Cultural viewpoints widely differ, even within different parts of the United States. Because of this, I am always fascinated at how something I find so habitual and ‘normal’ can be considered rude or odd in another culture. When deciding whom I wanted to sit down with to discuss the differences between the American and Italian culture, I decided that I did not want to ask a local Italian. My reasoning for this is that unless they have lived in the United States at some point, they only know what they are accustomed to. Instead, I decided to ask an American who has been living in Rome, Italy for two years now. Ally studied abroad during college and fell so in love with the experience that she later made the decision to join a company called Bus2Alps. Throughout her years working for Bus2Alps, she has the opportunity to travel around Europe almost every weekend. From the moment I discovered Ally’s dramatic move and change of lifestyle, I was in awe at how her life transition is what I have been learning about and preparing for since we started the workshop for this course back in April. Ultimately, I was eager to hear from someone who knows the differences between the American and Italian cultural values first hand.
Taking the time to discuss personal and cultural viewpoints and mindsets with a person living in your host culture is extremely important. This is due to the simple fact that every place and every person is different. As I mentioned earlier, something as simple as a casual greeting may be considered friendly in one culture and disrespectful in another. Dressing in a certain way may be considered fashionable in one culture and inappropriate in another. And everyday manners, amongst a long list of other things, may largely vary while taking multiple cultures into account. Slimbach poses an important question, “Is any one of those items ethically right? It depends. Is any of those items wrongs? It depends. In both cases it depends on culture” (2010, p. 46). Ally, my host-informant, was honored that I wanted to speak to her about her time living here in Rome, Italy. I met Ally, or so I thought, while booking a trip to Switzerland and Barcelona through the company she works for. It turns out that we actually attended the same high school and competed on the same dance competition, but due to the age difference, we realized this hours into our conversation as personal facts began to unfold. What I found most interesting about the cultural value differences Ally noted between the United States and Italy was for materialism versus spirituality, independence versus dependence, and youth versus age. Although her answers did not surprise me too much due to my family background, it was interesting to see her take on it.
Ally noted that materialism is of much less importance here in Italy, that spirituality and one’s faith certainly overrides one’s outer-self. The Roman Catholic religion clearly is big influence on how Italian’s run their everyday lives, as churches and the Vatican are constantly surrounding them. Materialism is not a priority in order to be considered ‘successful’ or ‘wealthy’ here. There is less competition and need to impress others in Italy, where in America, there is always a race to climb on top of our peers. Americans want others to be aware of their success and sweep their struggles under a thick rug. Italians are far more concerned with enjoying life, rather than making it look like they are enjoying it. Independence versus dependence was another interesting cultural value in which intrigued me. In the United States, young adults are itching to break free of the burden of their parent’s supervision and protection. Likewise, parents tend to brag to friends when their children are moved out and supporting themselves. Ally noted the drastic difference with young adults here in Italy. People here live with their parents until much older, with no shame or embarrassment. It is not a sign of weakness, coward-ness, or being childish to depend on one’s family and incorporate them in everyday decisions. Out of all the cultural value differences in which Ally pointed out, this was the one in which resonated with me the most. Personally, my family is something in which I never take for granted and this shows through my relationships and actions. Some of my friends are in shock of how close I am with my parents, siblings, aunts, uncles, grandparents, and cousins, but I could not imagine a day without them. Furthermore, my siblings all lived with my parents until they were married—however, we’ll see if I follow this trend. Lastly, I found the topic of youth versus age very interesting, as in general Ally noted many similarities between our two cultures. Although children are taught at a young age to “respect your elders” in both countries, it is evident that it is much more practiced in Italy. This can even be seen when on public transportation or at bus stop, when everyone floods the area urgently offering his or her seat to an elder. This is very unlikely to be seen in America, as everyone is too concerned about themselves while concurrently staring down at their phones. On the other hand, Ally stated that the media and society still seem to value the youth much more regardless of geographical location. She informed me that recently there was a campaign reminding Italian women that beauty has no age, but that fertility does. This was intended to urge young adults to reproduce, maintaining an Italian youth population. Media also portrays many young adults, never advertising the aged nearly as much. Having just taken a “Sociology of the Aged” course last semester at Quinnipiac University, I am well aware that American media portrays the same sense of false reality. So although the youth is more respectful to the aged here in Italy, the same resistance to grow old is similar throughout both Italian and American cultures. I assume we must all face the fact that we will not be young forever, we will grow old, and there is simply no stopping it.
Overall, I really enjoyed my conversation with Ally. I was so glad with my decision to speak with an American who has been an Italian resident for a few years. I felt as if I constantly found myself thinking that I have made the same observations and noticed the same cultural differences as she did. I had to constantly remind myself to let Ally speak first, before taking action and giving her an earful of all of my personal opinions. Luckily, Ally understood the roots of my eager personality, having been in my shoes just a few years earlier. After spending some time discussing the differences in cultural values, the coincidence of shared childhood memories, and traveling throughout Europe, I thanked Ally for her time and help with this assignment. We have seen each other since and plan to keep in touch!
While considering a specific part of Quinnipiac University life in which I do not personally participate in, I immediately thought of Greek life. It seems as though Greek life at Quinnipiac University has increasingly grown and become more prevalent, even within the short amount of time I have been a student here. However, regardless of its obvious presence and my friend’s active participation, I have never felt that it was the right fit for me. Being that I have three sisters and a sister in-law, I never saw the need to join an organization to gain more sisters when I definitely already have a handful at home. With this being said, I believe that sitting down with a representative of Greek life could in fact add value to my perspective of how the community works. I could learn more about the relationships that are made, the philanthropy events in which are held, and gain post-academic benefits in which come from participation. Even if I still am not interested in being involved with Greek life, I could better understand them as a community, and perhaps get involved in my own way. I could meet new people, in which although they may not become my sister, can become a good friend. I could gain a new interest in a community outreach program, wanting to lend a helping hand to a certain volunteer organization. This also adds value to the university community as a whole, as the more people understand one another, the better they can collaborate to create the best academic and living atmosphere as possible. Additionally, if I learn of new opportunities where I can get involved, I will be further contributing the university by either volunteering for an existing program or possibly creating a new one in which specifically interests me. I am looking forward to further break down the barriers of the Italian culture, as I further immerse myself everyday. Parliamo più tardi!
Slimbach, Richard. Becoming World Wise: A Guide to Global Learning (Stylus Publishing, LLC., 2010).