Italy is known for fashion, food, Fellini and La Dolce Vita. From the Lakes to the rolling Tuscan hills, to the coastal towns of the Cinque Terre and the breathtaking Amalfi Coast, Italy is bellissima for all the senses.
But even in one of the world’s most influential, popular and beloved countries, culture shock abounds. Below are some of our favorite entries about Italy from our Culture Shock Contest.
1. Teri Swenson of Illinois ran off to Italy to heal a broken heart, and found love in a whole new way.
“Two years ago, dealing with an enormous broken heart, I decided to get away. So, I went to Italy – all by myself.
I have never felt so welcomed any place in my whole life. I went in “down” season, and the locals treated me like a princess. I was taken to dinner by people I had never met in my life, given rides to Sienna and shown around.
One night, I had arrived back to the village I was staying, via bus. It was dark and I had over 3 miles to walk through the Tuscan countryside back to my Villa. I WAS LOST. I couldn’t remember which street (as there are many ways to go) was the way back. I sat on a bench trying to remember and this man pulled up in his car to go into the local cafe. He spoke very little English, but went into the café to get me directions…and instead, drove me to my Villa. While driving, he said “I can’t believe you walk all this way..there are many wild boars in these hills! He then waited in his car until I got inside. I would never recommend doing this,, getting into a strange man’s vehicle, but something told me it was alright – just this once.
I end this by saying, my broken heart was gone and I found a new love…ITALY!!”
2. Rose Swartz also found love – in Florence. A love that filled both her heart and stomach.
“I went to Italy last year for 4 months with a backpack and a Eurail pass. I was going to learn about organic farming, but learned much more than that. It all started one night while couch surfing in Firenze. My host took my friend and I to a gay club. As we were dancing, my eyes met with the DJ on stage and I walked right up onto the stage and kissed her. We exchanged numbers and I went to visit her the next weekend.
She gave me the full Italian romantic spectrum in a single weekend. We rode bicycles around the perimeter of Firenze, she took me on a private tour of Piti Palace and the Boboli Gardens, she took me to Sienna and told me all about the Palio. We ate fresh baked Nutella croissants at 4 am as we walked home from late-night adventures. We fell in love in the most beautiful city in the world.
Every other week, between organic farms, I would go to visit Firenze. I made a friend there who helped me find my Italian family in Bassano Del Grappa. My Italian cousins looked more like me than my brothers. Meanwhile, I spent the weekdays farming in Calabria, Montelione Sabino, Arezzo, and San Vincenzo. I snipped lavender and picked olives. I saw the olives that I harvested being pressed into oil in a 1,000 year old castle. I drove a train in Tropea. I rode a bicycle into theTuscan mountains to see a 90 year old Nona in Belvedere and eat the best meal of my life. I ran the Italian gamut of adventure as often as I could.
Every weekend I continued to visit Firenze. At first I thought it was for the DJ, but I came to realize I was in love with Firenze itself. I experienced love, heartache and adventure during my time in Italy and I hope to return there one day soon!”
3. First love, now money. Bruce Bertsch of California went with his wife to the charming Barberino Val D’Elsa, which lies midway between Florence and Siena. He saw first hand the generosity of the Italian people.
“On our first full day there we decided to take the bus into Florence, a 45 minute ride. We went to the Tabac by the bus stop and in probably the worse Italian ever spoken I asked for two tickets to Florence and return. The lady said, “No tickets” and gestured for us to go to the bus stop. We entered the bus and I told the driver no tickets and he gestured for us to sit down and said, “Later”. When he stopped at the next town he pointed to the Tabac by the bus stop and said, “Tickets”. In the Tabac I once again asked for tickets and once again I was told they had no tickets. I offered to pay the driver and he shook his head no. We arrived in Florence and as we were exiting the bus I once again offered to pay the driver. He smiled and said, “Arrivederci”.
What are the chances of something like that happening in the USA? My wife and I still talk of this as one of our favorite travel experiences.”
4. From generosity to honesty. Jennifer O’Leary of Massachusetts and her husband were without a cell phone and apparently a wallet while searching for their bed and breakfast in Genoa. A stranger helps, and restores a woman’s faith in humanity.
“I had been flying for 20 hours. I was exhausted. My husband and I had flown separately and finally rendezvoused in Genoa, Italy. We had reservations at a Bed and Breakfast- and the directions in the email were to contact the owner when we arrived. Neither of us had an international phone plan and had no way to call. We were roaming around the streets of Genoa looking for a pay phone or we were going to attempt to buy a phone in one of the retail stores- but it was Sunday and everything was closed. We found a phone and I took out my wallet to use a credit card but the phone was broken. At this point I think I was ready to break down into tears. I wanted a bed, a shower, a toilet, something that resembled comfort! We roamed some more until we found a miniscule sign on one door that indicated this was in fact the B&B. At last!!!! We rang the bell over and over. No answer.
My husband left to go find a phone again while I remained at the door hoping and praying for an answer of some sort. A little while later, A man and his family passed by me and started speaking to me in Italian- and in my wonderful, charming non-rude American way- said “No Italiano.” He then proceeded to ask me in broken English if I had lost my wallet and my passport- I said “no” – thinking he, of course was crazy and wanting something from me. And then I remembered- I had taken my wallet out at the broken pay phone and put it on top of the phone. I looked in my bag. No wallet. I started yelling after him “Yes, Yes, I did lose it” – this time the tears came! He said it’s ok- I brought it to the policia- He brought me to the police station, we ran into my husband on the way, and retrieved the wallet. Everything was there- credit cards, cash, euros and American, Passport. It restored my faith in my fellow man. The man refused any reward and told me to just please be safe. And the best part- right outside the police station was a working phone- we call our B&B, got in 10 minutes later- and had a fabulous time touring Italy for the next 4 weeks.”
5. Italy’s food is what brings many a traveler. But for John Dirienzo of New York, a meal in Parma is one he’d like to, well, ix-NAY from his memory.
“In Parma Italy, I ate a piece of what I thought was sun dried tomato spread (bruschetta), but it turned out to be raw horse. For all their ranting about their superior cuisine, those people love horse in all forms, including raw. I don’t eat red meat and can tell you it was rather tasteless and totally gross.
Ultimately, Peter LaMontia of California said what we believe is the biggest shock of all when returning from Italy. And why so many travelers go back to visit over and over and over.
Most of my trips are to BELLA ITALIA. The SHOCK is coming back to the USA and seeing the difference of how people there LIVETHE LIFE!”