Italian Warmth

I’ve long said that Italians are some of the warmest people. They’re welcoming and inclusive, and they’re generous regardless of economic status. They are quick to befriend, quick to love. Quick to temper, quick to forgive. They are protective. Their passions run high. They watch every soccer game with such gusto that it’s like all matches are the championships. They savor and appreciate meals. They talk like they’re debating in Parliament. They sing like they’re onstage at La Scala. They have a zest for life and it’s infectious. Here are a few examples of why I think the Italian culture is so caloroso (warm).

 

Almost Family

Immediately upon arrival in Italy, I was invited to Sunday lunches. No matter what house I was in, it felt like Thanksgiving day sans turkey.

For months, a family took me into their home and treated me as though I had always been one of their own. My “sorella” (sister), Sarah, hugged me every morning with her “Buongiorno!” If I was out of town for the day, she welcomed me home like I’d been gone all week. If she fell asleep before I got home, she wanted to know what I’d seen, what time I got home, and why on earth I was already awake so early the following day. My “mamma,” Monica, truly treated me like her daughter — she called me pet names like Tesoro (treasure), hugged and kissed me like she’d birthed me, and indulgently prepared all the foods I liked. When I was considering a job offer in London, she reminded me that Rome was a short plane ride away and I could “come home” on long weekends and holidays. She comments on my Facebook photos and texts me that she misses me as if I’m a daughter working abroad. My “papà,” Gianni, brought me home treats when he went away on business trips. “One for Sarah, one for Monica, and one for Caroline,” he’d often point out. We may not have had many topics of conversation, but his actions showed his affection.

Mamma Antonella (Marco’s mother, this time) invited me over for intimate family dinners and, despite our language barrier, she caught me en route to the airport early morning to send kisses and un gran abbraccio (a big hug). She amusingly waves an exuberant hand into the camera when she sees me on Skype.

One nonna (grandmother) regaled me with stories of her youth and her neighbors, and inquired after me as though I’d simply been away at university. Another nonna, who I’d met only a handful of times, didn’t distinguish me from her grandchildren; she updated me on her blooming garden, she fed me too much food, she sent me off with parting presents.

 

Overnight Friends You Keep for Life

20140503-092713.jpgDeb and I met via language exchange. Less than a year into our virtual friendship, she welcomed me into her home and showed me around her corner of Veneto. Her husband treated me like I was his sister-in-law. Her son was as attached to me as an aunt who simply lived in a different city. Her neighbors came to greet me, remarking that Deb and I interact with each other as close confidants do.

Ottavia (a.k.a. Otti) and I met on a train ride out of Pisa one day. She was heading home for the weekend and I was heading south toward Rome. Not sure how it happened, but we ended up exchanging contact information. Suddenly, I’d acquired a little Italian sister.

Cinzia had a room when I needed a place to overnight between an archaeological excavation and my flight back to the U.S. Within an afternoon, we were laughing and taking photographs together like old friends. Her husband came home wondering what we were conspiring about. To this day, our relationship still feels like that of a niece and her aunt.

 

In my book, Italians give hospitality a whole new meaning. Admittedly, not all of the examples above are attributable solely to the Italian culture, but perhaps you see why I believe that gli italiani sono i più accoglienti – Italians are the most welcoming. And that’s coming from a Filipina, whose culture is pretty warm itself. I might even liken Italian hospitality to their use of olive oil…. If you know anything about Italian cooking, you know that’s quite generous indeed.