Have you ever dreamed of eating spaghetti with your lover like in Lady and the Tramp? To live the Dolce vita while riding a vespa through the alleys of Rome? Or to enjoy a hot summer in the garden of delights like in Call me by your name?
I feel you. Italy shines throughout the world due to its cultural treasures: bellezza, amore, pasta… But what about in reality?
Does dating an Italian mean pizza at every meal and passionate declarations of love by a baroque fountain?
I’ve experienced it for you and believe me, you won’t be disappointed.
After several years of relationship with an Italian, countless stays in Italy and multiple meetings with locals, I decided to tackle the clichés that stick to the country.
I obviously offer you my French point of view on the Italian culture and I rely on my personal experience. The habits of Italians are not homogeneous, and it is therefore not a question of generalizing my observations.
Enough said, let’s get to the point. And of course, we start with what makes Italy famous all over the world: its culinary art!
Cliché n°1 : A PASTA A DAY KEEPS THE DOCTOR AWAY
23.5 kilos. This is the weight of pasta devoured by our Italian friends per person per year. Where the French are at a ridiculous 8kg.
This means that talking about pasta in Italy is not an anecdote but a national cult.
While the French are thinking: “Is it reasonable to eat pasta for lunch? We already had it three days ago.”
The Italians will ask themselves instead, “Fusilli or Linguine?”.
You get it, for an Italian, a day without pasta is clearly a failed day. Unless you replace the pasta with a risotto… And again, this is a big debate!
Source : @meme.in.abondanza
So, yes, when you start a life together with an Italian, it can be surprising.
I used to buy a 500g pack of pasta for one or two weeks, but I find myself filling the kitchen cupboard with kilos of pasta. And the stock is dwindling fast, very fast.
But beware, where “pasta” for a non-Italian is often synonymous with guilty pleasure or unbalanced dish, eating pasta with an Italian is to discover an unsuspected culinary wealth.
Forget about ketchup on spaghetti or carbonara with extra cream. Put your prejudices aside and dive into the wonderful world of “la pasta italiana”.
Do you know the trofie? Busiate? Tonnarelli? Have you ever tried pistachio pesto? Cacio and Pepe? Or gnocchi alla sorrentina?
Despite my initial skepticism about eating so much pasta every week, I have to say that I put my national honor aside and even get slightly aggressive when a French person explains to me how they cook pasta.
“Life is a combination of magic and pasta” Federico Fellini
This brings me to my first piece of advice if you are considering dating an Italian. If you don’t like to eat: leave him or her right away. And if you don’t like pasta, there’s nothing I can do for you…
In my experience, Italian food is much more varied and balanced than the Italian restaurant chains around the world would have us believe.
Italians do not joke with the quality of their products and shopping in a supermarket in Italy is a pleasure in itself.
Even for a French woman, supposedly from the land of gastronomy, the difference is striking.
After a few years of relationship with an Italian, I finally put my assumptions aside and accepted that Italy beats France hands down. Cooking now plays a very important role in our relationship and our arguments often revolve around the eternal conflict between short and long pasta.
In short, living with an Italian when you love to eat is like tasting burrata when you love mozzarella.
So now you may be thinking that you’re going to play Julia Roberts in Eat, Pray, Love. Leave everything behind and find the man of your life waiting for you at the table of a small Roman trattoria.
Not so fast. Wait until you get to the second cliché, the one that has been breaking up couples since the dawn of time and tearing up everything in its path: LA MAMMA.
Cliché n°2 : Mamma mia !
According to the Italian lawyer Paola Mescoli Davoli, interviewed in this article of Courrier International: “Italian mothers-in-law are the major cause of 40% of break-ups”.
In other words, when you consider a serious relationship with an Italian, there is something to tremble about. So, myth or reality?
If on the subject of cooking, I think I can express myself in a relatively general way on the Italian habits, it is more complicated to have a clear opinion on this subject.
Mother/child relationships obviously depend on each family and I cannot give a general opinion on behalf of all Italian families.
From my personal experience, it is undeniable that the Italian mothers I have met play an important role in the family.
They master the art of cooking good food to keep their children in the nest (but isn’t that often the case in many countries?) and they have a fairly strong influence on their children’s decisions.
“You know what I’ve been told? Italian men respect their wives. They spoil their mistresses. But the only women they love are their mothers” In love and war (1996)
That said, the reality is more nuanced in my boyfriend’s case. He has always lived away from his family since he started his studies and I have always called my parents more often than him on a daily basis.
Beyond the “mamma”, I think that what characterizes the Italians is above all a very strong attachment to the family and an unconditional commitment that one rarely finds in France.
What often struck me was the influence that parents could have on the choices of their children and vice versa.
There often seems to be a kind of “family council” where decisions are made together, where it would never occur to me to ask my parents for their opinion.
So in general, I am far from feeling threatened by my relationship with my mother-in-law.
I have always been welcomed with a lot of kindness and, let’s not lie, I also appreciate her good food!
However, there is still one point that worries many foreigners in a relationship with an Italian: what if he never leaves his parents?
Because the numbers don’t lie. According to a 2019 study, while the French and Germans leave home on average at 23.7 years, Italians stay there until 30.1 years old!
The difference is striking and is enough to make you scream with horror. I would say that there are two main explanations for this reality.
Obviously the first one is financial. Many Italian students cannot afford to leave their parents’ home and their government does not offer any substantial aid. France, in comparison, offers a variety of possibilities: scholarships, housing assistance, student rooms.
The second explanation will certainly be contested by Italians, but it is nonetheless true in my opinion: many Italians value the comfort of family life over their independence.
I think there is a strong cultural tradition that pushes young people to stay at home as long as possible and to value being fed, housed and laundered by their parents.
So, even though my boyfriend is the exception to this rule – since he left home after high school – the majority of Italians I met were still living with their parents after 25 years old.
Still ready to jump on the first plane to Rome? If you’re not discouraged yet, let’s move on to the third cliché, which might give you some memorable moments of misunderstanding.
Cliché n°3 : “Sign language is useful for the deaf but vital to the Italians” Paul Carvel
Imagine you are walking along the shore of Lake Como with your Italian boyfriend. A romantic walk like you dreamed of. He’s holding your hand and you can already smell the risotto you’re about to eat for lunch.
Suddenly, his phone rings.
He starts talking and you gradually feel his hand slipping away.
You try to hold on to it but it’s impossible. A superior force pulls it away from you. It moves in all directions, seems to live its own life. It pulls you away from him and you are powerless.
You have just lost your first battle with the Italian gesture and the experience leaves a bitter taste.
Source: Bruno Munari’s Supplement to the Italian Dictionary
You can’t say that I didn’t warn you! Without falling into the caricature of certain film characters, it is undeniable that Italian language is largely based on gestures.
And you might even miss some nuances if you don’t master the essential hand movements.
I therefore recommend that you study Bruno Munari’s Supplement to the Italian Dictionary, which illustrates dozens of gestures that are typical of Italian culture.
This will save you from embarrassing moments of stupor and incomprehension.
If you’re still reading this, it’s because the Dolce Vita makes you tremble with excitement. But how far are you willing to go?
Cliché n°4 : Soccer as a religion?
A pizza in his hands, hair overflowing with gel and a sound level that is not made for the human ear. I see you coming, that’s how you imagine an Italian in front of his soccer match!
So cliché or reality?
Well, I think I’ll surprise you on this one!
The only soccer games I’ve watched with my boyfriend are those of the World Cup in 2018. Remember when France was winning all its games while Italy wasn’t even selected? Suffice to say, it’s not a very good memory for my boyfriend.
Binational love sometimes leads to funny situations, like celebrating the victory of your enemy team.
On a more serious note, I may have found the perfect match, but soccer has never been an issue between us. We both don’t care. And his friends seem to have similar tastes since I’ve never met an Italian who would cancel a party to go to a soccer game.
So take a breath, you still have a chance to have a fulfilling relationship that doesn’t revolve around a soccer ball.
Cliché n°5 : A machist world
Partly linked to the cliché about soccer, this prejudice is that of the Italian lover with tight clothes who never misses an opportunity to seduce girls and express sexist comments.
So do Italians have sexism in their blood? Yes… and no.
Let’s be honest, it’s not uncommon to hear heavy sexist jokes or inappropriate remarks.
And you only have to turn on Italian television to see how much work women have to do in the country.
At first sight, there seems to be a cultural tradition that leads men to denigrate women out loud, “for a good laugh”.
– “As an Italian, do you prefer women, football or spaghetti?
– I would rather have a woman playing football and eating spaghetti.”
Roberto Benigni dans Berlinguer, I love you
But once I got past the sexist rhetoric, I discovered a completely different reality.
In our house, my boyfriend does most of the cooking. Most of my cooking knowledge comes from him and he is always willing to spend hours in the kitchen rather than eat a pre-made meal.
The same goes for cleaning. Because that’s clearly not my strong point, I’m a dirty Frenchwoman after all… While he has all the qualities of a good housewife.
And from what I’ve seen in other couples around our age, this situation is far from being an exception.
Where their parents’ generation is still traditional when it comes to gender roles, the younger generation seems to have taken a different track.
And on this one, we thank the Mamma for having taught them all that!
So even if the “macho” facade can put some of them off, I advise you to discover who is really hiding under this tight shirt.
You will surely discover a sensitive little being who supports his girlfriend unconditionally on a daily basis!
And if I still haven’t convinced you to go out with an Italian, wait a bit to discover the last cliché.
Cliché n°6 : To bidet or not to bidet
Remember that tiny bathtub you may have seen in your grandparents’ bathroom?
Did you use it to wash your feet, bathe your Toy Poodle or even pee in it before showering?
If you still don’t know what I mean, click here.
Invented by the French in the 18th century, the bidet has been largely abandoned by its creators and taken over by its Italian neighbors!
In fact, in Italy, you will always find this little basin in the bathroom, next to the toilet. And it’s not there just for decoration, it’s a widespread use.
Italians who visit apartments abroad are often shocked to realize that they can’t find a bathroom like they are used to.
And while this habit may make you smile, it is nonetheless hygienic, ecological and economical!
Maybe it’s time to borrow from the Italians other traditions than pizza…
But I have to give you my last advice. If you see a small towel near the bidet, don’t be fooled. I assure you it’s not for wiping your hands. You wouldn’t be the first to get caught.
So, are you convinced? This may not be your idea of La Dolce Vita, but I think I’ve given you a realistic picture of life with an Italian, or at least my Italian.
If you want to know more about our story, it’s this way!
Have you faced culture shocks too? Read the amazing tips of Wiebke Homborg, an intercultural expert.