I have a great love of Italy that stems from the family holidays I went on as a child, and that love has only deepened as I’ve got older. From the food (I mean seriously, is there any better food in the world!?!), the history, the people and even the slightly arrogant attitude, I just love it. Last year I had the joy of taking my own family for a two week holiday to Sicily, where we stayed in two of the most amazing luxury villas in Italy with a private pool, which helped cement that love within my children too.
But it’s not all about the material things (although admittedly the Italians do like the finer things in life), because actually the Italians have got it right on so many other levels, and would explain why the country ranks third in the highest life expectancy across Europe. Turns out they’ve got a lot to live for, so let us take a look at how the Italians go about living la dolce vita.
Start the Day with Coffee
It’s a well-known fact that Italians really know their coffee. I mean just look at how many coffee shops have popped up over here, the coffee culture has well and truly exploded and it’s all because of the Italians. However, there is one massive difference that still divides our cultures and that is how and when we drink our coffee. You see, if you even dared to ask for a cappuccino in Italy in the afternoon, or heavens forbid after your evening meal, well let’s just say it’s a huge no-no.
Our coffee culture is all about getting as much caffeine as you can for your money (cue cauldron sized coffee cups) and bunging in a cacophony of different flavoured syrups. And don’t even get me started on what milk you’re going to put in it, because that’s a whole different blogpost!
Italian coffee culture on the other hand is about quality, not quantity. Take the humble espresso for example, nothing fancy schmancy about it at all, just pure, hit you in the centre of the eyeballs, wake you up in the morning, ultimate caffeine shot, no messing about, coffee. And that’s exactly how the Italians like it; a quick shot drunk standing up at the bar to keep you firing on all cylinders until the next one. After all, life’s too short to sit around drinking sub standard, weak, milky coffee!
End the Day with Wine
Ahhhh now we’re talking, coffee in the morning wine in the evening, literally the dream right? But yet again those Italians have got this way more sussed than us Brits. And it all boils down to the quality over quantity thing again.
A typical British meal out with wine is, let’s face it, often a rather boozy affair. For the Italians however, wine is something to be savoured, something to be carefully selected to compliment the food you are eating. Indeed the wine is part of the very meal itself. So when we’re knocking back gallons and gallons of cheap vino de plonko and paying the price for it the next day, they’re making a standard sized glass of the finest Chianti last all night. And there’s definitely no arguments about who’s finishing off the bottle!
Eat Everything in Moderation
Oh to be able to eat whatever you like and still be able to fit into your clothes, right? Well the Italians manage it just fine, so what’s their secret?
Fresh, homemade and time, that’s what.
Think Italian food and you’d automatically think of pizza and pasta, but whereas both the British and American cultures have taken these, supersized them and whacked in a whole heap of unnecessary processed, highly calorific ingredients, the Italians like to keep it nice and simple.
Because, Italian food is all about taking fresh, seasonal food that’s been bought from the local market that day and turning it into simple, no fuss, tasty meals that only really rely on a few ingredients. It’s as if they like each ingredient to be the star of it’s own foodie show. And you seriously can’t get much better than a simple stone based pizza, topped with pomodoro sauce, buffalo mozzarella and fresh basil leaves – washed down with a cheeky glass of red, of course!
No one counts calories, no one umms and ahhs about whether to have that slice of Tiramisu or not, there are no ‘cheat days’ and nothing’s off limit. Instead food is enjoyed, relished, respected. And obviously that translates to health, because if you’re eating a diet rich in fresh, seasonal foods, one that is varied and colourful and makes you smile with every mouthful, well that is wellness served up on a plate right there!
Family is Everything
From nonna right down to the smallest bambino, family is absolutely everything is Italy and it’s something we could all do with learning from. Our hectic lifestyles means that perhaps we don’t get to see our loved ones as much as we’d like (or should) especially if they don’t live close by. But that’s really no excuse when there are such great modern day inventions as the telephone and the internet 😉
Italian culture is steeped in tradition, with long lasting businesses passed down from generation to generation and mealtimes in particular are seen as a massive occasion. Preparing and sharing food with your family, both immediate and extended, is seen as the ultimate expression of love. It is a way of bringing people together, to socialise, laugh, and spend time with the people that mean the most. And what could be a more healthy relationship than that?
Say What You Mean
Call it arrogance, call it rudeness, call it what you like, but one thing’s for sure you’ll always know where you stand with an Italian. As a nation famed for their outspokenness, it makes a refreshing change to all the two faced, backstabbing that so frequently occurs these days (ummm hello social media!). And once you get that they’re not doing it to cause offence, it’s actually a great way to go about life.
Being able to express yourself fully is a great way to release pent up emotions that would be otherwise lying stagnant, slowly eating you up inside and resulting in stress and anxiety levels, not to mention blood pressure, rising considerably. How liberating that must be, to be openly free with emotions and feelings, none of this British stiff upper lip. And rather than this direct, brusque attitude being a negative thing, it is actually a sign of respect; a respect both for themselves and for others. It gets things done, it’s to the point. And as fast as they’ve squared up to one another shouting hot-headedly over the way they’ve parked their scooter, they’ve calmed down kissed each other on both cheeks and everything’s hunkydory again.
It is estimated that there are around 250 gestures that are commonly used by Italians, 250! So when you next see an Italian gesticulating wildly, bear in mind that there’s probably more to it than you might first think!
The Slow and Simple Life
I’m certain most of us could benefit from adopting a slower pace of life, one that isn’t tied down with deadlines, routines and the stresses and strains of the daily grind. But it’s easier said than done isn’t it?
Italy, like many Mediterranean countries, lives life by its own timetable. With leisurely strolls (known as passeggiata) through the town of an evening, enjoying a gelato in the town square, or just hanging around with friends, there’s no rushing, no immediacy and no worrying about rushing back to get the kids into bed by a certain time. And talking of kids, Italian kids just seem to know how to play don’t they? You certainly don’t see them slumped over screens at the dinner table, they’re too busy enjoying the spaghetti and joining in the conversation.
This slower pace of life that prioritizes family and friends over work and to-do lists is tantamount to positive wellness and health. Indeed, it is the time outside of work that is taken far more seriously by the Italians, helped by the fact they get an average of 4 weeks holiday a year and work just 36 hours a week.
There’s something to be said about living the sweet life (la dolce vita), living your best life – best for your health, best for your wellness and to make the best of your time on this planet we call home. And we could certainly learn a lot from the Italian way of life.