As a foreign student studying abroad I’ve tried to notice any cultural contrasts between life here and at home. However, this can be increasingly difficult when it comes down to subtle and personal cultural contrasts. For this I decided to interview a local of Perugia, Alex Strettle. Alex has lived in Perugia for a while but is originally from England, he is the chef at one of the bars that we frequent, and he is an avid chess player. So over our last game of chess I decided to pick his brain about any cultural contrasts between traditional US life and life here in Perugia.
The first question I proposed was is change usually a good or a bad thing here in Perugia. He said all I had to do was look around to figure that one out, “Change is not something really welcomed here, just look at all the stone buildings that have been here forever.” That was a good point, the majority of the buildings in Perugia are made of old stone and look like they have been here for hundreds if not thousands of years. He also said Italian people from this region are still very rooted in their traditions, especially when it comes to food. As a cook Alex told me that the style of cooking has changed and a more minimalistic cooking style became popular a few years ago. People were really against the change at first. Social class used to be somewhat enforced by what you ate and a high class citizen would never eat specific foods. But, as food production became more stable, the poor people’s food became more popular and is what Italian food is today. Next I asked his opinion of youth versus age, which group of people are more valued in Italian society. He said this was fairly complicated to answer. On one hand Perugia has one of the largest populations of students because of the three Universities. But traditionally Italian people value their elders in society so Perugia is a strange mix where the town and a lot of the jobs are dependent on the students and younger people. Something interesting he mentioned is that most people in Italy do not change professions, so often times the oldest person at a store has been their the longest. Alex said if you ever go to a barber shop you want to go to the oldest guy because he probably has the most experience. The third topic we spoke about was boasting versus modesty where in the US “It is appropriate to speak of one’s own achievements.” He said a better way to think of the Italian view of this is broadcasting. Italian people broadcast their achievements to a degree and I had heard this before. At the center of Perugia there is a large fountain and one of my teachers said, if you ever see someone running, or dressed less than their best around the fountain they are defiantly not from around here. From what I understood from Alex and my Italian teacher people go to the fountain in their best clothes to show off to everyone else. Italians would never walk around the fountain in gym clothes or their second best shoes, it’s a way to show off their social status. This one was kind of the biggest cultural shock, not just a contrast from American life but an entirely different mind set all together. I understand even in the US people try to show off their social class in the clothing they wear but it is to a whole different degree here.
To conclude this travelogue, I was asked to talk about an aspect of home campus life that I do not participate in and the only thing that comes to mind is fraternities. I am not a member of a fraternity, nor do I think I will ever join one. I think the most negative view that I associate frats with is the way you are kind of “paying” for friendship. This is because there is a rather large fee associated with being in a frat and I dislike how once someone pays their fee they suddenly become a brother. Maybe I am just looking at the situation from a very blunt perspective but that is the way I see it and have always seen it. I’m also not taking a dig at people that are in fraternities or sororities because I have plenty of friends that are, I just don’t quite understand it. Finally, I just want to wrap up and mention that I did beat Alex in chess which was a big win for me, but the game after he really crushed me.
(Picture of Alex and I will come later)