study abroad: italian hospitality

Study Abroad Florence Italy

THURS. JUNE 11: Day 2

Ants.
Ants everywhere.

Crawling all over the floor, my nightstand, and worst of all: me while I sleep. Che schifo! How disgusting!

Update: Pamela (the landlord) sprayed the apartment and placed ant traps in our rooms. Ants are gone. I am happy I can sleep in peace.

This morning, we had orientation at AI. The group was rather large, as many American students are taking classes on their own and not through a university-sponsored program.

After touring our new school, we ate:
1. penne pasta with tomato sauce, mushroom, and sausage
2. bread salad with tomatoes
3. vegetarian rice
4. pizza
5. crème brûlée ice cream and ice cream that tasted like an inverted Klondike bar

(I don’t remember the actual names of the dishes).

I met two awesome students during lunch: Ally Litz and Giuseppe Leonelli (swooning at his name).

Our tour of Florence was a bit miserable thanks to the heat. Thankfully my classes are during the hottest part of the day in an air-conditioned building, so I can explore Florence before and after when the heat isn’t as intense.

After the tour, I went directly home to take a much needed cold shower. When I got out, it was raining, so I unpacked a bit more. For some reason, I’m surprised at how much and how often it rains. I enjoy the rain though because it cools off the entire city.

Around 7:30, I texted Ally to see if she wanted to get dinner with me…. and I did it in Italian. 😉

I had a bit of anxiety kick in today. It’s only day two, so I’m trying not to let it get to me. It’s the environment in a way. I can’t do big groups, especially large groups of girls. I’m going to try to explore the city alone or with only one or two other people instead of all the girls.

~

I just arrived back home and mama mia!!! Where do I begin?! Ally is so great! Friendship is born the second you look at one another and say: “You too?! I thought I was the only one!”

Allora, here’s the story:

*Fun Fact: allora is a word you will hear over and over and over again if you ever go to Italy. I’ve found myself saying it very often just because it’s so emotive and beautiful, even though it is so simple. No one is really sure what it means. It’s basically just a beautiful filler, toss away word, similar to well, therefore, so, in that case, you see, or let’s see.

At 20:00 (oh, Italians use military time by the way), we met at Ponte Vecchio and walked around the city to find a place to eat. The tourist areas have overpriced food, so we wandered to the outskirts of Florence.

We stumbled upon Trattoria La Carabaccia. The name Carabaccia refers in part to an ancient boat that once sailed on the Arno river transporting sand and salt.

Before entering the ristorante, I pulled out my handy dandy phrasebook, found “we would like a table for two,” memorized it as best as I could, and walked in.

Vorremo una tavolo per due, por favore,” I said, very robotic and all while holding back a giggle.

The man, later identified as Domenico, the owner of the restaurant, (“Not Doh-meh-KNEE-koh! It’s Doh-mEH-knee-koh”), smiled and said, “Your Italian is very good.” He asked where we would like to sit, and Ally responded, “Fuori”—outside.

I ordered the house wine and spaghetti alla bolognese; Ally ordered spaghetti with olive oil and spices. And the house wine. Duh.

Study Abroad Florence Italy

This huge portion was off the kids’ menu, by the way……

Domenico must have found us charming for ordering in Italian and actually attempting his native language instead of giving up and resorting to English, the language we know best, because he came over to talk to us.

When our food arrived, he said that before we drink our wine, we have to “chink chink” for something.

*Fun fact: Italians always give a toast before drinking wine, and if you break eye contact while doing it, you’ll have bad sex for seven years. It’s obviously a superstition, but the reasoning behind it is not to trust anyone who can’t look you in the eye.

Ally raised her glass. “To new friendship.” I echoed her as our glasses clinked. “We just met today,” she told Domenico. His eyes widened in disbelief.

Once the restaurant started to clear out, I realized to my surprise that almost three hours had gone by.

This is something I adore about la bella figura—the Italian way of life—and I know I will take home with me: eating is a social event. Meals are consumed slowly and with all five senses. It’s actually unusual not to stay at a restaurant for a very long time; this is why Italian meals have so many courses!

Unlike America, customer service doesn’t exist in Italy. No employees approach you and ask questions while you shop, you bag your own groceries at the market, and your food bill will not be given to you until it is asked for. In fact, your waiter won’t really even come up to you at all, unless you say “mi scusi” of course.

Study Abroad Florence Italy

As I was subconsciously eating quickly because that is what I have been used to doing; I stopped myself when I realized that I do not have to rush. In fact, I’m expected to take as long as I want.

Life is slow here. Italians do not rush or worry about needing to be anywhere. They open and close their businesses when they feel like it. Instead of running through rainstorms to get home, they stand beneath buildings and terraces on the streets, chat with their friends, and wait for it to pass. They walk slowly, eat slowly, and enjoy la dolce vita—the sweet life.

So I took my good ol’ time. I chewed slowly and let the herbs and spices cuddle with my taste buds. I admired the color of my wine. I held it below my nose and took in its scent. I let the liquid lazily wash over my tongue. I did not rush; I did not hurry; I simply enjoyed—and it was incredible.

Study Abroad Florence Italy

In America, I am a waitress. Customer service is the most important part of my job. The more tables I turn, the more tables I get, and the more money I get. So when a table finishes their food and decides to stay and chat for hours after, I get annoyed.

Italy has taught me that if people want to take three hours to finish their glass of wine, then they can and they should. Food is a social experience and Italians are very social creatures. If human connection is being made and food is being savored in a country like the U.S. where busyness is glorified, then I think they deserve that moment. Life shouldn’t be a race.

Study Abroad Florence ItalyDomenico sat at the table next to us with a glass of wine for himself. We “chink chink-ed” to new friendships. Ally and I asked him to tell us all about his life and his family. He has been living on the same street his entire life. His parent’s house, high school, college, hotel, and restaurant are all on the same street.

I asked him why he stayed in Florence. His reply: “Because when you love a city, why would you ever leave?”

He waved his bartender over and had him bring all three of us limoncello on the house. After my first limoncello experience, I wasn’t exactly jumping out of my seat to drink it again.

It came out in small glasses almost half the size of my thumb. Domenico’s mom made them from scratch, so I tried it just for her. It was much better than the cheap bottle Brianne bought, but I am still not too big a fan. It tastes like those awful lemon candies that grandparent’s always have in a glass jar in their living room.

Study Abroad Florence Italy

*Fun fact: Italians do not drink to get drunk. In fact, being drunk is highly frowned upon. You would rarely ever order a drink without food. Wine is like water here. Drinking beer and cocktails is more rare, but it does happen. I think they just hold their alcohol very well here, and if they do get drunk, aren’t wild about it.

Our waiter told me I could pass for an Italian girl. Not a Tuscan Italian, but a Sicilian. That made me smile. Domenico said he doesn’t think I look Italian, but he can tell I’m not Caucasian by looking at my eyes.

Ally and I spent an hour or so eating tiramisu and talking about life with Domenico and correcting his English (“Vice versa, not viche versa”) and him aiding our Italian (“it’s not gone-duh-luh,” he slumped. “It’s GONE-doh-laah”).

I was beaming the entire time. This is exactly the kind of experience I have been waiting for, the kind of experience I came to Italy to get: a true, authentic, culture-filled experience—one as far away from American culture and language as possible.

Study Abroad Florence Italy

After closing his restaurant, he told us he had a surprise for us: he wanted to show us the wine cellar. After the grand tour of his kitchen, he took us into his wine cellar, which had wine as old as 1946.

Ally and I were unsure of his motives. Was he just being a hospitable Italian man, excited about two Americans who actually care about more than just Michelangelo’s David, or should we have been super weirded out?

After chatting more, taking pictures, and signing his guest book, we said farewell the Italian way (two kisses on the cheeks). He asked us to come see him a presto—soon.

Study Abroad Florence Italy

Ally and I walked to her apartment and then down to Piazza Santo Spirito, which is a spot where locals hang out at night to smoke, chat, play guitar, sing, dance, and drink wine or beer.

We sat down on the steps of the piazza (plaza) and talked about our day, secretly hoping the locals would approach us. Before we knew it, it was 4 a.m. Thankfully, I had friends to walk with me home.

Technically, it would have been safe for me to walk the 15-20 minutes home, but I am a girl in a foreign country and didn’t want to put myself in that situation.

*Fun fact: Florence is a safe city. Violent crime does not exist—just pickpocketing. If I were to walk alone at night, I wouldn’t have to fear being assaulted; I would only have to worry about my bag getting stolen.

I crashed into bed happy and excited. I can’t wait to see what’ll happen next.

Laurie Hamame

Ball of sunshine. Chronic giggler. A lover of all things sweet potato. An overly friendly, world traveling, body positive warrior. Avid bookworm. Self-proclaimed chef and spiritually Italian. Promotor of daily walks, coffee dates and 30-second dance parties.

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Laurie Hamame

Ball of sunshine. Chronic giggler. A lover of all things sweet potato. An overly friendly, world traveling, body positive warrior. Avid bookworm. Self-proclaimed chef and spiritually Italian. Promotor of daily walks, coffee dates and 30-second dance parties.

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