After staying in Florence for a while, it’s natural to inadvertently return home with a set of new customs that don’t quite fit into your home culture — perhaps answering the phone with a curt “pronto!” or greeting confused friends with kisses on the cheek. And then there are the customs that don’t come quite as naturally but that you still try to integrate into your everyday life, if not for any other reason than because you simply like doing them. I happened to do a lot of the latter, because living in Italy made me realize how stressful, fast-paced and altogether unhealthy my American lifestyle could be. Here are some of my top takeaways from Florentine culture that made me feel healthier, happier, and just a little more Italian that I was before.
Turning everyday moments into experiences
On one of my first days in Florence, my friend and I were walking out of a local alimentari when she asked if we could sit down. As we settled into a bench alongside the street, I looked over at her expectantly. Instead of readjusting her shoes or searching in her bag for something, she simply gazed out at the street, smiling as she watched the passersby.
When I asked her if everything was okay, she smiled at me. “Of course,” she said with a shrug. “I just wanted to take a moment.” When she noticed my surprise, she added, “Americans never take the time to soak everything in.”
She was right. My hectic American lifestyle didn’t leave a lot of time for sitting outside on a bench to people watch. But Italians have mastered the skill of turning most things in life into an experience, including the most mundane routines. That was one of the first things I made sure to do when I returned home from Florence: I started taking time out of my day to sit, to look, to listen, and, most importantly, to just enjoy doing it.
Paying attention to the details
Florence Cathedral from a different perspective | Ph. Marco Badiani
Perhaps this is less about Italian mannerisms and more about finding yourself in Florence, a city full of small details you’ll miss if you move too quickly. Whether it’s intricate church facades, hidden alleyways tucked between buildings, or covert art along the street, there is so much to find that you can walk through the same neighborhood again and again and find new things every time. I learned to start keeping my eye out for obscure features everywhere I went.
I think this is a particularly fun habit to keep once you leave Florence, because you’ll start to realize that even your own hometown is full of little things you never noticed before. I started appreciating my surroundings more, even though I was no longer living in the beautiful Renaissance city. Once I started finding new details, I wasn’t able to stop.
Making time for meals
Italy is known for its culinary genius, but few outsiders understand just how important food culture really is to Italians. Most businesses close for lunch and dinners are a time for family and friends to all sit down together and catch up. Not to mention the importance of Italy’s “slow food movement,” which combats reliance on fast food and promotes better meals that take more time to make but are better quality. Lunch and dinner are about more than just fueling up for Italians — it’s an experience that combines indulging one’s palate and socializing with friends and family.
While I may not be able to take a two-hour lunch break out of my workday, I do consciously make more time for food than I did before. I try not to skip meals or substitute them for protein bars anymore, which were terrible eating habits that horrified my first padrona di casa in Florence. I cook more and do my best to make dinners into a social time, and it’s become less of a chore and more of an event I look forward to each day.
Finding fresh foods
It’s not a secret that a lot of places rely on preservatives in their food to keep it from going bad quickly. It’s a less common practice in Italy, where it’s not unusual for people to visit the market every few days to buy fresh groceries. If you don’t think there’s a difference between biting into a fresh fruit or vegetable and eating one that’s been shipped cross-country and is full of preservatives, I can tell you that you’re very, very wrong. Even a plain Tuscan tomato is a treat.
While there are a lot fewer fresh markets near my apartment than there were in Florence, I still do my best to find options at local grocery stores and farmers’ markets. Instead of buying ready-made canned or frozen food, I focus on fresh options. It may mean running errands more often than usual, but it’s worth it: not only does it taste better, but you’ll feel a little less guilty about some of the unhealthy things you do to your body knowing that there’s one less to worry about.
Taking plenty of passeggiate
Strolling in Florence | Ph. by Melinda Gallo via Instagram
One aspect of Florentine culture I always enjoyed was the passeggiata, a time at the end of the day when locals leave their houses to stroll around the city leisurely. I always loved going out and seeing all the people chatting and laughing with one another, and I grew to love walking around with no destination. It was so easy in Florence, where there always seemed to be something new to look at.
While my own hometown doesn’t have any similar traditions, I still do my best to take my own little passeggiata at the end of the day, just to take in my neighborhood and see what’s going on. It also pushes me to use other forms of transportation less often, because I grew so used to walking around Florence that I started doing it regularly in my own city, too. If it’s not something you’re used to making time for, you may want to reconsider — not only is it a healthy practice, but it’s a great way to end the day.
Just because you’re leaving Italy doesn’t mean you have to leave all your old habits behind. If you consciously make an effort to take some time out of your busy schedule for a few new routines, you might find that your new Italian habits will become your favorite parts of the day.