I am going to list just a few main traits of the Italian national character. Don’t see these as stereotypes, but rather a useful tool for understanding Italy. Anyone is free to disagree, but my personal observations and experiences have been confirmed from some published sources :)

1. Deep appreciation of history. Italians tend to be keenly aware of their land’s long history. The people who have settled on this peninsula three thousand years ago never had any good reasons to move elsewhere. When you see a typical Italian, you can bet your Berlitz guide that you would have seen the same face back in the days of the Roman Empire. With the exception of the Langobards and their descendants, of course. However they arrived in Italy so long ago, that the complaints about them ruining the Latin language have been silent for centuries (Lorenzo Valla, a great grammarian, was unsympathetic to these barbarians from the North for mangling good grammar).

2. Catholicism. It is sometimes surprising to see religious devotion in so many Italians, old and young. However, for most of population the matter begins and ends with veneration of saints (oftentimes local) and the secular side of the religious feasts.

3. Keeping up appearances. In Italy it is essential to have the very best of things and to look as good and stylish as humanly possible. Such appearances rarely reflect one’s actual budget. If need be, the budget will be stretched to make a high quality purchase. For instance, Italians own the most number of watches per capita in the world.

4. Never trust the government. This is by no means a unique trait, but if you consider how often governments in Italy change, this mistrust is based on experience and has an air of humor about it. The sentiment certainly works both ways. One of Italy’s most prominent politicians has been quoted to say that it is not impossible to govern Italy, but it is simply useless.

5. Realistic conformism. Italians would not have been so successful if it were not for their eagerness to adapt to new circumstances, especially when this guarantees survival.

See also:

Italian wedding superstitions

La Bella Vita: Live and Love the Italian Way

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To avoid confusion and unwanted results, please use these simple rules when throwing coins into the Trevi fountain:

1. Throw 1 (one) coin if you merely wish to return to Rome.

2. Throw 2 (two) coins if you seek a new romantic encounter, possibly resulting in marriage.

3. Throw 3 (three) coins if you want your marriage to end in divorce.

4. If you can’t quite figure out what you want, just throw all the coins you have in your pockets into the water. The coins from the Trevi fountain are regularly collected by the city of Rome. All euros are generally used to support a food bank for the poor. Foreign currency coins are donated to the Red Cross.

Now, some people will tell you that you also need to drink from the fountain prior to tossing the coins. In fact, you are supposed to drink from it using your left hand and then throw your pieces of copper or silver over the left shoulder. Well, that’s just superstition! But it does seem that the original custom only involved drinking from the fountain and no coins were involved. Today’s practice is much safer.

Lastly, you may rest assured that this tradition is of ancient origin (well, as old as the fountain itself, perhaps). There is ample evidence that in the 19th century the custom was fully established and well known. Henry Tyrell described the legendary powers of Rome’s most famous water feature in a story published by The American Magazine in 1893:

Our little banquet had lasted until after ten. Then, the night being fine, Alfredo and his friends had proposed going home for their mandolins and making up a serenading party. I had declined the invitation to accompany them, being in the pensive mood naturally awakened by the approaching severance of those tender ties which Rome somehow throws around every sympathetic heart, however brief the acquaintance may be. The acque vergine, the sweet waters of Trevi fountain, possessed an ancient charm, which it is pleasant to believe still potent: whosoever, before his departure, shall bethink him to come by moonlight, drink of the gushing stream, and throw a coin into the pool, may confidently hope some day to return to the Eternal City. This rite I desired devoutly to fulfill.

. . .

The night was sultry and still. Moonlight flooded the sky, but was tempered by haze to a warm violet mist, which heightened the phantasmal aspect of Rome in shadow. The smoke of my Virginia blended with it, and seemed to fill the atmosphere with opiate fragrance.

The tinkling and murmur of cool waters fell gratefully upon my senses, as I emerged into the open space before the antique Trevi, the most fantastic and beautiful fountain in the world, with its rushing cascade, its Tritons and river gods, its rocks and grottoes and shimmering pool, and the facade of a stately old palace for a background.

The Italian cigar, though not without a certain aroma, was undeniably strong. My head began to grow light and my feet heavy. Clambering over the low stone barrier, I seated myself in a cozy nook among the dry rocks, close beside the dancing water. Then I took a double lira from my pocket, and flung it into the middle of the black basin, making a splash like vivid quicksilver.

Emilia had told me how the gamins of the neighborhood came in the morning to fish out the coins thrown in the water overnight by wandering- wilted forestieri like myself. I smiled at the thought that on the morrow they might enjoy the sensation of finding at least one piece of silver amongst the coppers. Ah, what delight would be mine, that some day in the vague future, to come back to Rome and tell my fin-de-siede madonna of the Via Sistina how perfectly the charm had worked! Even now, it seemed, I could see her looking over my shoulder, her face reflected beside mine in the troubled mirror of the pool.

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Italian wine customs and etiquette

June 2, 2011

Italy is a major wine culture. One would expect for certain customs, traditions and superstitions to exist  in such a place that will appear very foreign and rather strange in other parts of the world. I have found references to a few such wine-related customs. It is likely that they are becoming less relevant even […]

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