For my travel log this week I decided that the best person to have a conversation with would be my Italian professor, Emanuela. Emanuela was born and raised in the city of Florence and is now living in Florence herself with her husband and young daughter. Speaking with my Italian professor on the topic of cultural comparisons was very interesting because we were able to apply the things we have been learning in class about the Italian language and culture to our discussion.
The first topic noted in the review guide for “Studying and Learning Abroad” is something that we discussed extensively: the idea of change. In America change is usually a good thing, a process that involves innovation and improvement for the advancement of our community. Here in Italy, however, people have quite the opposite view of change. In Italy change is, for the most part, resisted unless there is an obvious need for it. This is something that I have noticed very much in my every day life here in Florence. There are many aspects of the Italian lifestyle that seem outdated or old fashioned. For example, things such as fast food and ordering a coffee to-go are frowned upon and many technologies that we take for granted in America such as drying machines are almost non existent. We talked about some possible reasons for this, and what we concluded is that this has to do with the both the extensive history of Italy as well as the traditional lifestyle of the Italian people. The Italian people are a part of a culture that has been sustained for nearly thousands of years and therefore live by the motto “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” so to speak. The emphasis on living a traditional lifestyle deters the Italian people from change.
Another topic that we spent a lot of time talking about is the idea of independence versus dependence and how those concepts are viewed by our respective cultures. In America, independence at a young age is a sign of success and demonstrates good character. College-age students like myself and people in their early twenties tend to move out of their homes and become independent at a very early age. The Italian people, however, tend to depend on their parents until much later in life. The idea of moving out of the house to attend college at age 18 is very foreign and strange to the Italian people. Instead, people here usually live at home during their time at university and, in many cases, young men do not move out and live on their own until well into their thirties. This is actually a contemporary issue that we had previously discussed in my Italian class, and there is even a word for this type of person. “Un mammone” which basically means “mama’s boy” is a word created by the Italian people to refer to men who depend on their mother’s until much later in life. In America this would be viewed as a sign of weakness while in Italy this is the norm.
The topic of informality versus formality was interesting to talk about because it relates directly to our Italian language class. There is an entire part of the Italian language devoted solely to formal conversations, which reflects the emphasis on and positive view of formality. Whether you are in a classroom, entering a local business or shop, or writing a formal email there is such an emphasis formality. Speaking in formal language shows that you are a respectful and well-educated person. In America, on the other hand, there is more of an appeal to speaking and acting informally around others. This allows us as individuals to establish more of a connection with other individuals and to show equality. There is also a growing concept in the business world that “informal is formal” causing people to use less formal language even when in a formal setting. This is something that my Italian professor found very interesting.
Studying abroad is more than just a vacation. It is a once in a lifetime opportunity to both live and immerse oneself in another culture. That is why it is important to take the times to speak with individuals who were born in raised in another culture. I was born and raised in America and Emanuela was born and raised in Italy, so we are both “experts” on our own cultures with unbiased, firsthand experience on the topic. As a result of our different backgrounds, our conversation quickly became an equal exchange of ideas and information from which we both benefitted greatly.