Cose italiane (Italian things)

12 Apr
Even after almost four years in Italy, there are things that strike me as uniquely Italian and a bit amusing.  

Cheek kissing

Funny how cheek kissing has become normal to us. You do not meet a friend on the street – male or female – without doing il bacetto, the little kiss. Even waiters and shopkeepers will do this with frequent and favorite customers. I’ve seen burly Carabinieri officers smooch my U.S. law enforcement colleagues. Famously, Italian politicians attempt to assault American presidents.  Il bacetto is a little air kiss, not a big wet smack and it takes some getting used to in order to execute one smoothly. When a group of friends breaks up after coffee, drinks, or dinner it can take a while for everyone to properly bid adieu as one cannot depart without giving il bacetto to each person. And then you have to say “Ciao, buonasera!” about a dozen times. No fast exits.  


President Bush doesn't quite know what to do when Italian Premier Berlusconi goes in for the bacetto. Remember: Always go to the right first!

President Bush doesn’t quite know what to do when Italian Premier Berlusconi goes in for the bacetto. Remember: Always go to the right first!

Il Cambio di stagione

Many Italians let the calendar decide their clothing. 80 degrees (F) in early April? Better keep a scarf around your neck just-in-case. You wouldn’t want to catch la cervicale (pain in the cervical vertebrae) or un colpo d’aria (literally “a hit of  air”)! These are Italian ailments that are hard to explain in English but are taken very seriously. A blast of air on your neck, throat, or head is the root cause of all illness. Although the temps have had Ric and I pulling out our short-sleeved attire, sending the wool sweaters to the dry cleaner, and assessing what new warm-weather clothes we need, we still see many Italians in their puffy winter jackets and heavy wools with scarf-wrapped necks. While in the morning it might be a pleasant 55F and the jacket is not too terribly hot, by afternoon it is 75F, way beyond needing the jacket. But it is too soon to do Il Cambio! Cold weather might come back!
When we lived in Portland, all of our clothes were in our substantial walk-in closet. I might shove the winter stuff to the back when warmer temps prevailed, and the short-sleeved tee-shirts came to the top of the drawer, but basically I could find warmer clothes in a couple of minutes.
The typical Italian household does not have a lot of closet space. We use wardrobes for what we are wearing now and some sort of under-the-bed or overhead storage for the other season. Typically, we have only about half of our clothes at hand. Il cambio (the seasonal change out of the closet) is a big thing twice each year. Sometime in April, but generally closer to May 1, Italians pull out the ladder to get things down from the overhead closets and unwrap the items in the under bed chests, deciding what to keep and what to recycle. Ric and I, in a decidedly non-Italian way, are well into il cambio but the temps did drop a bit the other day. I just hope we don’t freeze our necks when we go to dinner tonight. Maybe I’ll look for a scarf to wear with my spring jacket.
The only closets in our apartment are desigend for off-season storage, high overhead in the service hallway.

The only closets in our apartment are designed for off-season storage, high overhead in the service hallway.

Our bedroom wardrobes, one each, 100cm -- about 39 inches -- wide.

Our bedroom wardrobes, one each, 100cm — about 39 inches — wide.

Il cambio mostly compelte, my spring and summer clothes now fill my wardrobe.

Il cambio mostly complete, my spring and summer clothes now fill my wardrobe.

I love the wardrobe versus the American-style closet. I can see everything and I am forced into being quite orderly. 


Scarves & sundresses

As I mentioned above, a scarf is a way of protecting you from la cervicale. If the wind blows on your neck, you could become very ill. (Yes, you can call in sick with la cervicale. Try to explain that to your U.S. or U.K. supervisor.) You can also get colpo d’aria. So you will see women wearing scarves with sundresses. Air conditioning is generally considered to be a hazard to health, so if you have to go into somewhere cold (i.e., below about 80F) you want to be protected.
She is not taking any chances at developing cervicale!

She is not taking any chances of developing la cervicale!

Cornetti in the hand

When an Italian goes into a bar and orders a cornetto (croissant) and un caffè, typically the barista will grab the cornetto with a napkin and hand it to the patron, then turn to make the requisite espresso. The cornetto is generally eaten standing up, using the napkin to hold it, and is eaten before downing the shot of espresso, which is liberally laced with sugar. It’s all very fast, maybe 2 or 3 minutes for consuming the pastry as well as drinking the coffee. In fact, Starbucks cannot make a shot as fast as an Italian can consume this entire meal in a bar.
While we indulged in a seated caffè e cornetto today, Ric demos the technique. ONe always eats oneàs corentto wrappedin a napkin. More sanitary.

While we indulged in a seated caffè e cornetto today, Ric demos the technique. One always eats oneàs cornetto wrapped in a napkin. More sanitary.

When we go into the bar and order cornetti, 95% of the time they pull out plates and set our pastries on them. I actually like that as we tend to linger a bit more, but isn’t it funny in this land of slow paced living and reverence for food, the bar breakfast is consumed at lightning speed? And how do they metabolize all that sugar every day? We can’t do it and we walk 6-7 kilometers a day.



August is a weird month. So many people go on vacation at the same time that the nightmare traffic disappears and parking places are everywhere. How can so many people arrange their lives to be on vacation at the same time? Hospitals send patients home. Doctors’ offices close. Restaurants close so the entire staff can be gone at the same time. Buses are on a reduced schedule , special for August.
I love it. You can’t get anything done, but the city is so empty it is marvelous. You have to live it to believe it. And this does not happen in the center, in the tourist area. That remains hopping.
This is Viale Parioli, the major shopping street a few minutes walk from our apartment, in August at 17:30 in the evening,. Usually it is a hubbub of cars, motorcycles, buses and people scurrying to do their shopping.

This is Viale Parioli, the major shopping street a few minutes walk from our apartment, in August at 17:30 in the evening. Usually, it is a hubbub of cars, motorcycles, buses and people scurrying to do their shopping.


When I was young and watched movies set in New York City, I would marvel at apartment buildings with “supers” and doormen. We had no such thing as far as I knew in St. Paul, Minnesota. How glamorous would it be to live that way!
In Italy, we have portieri. A portiere is a combination caretaker-concierge-postman-security guard. He – or she – will clean the common areas, collect your mail and packages, keep an eye out for trouble ensuring unsavory elements stay out of the building, and give advice. He’ll help you carry heavy packages to your door, assist the elderly up-and-down the stairs, and in our case, give the occasional Italian lesson.
One evening we lamented to Italian friends the problems we had with trying a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) subscription because they’d deliver when we were not home and the produce would wilt in the sun in our driveway. Our friend  was shocked to hear we did not have a portiere to take the delivery in for us.
It is traditional to give the portiere a gift three times a year: Christmas, Easter, and Ferragosto. The latter is the mid-August holiday initiated by Caesar Augustus. Why then? Because the portiere stays on duty to ensure the safety of the property while everyone else is on vacation. If you have a portiere the incidence of burglaries is reduced.
Nothing happens in our building, on our street, or even in the neighborhood that our portiere doesn’t know about. He’s a font of intel when we need it.
Our fabulous portiere Pellegrino. Actually his wife is the portiera, and he is retired...but still helping us out every day. He calls himself "The Sheriff" and he is alwasy watching out for us.

Our fabulous portiere Pellegrino. Actually his wife is the portiera, and he is retired…but still helping us out every day. He calls himself “The Sheriff” and he is always watching out for us.

18 Responses to “Cose italiane (Italian things)”

  1. saragoli September 2, 2016 at 16:17 #

    haha love this! I mentioned to a friend this morning that it’s funny how I acclimatize so quickly myself when I’m staying in Italy for a prolonged period of time. This morning it was 70 degrees and I thought to myself, ooh it’s a bit nippy, I better put a jacket and scarf on, whereas if it had been England, I’d have been pulling the summer clothes back out and praising the nice weather!


    • GoodDayRome September 2, 2016 at 17:16 #

      Hi Sara! Thanks for stopping by! We walk very early in the morning during these hot months and the past two mornings were making me think jacket…but only for the first 10 minutes or so. We are going to the U.K. next week and I suspect we’ll freeze! I’m bringing a quilted layer along and my wool socks!

      Liked by 1 person

      • saragoli September 2, 2016 at 17:22 #

        Yes, my friends reliably inform me that Autumn has already begun. 😭😭😭😭 not looking forward to my rientro at the end of September 😭😭😭

        Liked by 1 person

  2. ckleonard April 14, 2016 at 01:11 #

    Laurel, I love all of your posts. This one, though, is so fun and interesting to read. My Mom was not Italian, but she had the same beliefs about air on your neck, and other parts of your body. I can still hear her, telling me to put my scarf on my head when I was a kid!


    • gooddayrome April 14, 2016 at 05:44 #

      That is so funny, Carolyn! Mamma’s voice still in your head! Italians also believe that going outside with wet hair will kill you.


      • ckleonard April 14, 2016 at 05:50 #

        Oh! My Mom would be rolling in her grave if she knew I go outside with a wet head sometimes!

        Liked by 1 person

  3. Gayle Seely April 13, 2016 at 15:53 #

    Thanks, Laurel. I love your photo with the Portiere – I wish we had one here. What a person idea. Maybe I should look into that. For a neighborhood, or a block, not just a building. Lovely. The closet did NOT look so lovely. I also move all my clothes from winter to summer and back again, but I would would not manage so well in the smaller space. Or, come to think of it, maybe I would manage to give away all those things that I am planning to wear ‘some day’ and somehow never do. Thanks for the lovely images of your life in Rome.


    • gooddayrome April 13, 2016 at 16:51 #

      The wardrobe does force one to deal with those clothes you plan to fit into again some day. I gave myself a year after retiring (well 11 months) and now I am dealing with the last of the business clothes, keeping just a couple of timeless wool blazers. I think I wore a dress twice all winter, but I do wear my summer ones.

      Un bacione, cara Gayle!


  4. debbie Fischer April 12, 2016 at 16:50 #

    I loved this post too! And reminded me of being at your apartment. . your portiere/portiera, and the closets! I adopted the scarf for warmth long ago . . its such a great easy thing, but didn’t know how dangerous air on the neck was!


    • gooddayrome April 12, 2016 at 17:11 #

      Thank you Debbie! I was thinking about you and Paul the other day: It is finally nice enough to hang the clothes outside again and the cats have sun on the terrace. It was a real pain hanging everything indoors for 5 months


  5. Chloe Erkenbrecher April 12, 2016 at 16:23 #

    Not that I know, but they do have ‘crise de foie’. which is a crisis of the liver. I am sure that the Italians still blame a lot of their ills on the fegato. We had a ranch years ago in the northern mountains of California and I was warned never to wash my or our children’s hair before they went to bed as this would cause a paralysis in the face. God knows, we wouldn’t want that to happen. You are going to have a mixed bag of weather next week, but Paris will have on its spring colors for you. Be sure to visit the Luxembourg Gardens and the Tuilleries for all of the flowers that will be in bloom. Don’t forget your umbrella, warm clothes and certainly, your scarf.


    • gooddayrome April 12, 2016 at 16:37 #

      Yes, I have heard people say their liver hurts. They are much more in tune with physiology than we are.


  6. Jonnie Martin April 12, 2016 at 14:17 #

    Laurel, your posts are always interesting — but this has to be one of the most charming. Loved it.


    • gooddayrome April 12, 2016 at 14:37 #

      Thank you, dear Jonnie! Seems you like the ones about our lifestyle and cultural collisions the most. Sometimes I forget how darn foreign it is here….


  7. Chloe Erkenbrecher April 12, 2016 at 09:06 #

    How times change. Shaking hands was the way of greeting each other when I lived in Italy. I thought that the bacetto was strictly French. We think it is the reason the French have perpetual colds. I love your photos of the Parioli as it was my neighborhood also, but I must admit that I love the Prati area just as much. August is a good time to visit Paris also. An added bonus is no dogs.


    • gooddayrome April 12, 2016 at 14:39 #

      Ciao Chloe! That is interesting, how things have changed over time. LOL about the colds! Clearly Italians blame the air, not people’s germs. Do they have anything like “colpo d’aria” in France?

      We’ll be in Paris next week!!! Pray for no rain for us, will you?


      • Julie April 14, 2016 at 02:57 #

        Like all your other fans, I loved this post. You are a genius observer and writer!


        • gooddayrome April 14, 2016 at 05:45 #

          You are too liberal with your praise, my friend, but I am particularly delighted that you enjoyed it!


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