The other day, I spoke with Roberto, one of our caring hosts at our hotel, for half an hour discussing random information about Florence, his upbringing in London, and various misconceptions about Texas and the rest of America.
The conversation actually began because I asked him where I could get a haircut nearby that wasn’t too expensive (I needed a haircut before I left for Europe and figured I might as well get one here…pictures to come I’m sure). Of course, being the helpful host he was, he offered a couple options asking what I was looking for and then gave me directions to a place a couple streets over. Even though I had actually come to the lobby to get some work done, I learned a lot from the conversation that followed.
Here is some background information for Roberto: he was born and raised in London, has only been to the United States once, and has now lived in Italy for quite a few years (I’m not sure the exact number). Since he was raised in England and now lives in Italy, I figured he could probably offer interesting perspectives on day-to-day differences between the cultures.
While we were talking about some of his favorite places within Florence (or Firenze in Italy), he mentioned that visiting Italy and the things seen are not the same as if someone was to move Italy. Somewhat confusing at first, but he gave several examples to clarify. The first involved the amount of time it takes to get things done in Italy compared to other places such as England or the United States. Specifically, he said that if he were to misplace and lose his license in England, he would probably have to make a phone call or two, fill out some paperwork, and then run into an office and pick up a new one in a couple days (he also assumed the situation would be similar in America, which I more or less agree). By contrast, if the same situation were to happen in Italy, the process would be exponentially longer. He estimated that it would take a month or two.
In addition to a less effective/conducive environment to get things done, he believes that America is generally about 5 years ahead of England while England is about 5-10 years ahead of Italy. He didn’t specify exactly what he meant by this, but I assume he was speaking to the culture and efficiency of business and government. For example, he only started seeing the disappearance of the “siesta,” a period of time from about 1 to 4 p.m. where most shops would close as a break, in the last ten years in Italy. It also made me wonder if that is one of the reasons why more people smoke here than in America (or why it just seems more prevalent).
Intrigued with the information he had given me so far, I asked what he generally thought of Americans. He began by saying how obvious it was to tell when someone is an American. Most of the time, differences exist in style and expression, but Italians can easily tell when an American opens his mouth. He compared it to when he was in America, where he vividly remembers the entire bus looking at him when they heard his English accent. Additionally, he inquired whether the TV show called Dallas, which depicts ranches with cattle and the typical cowboy west, demonstrates an accurate description of the city. I found it surprisingly difficult to describe. Not like New York City, yet not like western Texas. I stumbled through a description that I believed to give him a decent idea of the DFW area, but I can understand how imagining what an American city looks like could be challenging because of it’s drastically different feel than Florence.
In the brief conversation Roberto and I had, I gained a peek into how he feels about the Italian culture, how growing up in England shaped his perspective, and a little bit about how people from other countries might view places in the United States. Moving forward, I hope to establish other relationships because their insight provokes interesting ideas about America’s style and culture in comparison to other places.