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CULTURE

Ten Italian lifestyle habits to adopt immediately

The Italians have certain things sussed when it comes to well-being.

Ten Italian lifestyle habits to adopt immediately
Try swapping supermarkets for markets. Photo: Andreas Solaro/AFP

From coffee culture to shopping at markets, we've picked up habits that have enhanced our lives here. Whether you live in Italy or not, here's a list of ways you too can adopt an Italian lifestyle.

Go to the market more


Photo: Alberto Pizzoli/AFP

Most small towns in Italy have a market at least once or twice a week, while in the larger cities you can find a market on almost any day of the week. But why make a trip to the market part of your weekly routine?

READ ALSO: What is it that makes living in Italy so healthy?

Apart from the fact that most markets offer everything you could wish for, they also get you outdoors and plunge you into natural light. The world feels like a better place when you're not under the fluorescent glow of a supermarket bulb.

The market can save you money too – you can buy the exact quantity of whatever item you need and even haggle over the price if you feel like it.

Eat local, eat fresh

Photo: Giuseppe Cacace/AFP

This is kind of an obvious one when you do your shopping at the market. For sure, Italy is great when it comes to fresh fruit and vegetables as it offers fantastic produce all year round and lets you keep your diet interesting by eating seasonally.

READ ALSO: Six springtime foods you simply have to taste in Rome

The country has also managed to turn many a tomato-hater into a tomato-lover. Who can resist all that flavour?

A diet based on fresh seasonal fruit and vegetables is normal in Italy and being a “locavore” isn't trendy or hip, it's just the norm.

Get to know your local shopkeepers


Photo: Alberto Pizzoli/AFP

In Italy it is not uncommon to go to several different shops on one shopping trip, which allows you to develop a relationship with the people you are buying your stuff from. The upshots of this are numerous.

Firstly, your shopping trip becomes an opportunity to socialize. Why not catch up on the local gossip with your baker?

Secondly, knowing your local shopkeepers makes life easier. Bought a dodgy product? Just swap it, no lengthy wait at the customer service desk. Strapped for cash? Pay next time! At the end of the day, we're all friends here.

Eat together


Photo: Giuseppe Cacace/AFP

Not that people don't eat together in other countries, but in Italy preparing and sharing food together happens all the time.

The biggest difference is that dinner in Italy is not only offered via a formal invite – it often happens spontaneously. Make yourself at home!

Drink less alcohol


Photo: Tiziana Fabi/AFP

Italians do drink – even to excess. But what most Italians consider “excess” is what some people from other cultures might consider “just warming up”.

At the beginning, changing drinking habits can lead to pacing problems when you go out with your friends – but eventually drinking less is kind of a relief. The night lasts longer, you have more money in your pocket and you cringe less as you recall the previous night's antics.

READ ALSO: A beginner's guide to aperitivo in Italy

When you drink is important too – Italians tend to drink with meals or in the evenings. Liquid lunches and post-work pints soon slip by the wayside. Thank goodness for that.

Gesticulate


Photo: Miguel Medina/AFP

It is estimated that Italians commonly use around 250 gestures. Some sociologists have pondered that they may have emerged as a way for Italians to communicate secretly in times when they lived under foreign domination. Others suggest that gesticulating emerged as a way of competing for attention in the crowded squares of Renaissance Italy.

READ ALSO: Ten ways to speak Italian with your hands

One thing is for sure: the longer you live in Italy the more likely you are to throw your hands into the air when making a point. And why not?

While it may seem strange to drill your finger into your cheek after eating something good, gesticulating is a great way to display, and add subtle inflections to, the pleasures and dramas of everyday life.

Be more tactile


Photo: Andreas Solaro/AFP

Italians are very touch-feely and at first it can be a bit strange, but it's a really positive aspect of how Italians socialize.

If it's your birthday expect a hug and a kiss from everyone around and don't offend by getting embarrassed about it. When you're with Italian friends expect them to put their hands on your shoulder, ruffle your hair and stroke you – just don't forget to reciprocate!

READ ALSO: Here's how to do the Italian cheek kiss

Science suggests that being a bit more touchy-feely could make you happier, as physical contact with other humans produces oxytocin, a feel-good hormone that is central to intimacy and bonding.

Develop a sense of local pride


Photo: Tiziana Fabi/AFP

Back in the UK, at least, local pride is almost looked down upon – and many people from small towns are embarrassed about where they have their roots. Very often people just lie and tell you that they are from their nearest large city.

But many Italians from small towns will tell you exactly why their hometown is the most beautiful place in the world and why you should visit. They will passionately talk about the great local restaurant or spot where everybody goes. Why not take their advice?

Go out and about


Photo: Andreas Solaro/AFP

When Italians go out they tend to move around a lot. They don't just head to the nearest watering hole with their friends – they actively hit many venues over the course of the evening.

While the endless debate about where to go next can get tiresome, an Italian night out is great for socializing because it brings you into contact with many more people.

It also favours the group dynamic as your itinerary will tend to take you to places that different people in your group like: introverts who like quiet bars and extroverts who love crowded clubs all get a fair kick of the ball.

Italianize your coffee habits


Photo: Alberto Pizzoli/AFP

Generally speaking, having a coffee is a quick affair in Italy. You drink it standing up at the bar. Coffee culture elsewhere tends to involve long, lingering sips, where you sit down for as long as you like and get endless refills.

Each to their own, we say. However, if Italy has taught us anything at all, it's that you should NEVER drink a cappuccino after your afternoon or evening meal. Nobody is sure why, but it's a no-no. It just is.

READ ALSO: Why coffee in Italy is a culture you must taste to understand


Photo: Filippo Monteforte/AFP

A version of this article was first published in September 2015.

Member comments

  1. “Ten Italian Lifestyle Habits to Adopt Immediately” Really? In February 2019 when this was written, fine … BUT NOW? In the middle of this deadly pandemic? Did anyone read this carefully and then take a look at the calendar?

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CULTURE

Why Italy’s All Saints and All Souls days have nothing to do with Halloween

Spooky traditions haven’t really caught on in Italy where strong Catholic beliefs mean the country has its own way of honoring the dead, says Silvia Marchetti.

Why Italy’s All Saints and All Souls days have nothing to do with Halloween

Many Italians gathered last night to celebrate Halloween dressed as ghosts, witches, skeletons and zombies. Hotels, restaurants and pubs organised Halloween-themed events with spooky decor and music.

Each year I’m shocked by how Halloween penetrates Italian culture even though it’s a foreign import from Anglo-Saxon countries.

The real Italian festivities this week are All Saints’ Day (Ognissanti) celebrated on November 1st to remember all saints and martyrs during Christian history, and Il Giorno dei Morti o dei Defunti on November 2nd (the Day of the Dead, known elsewhere as All Souls’ Day) to commemorate the beloved deceased ones, mainly family members but also close friends.

While November 1st is a public holiday (and many Italians exploit it as an excuse for a ponte, a long weekend), November 2nd is a working day.

The entire week preceding All Saints’ Day sees cars queuing up to go to the cemetery, people rush to bring flowers and a few prayers to the tombs of deceased loved ones, and streets are often jammed.

For many Catholic Italians, it’s actually the only time of the year they remember to honor their dead, as if ‘imposed’ by their religion. A bit like going to mass on Sundays; if they fail to do so, they might feel guilty or even fear punishment from above. 

After spending an hour or so at the graveyards – places Italians usually tend to avoid – on All Saints Day, after the spiritual duties are accomplished, they might gather for lunch, bringing cakes and pastries.

People in Italy bring flowers to their loved ones’ graves on All Saints’ Day. Photo: JORGE GUERRERO / AFP

In some southern regions so-called ossa di morto (bones of the dead) pumpkin-filled biscuits and raisin pan dei morti (bread of the dead) are bought, while in the north chestnut pies are baked. 

Ognissanti is a very private event that usually involves little or restricted get-togethers, brothers and close relatives share the graveyard trip but then each goes back home, with little feasting on fine food. 

Catholics don’t have any macabre ritual involving leaving an empty place at the table for a spirit to join us. It is a moment of sadness but also of joy because our dead loved ones have ascended to heaven and are all there waiting for us. It’s the celebration of love, rebirth over doom, and the promise of a future reunion with them in heaven. 

That is why November 1st and November 2nd in Italy really have nothing to do with Halloween, which I call the ‘culture of the grave’ and the celebration of ‘scary death as an end to itself’. 

Even though they may partake in Halloween as a mere consumeristic party, Italians are mainly Catholic and believers do not believe in the darkness of the night, in the damnation of the grave, in being haunted by wicked spirits who long to take vengeance on us, in witches flying on broomsticks and terrifying zombies coming out of tombs. 

Pumpkin is something we occasionally eat as a pasta filling; it’s certainly not a decorative spooky element.

Halloween, which in my view is imbued with paganism and the Protestant belief in an evil superior being and naughty spirits ready to strike down on sinners instead of forgiving them, is celebrated in Italy but lacks a religious or spiritual nature. It’s like the Chinese celebrating Christmas for the sake of buying gifts and acting western. 

Halloween deeply affected my childhood. I’m Roman Catholic and I attended Anglo-American schools abroad where Catholics were a minority and each year I drove my mom crazy by forcing her to sew me a ghost or witch dress. She’d take a bed blanket and cut open three holes for the eyes and nose, annoyed that I should be influenced by a celebration that was not part of my tradition. 

In elementary and middle school my foreign teachers would make us decorate classrooms with spooky drawings, bake skeleton-themed biscuits for trick-or-treating, and tell us ghost stories in the dark to create an eerie vibe. 

Once we were also taken to visit a cemetery and when I told my dad about it he got annoyed and did all sorts of superstitious gestures to ward off evil. 

Halloween has always freaked me out but I did not want to miss out on the ‘fun’ for fear of being looked down upon by other kids. And so I too started believing in vampires, zombies, and ghosts, particularly at night when I was alone in my bed and had to turn on the light. Still today, and I am much, much older, I have a recurring nightmare of an ugly evil witch who torments me and chases me up the staircase.

I soon learned that if for Anglo-Saxons a trip to the graveyard is a jolly event, like a stroll in the park, and ‘graveyard tourism’ is on the rise, for Catholic Italians it is a place accessible only during funerals, moments of prayer, or during the week of All Saints and All Souls days. 

Last time I visited Ireland the guide took us to a monumental graveyard with tombs as high as cars, and lavishly decorated. A few of my Italian male friends refused to enter and spent the whole day scratching their genitals to ward off jinx.

Halloween night is said to be when the barrier between the worlds of ghosts and humans comes down. But Italians don’t usually like to ‘party’ and mingle with the dead or other spirits. We instead honor the deceased with our prayers but the boundary remains firm in place: in fact, this is why our graveyards are placed outside of city centres. 

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