My love affair with Italy began when I was ten years old. My Nonna brought me to her tiny village of Moggio, in Abbruzzo. I spent one incredibly snowy winter nestled in an old farmhouse – the smell of fireplace-baked bread and roasted chestnuts still lingers at the forefront of my senses. If I could bottle it in a perfume and douse myself in it daily, I would do so with pleasure.
On that beloved first trip, I learned my most valuable Italian phrase (one I still boast of confidently) – posso avere un cappuccino, per favore – and more importantly, I learned about my family’s history, the origins of my maiden name (Tenaglia), the importance of making one’s everyday lifestyle the art of living unapologetically for your passions.
With each Italian trip I take, my heart roots itself a bit deeper into the country. I fall in love with every destination I visit, but the wave of golden warmth and at-home-smell-of-sauce-cooking comfort overwhelm me the moment I touch Italian soil. It’s home for me. Whether you have roots in this incredible country or not, there are so many incredible lifestyle lessons to be learned from Italians. Here are the ten Italian life lessons that can easily elevate the pleasure you experience in everyday living.
Build Your Life on the Foundation of Your Passions
Love the life you live and live the life you love, simply. The Italians believe that if you don’t wake up every day and dedicate your energy to something you’re passionate about, then that is a slap to the face of existence. From your career to where you live and who you love, every pillar of your life must be built on what, where and who sings to your heart.
Eating (and Coffee) is an Occasion, So Treat It Like One
Caught in the thick tangles of daily grinds, many of us often stuff food into their faces for the sake of not feeling hungry. We snack mindlessly on the couch because we have cravings. We order in because we don’t have the time to prepare a meal ourselves. You rarely see obesity in Italy because eating isn’t clockwork, it’s an occasion. You plan social occasions, reunions and memories around food. You invest intention, attention and time into every bite you put into your mouth. You savor the flavors and ingredients and allow not only your teeth to chew on it, but the mind as well. You ponder its origins and mentally register the weather that year with the distinct different taste of the produce. Whether you prepare it yourself or carefully select a restaurant to dine in, both dining and food are an art and they shall be appreciated as so.
Quality Trumps Quantity
I’ll never forget my Nonna’s tomato sauce – I recreate this culinarily vital food staple about
once every day of the week when at home and like most Italian dishes, it has five ingredients or less (and yes, olive oil is always one of them). The Italians apply this basic principle of simplicity to every aspect of life. From their fashion choices, food ingredients to how much time they invest into works, there is a supreme on quality over quantity.
You Have To Be a Little Crazy to Earn Success
I’m currently in Florence and of course that requires the automatic immersion in the finest art in the world by the greatest creators in history – Michelangelo, Dante, Botocelli, Da Vinci. The one thing these men had in common? They were considered by everyone – from popes to the public – as absolutely mad. They were so firm in their visions, ambitious and saturated in their own imaginations, that before they reached any level of success they were dragged through seas of doubt and discouragement. The greatest artists in Italian history taught us that if you aren’t out of the ordinary or unafraid to unleash every neurotic bit of you, you’ll never reach your artistic summit.
Live For Your Gift
Italians believe that everyone is born with a gift. Salvatore Ferragamo was born with an extraordinary vision for craftsmanship. Emilio Pucci was born with an endless imagination for boldly vibrant patterns. Andrea Boccelli was born with a voice that would bring Italian music culture to the international spotlight. Sophia Loren had a gift of inspiring confidence in women of all sizes, and even made it fashionable to eat endless amounts of pasta. Italians believe you should find your gift and pour your soul into, as this gift is not only a way to give back to the world, it’s the art of your existence.
Slow Down, Piano Piano
Italians take naps. They close shop when they deem it more productive to drink wine than wait senselessly for business to come. They take four hours for lunch. They believe in investing time into friendships as much as they believe in time spent at work. They believe in long, passionate sex several times before noon (even if they’re late for work). They don’t believe in the purely American problem of burning out. They believe in taking many well-deserved moments to fuel yourself with simple pleasures of life without for a moment feeling guilty for it.
Dress Like Every Occassion Is Grand
Wake up at 7AM in any Italian city you visit, before the tourists awake and flood the streets. You’ll notice Italian women primped to their finest, draped in their most vibrant dresses and most likely wearing at least one Italian designed accessory. From the morning espresso to visiting the Focacceria to their sunset aperitivo, Italians believe life is experienced feeling and looking your best.
Never Feel Guilty for Pleasure
A very western problem: we feel guilty for pleasure. We hardly ever believe we deserve to relax, deserve more vacation days and often subject ourselves to an inflexible routine and workload that doesn’t leave room for truly experiencing pleasure. Italians don’t have that problem. If an Italian doesn’t work for a week they would still believe they deserve their wine, holiday and time with family. Italians have an incredibly profound and healthy awareness of mortality, they know life is short, so they make every moment a treasured memory.
It Doesn’t Matter What Others Think
Anyone in an Italian family knows this to be true: we are shameless gossipers. Every family dinner usually centers around neighborhood gossip, wedding talk, baby talk, who cooks the best lasagna and other familial events. Perhaps that’s the reason we need so many courses. Every community of Italians is gossipy. With our love for gossip comes a thick layer of skin that teaches us not to care what other people think. I was always taught: people will talk about you in any case, so be sure to live fiercely and make their conversations interesting.
Friends are Family
One of my favorite people watching experiences is always at the local caffe bars in the morning. I usually find a nice table outside in a corner, with a sufficient view of the incoming patrons. One by one, you’ll see the locals emerging from their apartments, each greeting each other with excitement and zealous Italian chatter even though this meeting is a daily occurence. They’ll talk for hours, catching up as if they haven’t seen each other in years. Family extends beyond blood in Italy (unless you’re the Medici family) and family…well in Italy, that is absolutely everything.