!
It is very easy to think of Italy, and appreciate the art, food and history that embodies it. But it is in the resilient people that have created it’s beautiful culture and maintained its traditional customs that can easily inspire others to live Le Dolce Vita.