Travel Log #9: “Exploring Stereotypes” Kathleen Flynn. Florence, Italy

Going into my study abroad experience, the only knowledge I had of Italian culture was from the Italian American culture within the US. My only glimpse of what their culture could be like was through the Italian restaurants I’ve eaten at, the North End of Boston, and any friends with strong Italian backgrounds in their family. Because of this I had some stereotypes “to fill (the) vacuum of knowledge” I had; specifically about the food they ate, such as spaghetti and meatballs, chicken parmesan, and very large portions. As it turns out, these are only aspects of our Italian culture in America, not in Italy itself where meat is never served on top of pasta in the same meal. I also held a stereotype that the Italians were very loud, when in fact the Americans here are probably the loudest and there is even a law here that prohibits noise during late hours. Similar to how Hafez described in Slashing Stereotypes how “hearing stories about Spanish history dispelled (his) misconceptions even more” I have also grown a deeper understanding and appreciation for Italian culture since taking history courses here.

Perhaps one of the most interesting stereotypes that exist here in Italy is about alcohol consumption. Yes, wine is a staple “food” of the Italian diet, however it is consumed as a complementary drink to meals and not for its alcohol content. Those who take advantage of wine for the alcohol are frowned upon. While in America it is not uncommon to see drunken people out after a long night, here it is highly disapproved of because it shows a lack of self-discipline. Even more interesting is that the cheap, boxed wine that college students usually buy is considered to be what the alcoholic’s on the street drink. Study abroad students who are unaware of this stereotype or don’t care what others think also fall into the stereotype and further promote the stereotype that Italians commonly have of the American students here.

In general, I have had many local Italians here tell me there is a stereotype of Americans as over-consumers, and in comparison to their own culture we are. Italians have access to far less energy sources as America does and therefore is much more conservative with how they use it. Additionally, when we go shopping in the US we buy food for weeks at a time because many of our foods have longer shelf lives and there are better deals when buying in bulk. This is not the case in Italy where almost everything is fresh, and many times when I go up to cash register with a full basket of groceries I have gotten very judgmental looks from the locals who buy groceries one day at a time. I think that there is some truth to the stereotype they have given us, which is why it doesn’t always anger me, but I think there is also a “vacuum of knowledge” that Italians do not understand of American culture; for example the fact that many of our groceries are not as fresh or have a longer shelf-life. Conversely, I have dispelled many stereotypes of the Italian culture since being here, but there have been aspects that have definitely been validated. One example is the Italian American stereotype that I witnessed at home where family is everything, and I have witnessed this to a whole new level here. ‘La famiglia’ is so important that my teacher has even expressed his concern for where to go for Easter because if he missed his family’s celebration for his wife’s family they would not talk to him for years and vice versa. I have also met many proud families who have kept their business running through many generations and who have expressed the importance of their family traditions.

This picture obviously expresses the stereotype of American college students and their over-consumption of alcohol, but within this stereotype I’ve found that it has led to many other stereotypes of college students while living in Florence. The resulting actions of intoxicated students abroad can lead to them disrespecting city authorities, locals, and bar owners or employees. The image these people get from those weekend nights is reflected into the way we are stereotyped in other moments of our time abroad. For example, during the day when I walk by in a large group of other students there are constant looks from other passerby’s and usually some comment about ‘americani.’

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One thought on “Travel Log #9: “Exploring Stereotypes” Kathleen Flynn. Florence, Italy

  1. Kathleen, I couldn’t help but laugh at the comparison with the boxed wine. It is one of those stereotypes and fun facts you learn while abroad that after hearing it, you’re really not surprised it even exists. American study abroad students typically portray themselves as heavy, poorly self-disciplined drinkers. I can only imagine what the Italians think of us since you mentioned to them getting drunk off of wine is frowned upon because wine is more a complimentary drink to food and a delicacy in Italy.

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