Category Archives: Italian culture

George’s first excursion

At day 10 George made his way to the local bar for a cappuccino, part of our family’s long-time morning routine. To be clear, no cappuccino for George. Not directly anyway…but he still enjoyed his outing. And the other Romans certainly were excited to see him. Every time I take him out, he’s mobbed by Italians asking how old he is, am I breast feeding and above all, is he a boy?!? It’s extremely important to the Italians that we have an heir. Even though we’re not exactly royals.

Also, the blue ribbons are a really sweet tradition. When you have a baby, you put one on the outside of your building. (We also put one on our apartment door.) This is how excited Italians get about babies. Even strangers’ babies.


Filed under Italian culture, New Baby

Italian crocodiles

Shortly after Phoebe started going to the new school down the street (where Estelle also spends her mornings), she started singing a little ditty from time to time, absentmindedly as she played with dolls. “Coccodrillo, come fa…” Fast forward to earlier this week when I was looking for something on YouTube and found the video! Now, it’s a SUPER HIT at Via Nizza, 46. As an after-breakfast treat, Phoebe and Estelle curl up to watch it on my phone, repeating as many times as our schedule (and patience) allows before we leave for cappuccini at 8.

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Filed under About Italy, Italian culture

Costume for Carnival

{Carnival is a festive season which occurs immediately before Lent. Carnival typically involves a public celebration or parade combining some elements of a circus, mask and public street party. People often dress up or masquerade during the celebrations, which mark an overturning of daily life. Carnival is a festival traditionally held in Roman Catholic societies. – Wikipedia}

This week is Carnival and for her Wednesday morning playgroup, Phoebe got to dress up in the glittery costume Grandma “Ginga” Mathews (of course!) sent in the shipment this summer.

Phoebe has a trunk full of dress up clothes including princess dresses, tiaras, and a custom made chicken costume. She won’t wear any of them. Except this one. She’s worn it twice and here’s how it goes:

She begs to put it on, holding the sequined skirt saying, “Pretty? Pretty? Pretty? Pretty? (repeat…)”

She puts it on and says, “Ooooh. Pret-ty, pret-ty!”

Then takes it off five minutes later, insisting on her regular clothes again.

Somehow this process takes an hour.


Filed under Italian culture, Phoebe

Lunch in a castle

We are very lucky. I say this for many reasons but today I am talking about having a few Italian friends. As ex-pats it’s not always easy to integrate into the local culture, particularly when you’re really quite bad at speaking the local language. But thanks to our crazy birth class last year, we’ve got a handful of families who we’re still thrilled to call friends. Among them are Molly and Giuseppe whose family has a lovely villa in Sabina. This weekend we were invited to a lunch at a castle in the region, in honor of olive oil season. (It also happens to be the place where they were married–talk about lucky!)

Sabina, one of the smallest but quite an important attendee. She was named for the area, plus it’s just a lovely Italian name.

Mehtab and Naila, who were also friends from the birth class, came with Marco.

And of course, Sweet Baby Phoebe doesn’t miss a castle outing; here she is decked out in her Sunday best.

Even I took the opportunity to wear something other than sweatpants. Reluctantly I decided to spare the Italians my sloppy-but-oh-so-comfy sweatsuits on this day.

And it worked out, possibly because there were these delicious little cookies. I got to eat Paul’s too.

Rounding off the charming experience was something even more picturesque: a live puppet show. Built into the castle was a lovely little puppet theater where a show began after lunch. It was all in Italian so Paul and I weren’t great at following along. Phoebe however, LOVED IT. She sat on my lap, transfixed by the action ahead. At 18 months I expected her to lose interest immediately. Instead she took it all in. We’ve always joked that she’s our only hope for learning the language better but…

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Filed under Italian culture, Trips

Learning Italian…or not

In Rome there’s a language lesson lurking around the corner every day. At least there is if you don’t really know Italian.

So far, my efforts to learn the language of my host country have been, in a word, unimpressive. I took lessons with Paul when we first arrived. That was extremely useful. Twice a week for two hours at a time, we were actually making progress. Then Phoebe arrived and our interest in learning a new skill shifted–to parenting.

Since then I’ve made efforts to study the numerous language books, CDs and computer programs we’ve bought. We’re like would-be dieters who trick themselves into thinking, if I just buy a diet cookbook I’m bound to lose some weight! However, as we all know, one must actually use the book in order to see progress. So, that’s that.

In the meantime, my daily jaunts have proven to be quite educational.

There’s the hair salon, where my very nice stylist of about a year speaks English but attempts to “talk” to me in Italian. Quotes are necessary because it’s not really a good conversation. Sometimes I understand, sometimes I laugh politely, sometimes I don’t even know what the topic is. So, that’s that.

I have discovered though, two interesting patterns in the Italian language: words are often based on a root word shared in English, or they’re just very long.

For the first, I was tickled to learn that carne means meat. As in carnivore. Cane means dog. As in canine. There’s an important difference there but it’s interesting to me that the word you seek in Italian is often something close to the very formal version in English. Pastore means shepard, which is neat considering the role of a pastor in church.

For the second, my favorite example came at the post office. I needed stamps. Stamps to mail thank you notes to the States. They use the word “stampe” here but it’s not about mail. That kind of stamp is another cultural lesson in itself: Italians love “official” and “original” stamps, documents and stickers. For things like parking permits, an original copy of everything related to the car will surely be essential–and it’ll likely need a special stamp of some kind. However, on this day, I just needed postage. I tried to say, “stamp”, thinking maybe the word wasn’t vastly different and since we were in the Post Office itself perhaps the context would be enough. It wasn’t. Luckily for me, the clerk in the next booth over heard me and spoke English himself. The word is francobollo. Of course it is.

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Filed under Italian culture

Italian coffee

Coffee is an art in Italy with as many different varieties as one can imagine, possibly more. Cappucino is the standard morning drink and pregnant ladies like me often opt for something with less punch: a latte macchiato. This is a glass of steamed milk “stained” with coffee, sometimes topped with a sprinkle of chocolate. (Not to be confused with a cafe macchiato which is the opposite: a shot of coffee with only the smallest hint of milk.)

A regular cafe latte is also a lovely morning treat. It’s a bigger glass with more milk and more coffee, more like a latte that one would order at Starbucks but don’t expect to get a “venti” anything in Italy. While the name is Italian (“twenty”, as in 20 ounces), giant cups of coffee are not. Neither is a large takeout container or a couch nestled in the coffee shop. Almost all coffee is consumed at the bar, standing. It’s a quick part of the day, usually repeated several times. It’s also considerably cheaper than a Starbucks run; usually about one euro.

If it’s not morning, it’s not common to order anything with milk. After 10 am it’s customary to simply get a cafe, a shot of espresso. If your stomach can’t take that kind of thing, which mine certainly can’t pregnant or not, you can plead your straniero status (“foreigner”) and just order a cafe latte. Leave a little tip to make up for it; besides, tipping is also more of an American custom than Italian, but certainly appreciated everywhere.


Filed under About Italy, Food & Restaurants, Italian culture

A priest came to our house

and blessed it.

When the doorbell rang I was somewhat hesitant because a. it was the middle of the afternoon and I wasn’t expecting anyone, b. Paul was at work, and c. Phoebe was sleeping and you hate to have any loud noises at that point. Honestly, that was probably my biggest concern.

But when I peeked through the door hole and saw a priest standing there, bible in hand, I opened up. There indeed stood a man of the cloth who immediately started greeting me in lots of Italian. I think it was my confused face that made him pause to ask if I do speak Italian. Then he offered, “Francais? English?” I picked the latter and in he came.

A very nice man, he simply explained that he was here to bless our home, as they apparently do every year from his parish. He’d already been to the first four floors of our building and was headed for our neighbor’s place next. He speaks three languages fluently and even though he delivered the blessing flawlessly, apologized profusely for his “terrible English”. If only my Italian were so bad.

Together we picked a passage from the bible to read aloud, then he said a prayer and even sprinkled the incense ball with a flick of the wrist. Even though I’m not Catholic, I really enjoyed the moment with him and wondered if I’d have been so receptive to a stranger offering to bless my home if we were in the States. I’ll have to think about it, but in the meantime I’ll file this one under “Only in Italy”.


Filed under Italian culture, Life

Even the mail is sexy

The women in Italy aren’t kidding around. Even at the playground, any self-respecting mother will be wearing tight black pants, high heels and a top that either produces or enhances cleavage. Then there is the makeup. Lots of it. The term for this look (yes, there is one) is called la bella figura. It means cutting a good figure. In As the Romans Do, a hilarious and t00-true book I’m reading now, there’s an entire chapter called “La Bella Figura: The Flesh and Flash of Roman Women”. 

I’m used to it by now. Traffic cops in four-inch, sparkling heels. The gelato shop girl in an off-the-shoulder sweater, after all one must stay cozy in the winter. But when I got this ad for pizza delivery in the mail, along with our electricity bill and a belated Christmas card from my Grandma (insert joke about incredibly slow Italian mail), well…

But the pizza does sound pretty good.


Filed under Italian culture