In my Fashion and Luxury Management Class we learn about the origin of the Made in Italy label. As my lecturer, Professor Stefania Saviolo explains in her book,
“Made in Italy is an abstract concept, a signature that defines products that Italy actually specializes in, and where there is a distinctive advantage in terms of innovation, style, service and price. Italian products are not revered as works of art, rather they are valued for their usability and functionality, for their capacity to give an aesthetic dimension to daily routine.”
There is no doubt that concepts about Italian Culture are internationally held and understood. People think Italians are dramatic, that they gesticulate a lot, that they smoke and drive like maniacs, that they drink a lot of coffee and that the men are openly flirtatious. Italians are well known for their fashionable dress sense ad their luxury goods manufactured in Italy (which is quite a feat when you look at all other big fashion brands who shifted production to factories in China and other far east countries years ago). Italians cook, eat, and live for food.
Living in Milan I can say that a lot of that is true. I can see where peoples’ stereotypical understanding of Italian Culture comes from. But here are a few things I’ve observed for myself
Italian coffee is spectacular, but it’s fast. We are used to big, steaming mugs of coffee. We are used to meeting over coffee and savouring our cups over at least 20 minutes. We ‘meet’ for coffee. Italians drink coffee like shots. The espresso is more about the aroma and the after-taste than it is about relaxing with a cup of coffee. Coffee is always warm and not hot – I’ve learnt to order mine with the term “molto caldo per favore!” to make sure I can drink it before it gets cold. People order coffee and stand in the street to knock it back before moving on. That’s why pick paper cups that you order to take away aren’t really a done thing here. I’m interested to see how Starbucks is going to do when it arrives in Milan in September.
Speaking takes time. I don’t mean learning to speak Italian like I’m trying to do, I mean when Italians speak, they take a long time. There is a lot of circular talk reiterating the same point in different ways. There is a lot of idle chatter during greetings. Nobody says they are fine when they are asked how they are. There’s a lot more to it than that. In truth the average Italian is using around 600 words whereas the average English speaker is using around 2000. South Africans are much more direct. I have to be careful not to sound rude. Italians make prolific use of the voice note on whats app – it makes it easier to speak because typing everything you want to say would take forever.
People are stylish. I feel like fashion belongs to the young and the beautiful in South Africa whereas in Italy no matter your age, you dress up. Old women wear high-heeled boots and Versace sunglasses with trendy puffer jackets and fur-hooded coats alongside the trendy university crowds. There’s a lot of black, but that might change as it gets warmer. There also seems to be some kind of unspoken rule that you wear a winter coat until a certain date – my guess is 1 April when perhaps it’s officially Spring. While i’m lightening the layers already and my Scandinavian friends are already bare-legged and sleeveless, the Italians are still in boots and scarves.
Speaking with your hands is essential in putting across an emotive point. I can’t count the number of serious domestic arguments I’ve seen between couples on the street where men and women are gesticulating wildly, throwing up their arms and flicking their hands and fingers at their partners who are usually chain smoking. I’ve also encountered an incident in my apartment building where a man and his wife yelled at each other full volume for at least one and a half hours. I came out of my apartment at one point because there was so much fiery Italian filling the corridors and the slamming of doors were reverberating up to my floor. I couldn’t understand a word about what was being said but my neighbour, who also poked her head out, said something about it happening fairly regularly.
I took the pic for this post outside the Duomo this morning when I took mum on a much needed shopping excursion. A lot of brides come to the Piazza del Duomo for photos but I loved the simple classic wedding attire and the gorgeous Fiat wedding car bedecked in white balloons – molto Italiano, molto bella.