It has been about a week since I reversed my hop across the pond and returned home to the United States of America. I was reluctant to leave my darling Italy, and it was seemingly as reluctant to let me go. Weather kept me grounded in the country for a full day longer than anticipated; the irony of this was not lost on me. I’d been wishing for an excuse to stay longer and found a rather unsavory one offered up to me. Perhaps the universe was giving me just a little longer to say my goodbyes. Equally likely was that it was giving me a little extra time to prepare for the reverse culture shock I’d experience in reinstating myself back home.
Differences between Italy and America quickly made themselves apparent to me upon my return. An example that quite struck me was the, to put it politely, fitness level of Italians versus that of Americans. You would be hard pressed to find an overweight individual in Italia. Italians walk constantly, eat smaller portions, and are able to efficiently metabolize their high-carb diets. Consequently, many Italians are not only healthy looking, they are strikingly slim. In landing in Detroit to catch a transfer flight to Tampa, I immediately noted a change of scene. Instead of most people looking a healthy weight, most looked the opposite. I didn’t expect to be so taken aback by this, but I found myself almost amazed.
Having mentioned that Italians walk all the time, I find myself missing this daily tradition. I’ve spent a good amount of time in NYC in years past, and found that walking everywhere is one of my favorite parts of visiting the city. The same is true of Italy. Walking makes me feel so much more engaged with the area and people around me. I’m more aware of the environment and am so much more motivated to spend time outdoors. Let me tell you, I got a pretty nice tan in Italia. Now that I’m back home, I wonder how long it will linger. While I often take walks around my neighborhood with my family, it’s not quite the same as weaving through the bustling streets of Florence or wandering around the quaint mountainside town of Pitigliano. There’s hardly anyone out to interact with, there are no shop windows to peer into, there are no musicians gracing the street corners, the architecture is nothing to get excited over. It’s hardly comparable in any respect.
Now, if you want to experience something a little more exciting where I live, you have no choice but to hop in your great, hulking car and utilize a good old, expansive US motorway to do so. One difference between the US and Italy that I do appreciate is the road signage. My family arrived after my study abroad program ended, and my father took on the task of driving us around for part of our vacation. It was a bit of an ordeal. Italian streets change names every block and are labeled differently in real life than they are on maps. Road signs often signal, not for the town coming up next, but for ones hundreds of kilometers away. When you do reach the place you’ve been desperately seeking, sometimes you fly clean past it because the sign announcing its location is tiny and is in no way set off from any other sign. In America, not only in driving but in all procedures that require outside direction, we receive constant assistance. Our signs are enormous and frequent, store employees are paid to offer us their constant assistance, announcements ring through airports every minute delivering updates and reminders. There are stickers above our public toilets reminding us to flush. Maybe Americans offer a little more direction than necessary, but too much is better than none at all.
There are many more differences between the US and Italy than that I’ve mentioned, but I’ll close on just one final note. In going to Publix a day after returning, I tried to picture an Italian confronted with the vast variety on display there. An Italian supermarket would never stock six different brands of canned beans, thirty different cereals, ten different milks. The fresh markets (which my heart calls out for daily) could never supply the variety of fruits and vegetables, nor would they want to as many aren’t locally sourced. It’s a different world – one I’ve grown up with and am now acknowledging fully for the first time. I will visit my Italia again, but in the meantime I will settle for rediscovering what all it means to be American.