Living in Southern Italy
I moved to Brindisi in Feb 2010 because of work so after a year of living there I’ve obviously made my opinion about the way people live here, about people’s behavior, culture, some habits and about this region as well. For many people Italy means Rome, Venice, Florence, Naples, Milan or the Italian Alps. No one thinks of the poorer South –the heel so I want to bring awareness to life in this less known area.
To be honest, I did not know almost anything about Southern Italy before I came here. I knew you could divide Italy into rich North and poor South and that many Southern Italians go to study and work to the North because of more possibilities and a better way of living. Apart from this I did not know what to expect. But since I came here, I can tell you more and more things about Southern Italian culture every day. The thing that shocked me probably the most is the way Italians drive. For being a European country, it’s unbelievable. Before I moved here one of my goals was to buy a car and get back to driving as after the accident I had on a scooter I’ve been still too scared to drive myself again. But once I came, I realized it was not going to be possible. People drive here like crazy, the only rule is first come, first go which for me would mean wait everywhere for ages.
Now I finally understand why most of the people here have small older cars as they scratch them all the time while trying to be the first one to go. Another thing is all Southern Italians drive (I’ve never seen so many old ladies behind the steering wheel), they do not walk, even to go to the shop that is at 5 -min walking distance. Positives: You can park the car in any way you like and no one will say anything (good for us woman, right?). People learn to drive better as they pay more attention to anything unexpected. And not buying a car saved me some money which I can use for one of my trips.
Bicycles – people here do not cycle, it’s very weird for me because in many countries the biggest dream of a child (apart from being a garbage man) is to get a bicycle. Here I don’t see families out with their children cycling on Sundays or going on short trips either. Here the only people cycling are the black men and immigrants, and Ryanair crew, including me 😀 When the answer to how did you get here? is by bicycle, you become a weirdo in Southern Italy.
Besides running and beach, I’ve never seen a woman without make-up, messed up hair and training suit. They care too much here about how you look and dress. A must is a Louis Vuitton handbag (doesn’t matter if real or fake one, just any) and as big as possible sunglasses. If you don’t have sunglasses, you suck, even including winter time, when cloudy and raining. I’ve noticed as well that Italians love dark colours: black, grey, brown, dark blue and that they all have the same style. But mostly, Italians in general simply love fashion, clothes and shoes.
From the window of my old house I saw every day the same woman going to supermarket in high heels and a minidress with half ton of make-up on her face. Just to buy some food, imagine. You just have to look like from the cover of the latest fashion magazine, if you do not, don’t dare to get out to the street. Especially on Sunday, everyone wears the best clothes when they go for a walk in the town/port and get ice-cream.
I still remember when we came to Brindisi and we were going to the center with friends, everyone stared at us in a strange way and at first we thought it was because we are all young foreigners (not very common here), then we figured out it was because on Sunday we wore just casual clothes. But come on, not being covered in gold and leather does not mean you are a bad person, or am I wrong?
I have to admit one thing. In Slovakia, we say quite often you are like Italian with the meaning that you do not understand something, you mixed up something or you are confused. And yes, this preconceived notion I’ve had about Italians since childhood remains in me I guess as from time to time I think Italians don’t really have any common sense and they just do not get many simple things (I see this mostly in every day contact with them at work).
Don’t get me wrong, everyone has the right to have his own opinion and this is what I personally think.
But what is definitely true is another comparison we use in my country, if you hear a couple screaming a lot, having a big argument or even throwing plates at each other, we say it’s like Italian marriage. Yes, Italians love shouting and arguing and talking very loud when it’s not necessary at all. Every morning I’m getting woken up by my neighbours screaming. And all people I know who have ever lived in Italy, they have had the same never-stop-shouting neighbours, so it cannot be just a coincidence. But tell me, who really cares about what your neighbours do or talk about?
What I find nice in Southern Italy is what I’ve never seen anywhere else in the same way. I mean it’s quite normal in many countries, but not so extreme 100% like here. I’m talking about using gloves in supermarkets in fruit and vegetable section. Every single person gets gloves first, then touches fruit/vegetable to choose from the best ones. This is one of the things we should all learn from people living in this area.
My observation got me to other interesting fact: many people here are obsessed by cleaning, I mean they hoover up the flat every day, every morning to be specific. It looks like it became a habit for local people, the same as you clean the teeth after breakfast, you use the vacuum cleaner to clean your house, too. On the contrary, the streets are a bit messy and when walking, sometimes you have to be really careful to not slide on one of hundreds dogshit. So what is the point to have your house perfectly clean and then go out to uncared-for street?
Speaking of houses and way of life, there is one thing I really do not like. The walls are so thin you can hear everything (multiplied by the already mention fact about how Italians love to shout). Literally, everything. I hear the children running, I could tell you exactly how many times my neighbours flush the toilet per day and if it’s a woman or a man who just took a pee, what kind of music they like, who are their visitors, if they drop something to the floor … simply all their life. And the windows, my God! Such a bad quality, wind passing in and out and you can’t avoid it by closing the window.
I have to say the biggest majority of people are not obese at all, would be more concrete to say Southern Italians are more skinny than fat. And they are not very sick. Even older people seem quite healthy in comparison with some other nationalities. It must be the consequence of good diet I guess, olive oil, sea food, drinking a lot of water, not getting drunk every night (don’t really see drunk people at streets much) … But what about all the white flour in pizza, pasta and other food in Puglia then? It does not do any harm when speaking about health how it’s always said it does?
Crazy Sexy Fun Traveler
Argueing is not so entertaining when you live there 😀
Rosario De Rose
In southern Italy it appears you only lived in cities and not the small towns in the hills of Avellino or Calabia. Young women do drive motorcycles and they dress in very tight levis like young women in the USA in the cities you visited. Most in the hiss drive small cars. Driving is a must when going outside of the small town.
Crazy Sexy Fun Traveler
Yeah maybe in villages and small towns it’s different 😉
Fascinating! Come to think of it, I haven’t seen bikes south of Bologna. Hearing couples arguing loudly outdoors is also kind of entertaining, especially as we don’t understand the language.
ANd yes, the driving here is nuts – on par with countries like Thailand and Vietnam.
crazy sexy fun traveler
I have to agree, I spent a month in Malaga and it’s quite similar, like you said.
Great post.There is so much similarity with what you have written and southern Spain where I have lived for the last 10 years;especially about driving. I had driven for about 20 years in central London and yet I have never dared drive in Seville where I live.
I can related to everything else you have written even down to the filthy streets!!