Monday, September 16, 2013

Drive Your Italian Hosts Crazy #2: Demanding Privacy

As promised, here's another look at the unspoken rules that govern Italian life. In this post, I'll discuss privacy, or personal space, which is really the fundamental, inalienable right that makes every American proud to be American. You Americans treasure your privacy, you defend it, you make time for it no matter what. We Italians, well, we don't even have a word for privacy, we instead ended up saying "privacy" in English, just like you (the Italian riservatezza is used for legal privacy or reserve). So here is the second rule:

Rule #2: Italians Stay Together All The Time

When Italians go on vacation or otherwise decide to spend time together, they almost never ask for breaks to enjoy a little solitude. It doesn't matter if they are going to the beach for the afternoon or spending a week in a tiny mountain cabin crammed with 30 other people. They are going to be all together all the time and plan every meal and activity so that everybody is always included. Even on a relaxing beach vacation where there's nothing else to do other than lying down in the sand and getting up to take the occasional swim, Italians just lounge and chat and eat together for the entire length of their stay.

An Italian forced to enjoy solitude in the United States. A risky experiment.
On my first American summer vacation, my husband (back then, my American boyfriend) and I were joined by another couple. One morning, the couple announced they were going surfing, and immediately jumped in their car and came back later in the evening after dinner (theirs, not ours). That night, and for the rest of the vacation, everybody was relaxed and grateful to have had a day to spend according to their own desires. Conversely, in Italy this would have caused heartbreak, then rage, then an epic fight, and then the end of the friendship, followed by eternal sh*t-talking about each other.

Do Italians love being together all the time? I'm not sure, actually. As you can imagine, such proximity has the potential of driving everybody crazy, and that happens often. I suspect the real reason we stick together is that we think it would be rude to behave any differently. It would imply we are ungrateful guests, uncaring hosts, or selfish soon-to-become-ex-friends. It doesn't matter if we then end up hating each other's guts for the rest of our lives. Etiquette has to be maintained at all costs.

So, what should you, American tourist, do when you visit your family or friends in Italy? Of course, you could simply go ahead and be yourself: a happy, well-adjusted American who can enjoy solitude and make independent plans. But really, if you want to keep your hosts happy (host that cook very well, remember?), I would advise you suck it up and let them take possession of all your time, individual needs, and thinking abilities. You're on vacation, after all.

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