Julia Lesel
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Wildlife Blog

Articles on experience as a volunteer abroad, doing wildlife conservation projects (animals!), and to get Involved in Wildlife and Nature Conservation, Specific Resources Abroad and Los Angeles. And sharing stories of what it was like / my own experiences.

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6 Quirky Things (I Learned the Hard Way) About Italian Culture While Living with Families

6 Quirky Things (I Learned the Hard Way) About Italian Culture

While Living with Families and Teaching abroad

(Image: Venice, Italy. Not far from where I lived with a wonderful family who found my strange social norms totally appalling.)

Thinking of study abroad, teaching english, mingling with locals? For anyone who will be immersing themselves with locals in Italy, I put together a list of ways an American could embarrass themselves, as I have, living among Italians. :) Here are 6 cultural taboos I committed and you can avoid! 

Yes, I’ll admit these discoveries probably only happened because I am a creature of quirky and weird habits. However, enjoy the clash of cultures inevitably created by my presence with host families in Italy— perhaps it can save you, and your strange habits, from embarrassment… should they overlap. 

Transcript of the video:

Today i want to talk about six things i learned the hard way while living with families. I moved there for three months during a program teaching english, where we (me and the other English teachers) moved around to different places. I lived with host families during this program, I worked with locals at the schools, and saw the parents (of all my students in the class) at the final event, which was every Friday after a week of camp programming.

#6: Staring, Openly

People love to stare. It happens, unabashedly, when you are around. It’s not considered creepy there. There are a lot of cultures like this, but in Italy I just didn’t expect it right away. That was an interesting thing to get used to, people just staring at you openly. 

#5: Being Barefoot is Worse than Being Topless

Apparently this goes back to, in the olden days, when people were too poor to have shoes. Someone had told me this I guess, or maybe it was just their theory. So you should not be barefoot: you can wear flip-flops… Flippers… uh. Brain Fail. 

#4 Brushing Teeth Outside the Bathroom is Considered Very weird

I would walk around my house—like their house, I dunno know, just brushing my teeth, doing stuff. I can’t be bothered to waste two good minutes in the bathroom. I don’t know, I have severe ADD. I need to be wandering around when I do things. So, they would just laugh (they liked my goofy-ness personality anyway) but they would be super weirded out that I would be walking around. 

[Italian accent]- “Oh Julia, you are so weird, its funny how you brush your teeth and wander the house.” 

It was a thing. A thing they brought up repeatedly, even throughout the years I kept in touch with this family. 

[Italian accent]-  “That girl with her, brushing teeth in public.”

#3 The Rain: They are Afraid of It

When it would spontaneously rain bring the summer, it would be very excited because I’m from a dry, arid, chaparral, desertlike landscape. And we don’t have… Rain. Rain?! 

In Italy, it was this warm summer rain, and I couldn’t wait to go out and run around in it, and they thought I was the weirdest. They thought it was also weird that I would influence their children, by being like, “let’s go kids! Let’s go outside in the rain! This is going to be fun!” 

They thought I was this strange hippie. Tell me in the comments below, is that really that weird? It’s raining… and just run outside in the rain… I mean, it’s beautiful!

#2 Wet Hair… Unacceptable!

When living with host families, I just tend to let my hair air dry naturally. The host families were not into that. They were always bringing hair dryers to me, going, [Italian accent] “Why you not use a hair dryer? What is wrong with you? You can’t go outside like this, you get sick!”

Yeah, so wet hair is a big thing not to do. It’s not like my hair dries… very good… on its own… It probably would look better if I bothered to blow dry it… but I got into the habit there. This is also true in other parts of Europe.

#1 Greet With a Kiss, No Hugging!

Hugging and kissing as ways of greeting people. In Italy, it’s always a kiss. Kisses on the cheeks, double kiss, they lean in. It might be different in different regions: I stayed mostly in the Northern third of the country (but not in the mountains). 

So I embarrassed myself a number of times when I first moved there, where someone would lean in, and I would lean in, and my natural instinct was the hug, even though consciously after a while I knew that they were leaning in for a kiss… you just naturally do what you’re used do. (It took time to sink in.) We would bonk into each other, and they would think I was a freak for trying to hug them. 

So that’s definitely one thing not to do. 

Especially because I was working with a camp, this happened repeatedly with parents of children that I’d spent all week with. They’d never met me, they’d just heard from their kids that I was this cool teacher. And then they’d meet me for the very first time… [Italian accent]: “Oh! Nice to meet you, let’s uhh.. *Kiss*/*kiss*..BONK”

Fantastic.

“Uh, yeah, so… let’s get your kids to their finally presentations now…” Now that I’ve completely lost your respect….

That was my Six things I learned the hard way, living in Italy with host families. Hope you Enjoyed that.

See Video Below: