International travelers have many preconceived ideas about the country of Italy and the people who live in it. This is normal, as we form ideas about a country through reading books, watching movies, and trying what their region considers ethnic foods. Such prior knowledge shapes what they assume Italy is like. But is it really?
Once in Italy, visitors look for what they think there is in Italy. Many things they expected are found, but there are also many misconceptions. Stereotypes can be comforting but can also lead us to disappointment.
For example, when an American comes to Italy he expects to eat fettuccine alfredo, or macaroni and cheese, or spaghetti with meatballs. But these are all American ideas of Italian dishes. Beyond the initial shock and disappointment, having heard the food in Italy is really good, this visitor may be ready to try a variety of Italian dishes and find out that Italian food is indeed really good!
Another stereotype is the belief that Italy is always sunny and warm. As with every other place, we have four seasons, and terrain ranging from beaches to high mountains so we have all types of weather. For example, while Sicily is sunny on the coast, this island also has snowy mountains. So bring your swimming suit and warm coat to be prepared for Italy’s cold winters and hot summers, rainy and sunny days.
Many foreigners are often surprised to hear English music in Italian shops, bars and public places. In their minds Italy is the land of opera. Some expect to hear “la lirica” and other romantic Italian music, a tradition that Italians brought with them when they immigrated to America many years ago. In 2018 things are very different! Although Italians appreciate their music tradition, they also very much enjoy quite a variety of modern Italian and foreign music.
What’s the best way then to approach a new country, like Italy?
- Travel with an open mind and a sincere desire to know the country and know the people.
- Be ready for new things, even things that may shock you because they are so different from your own culture.
- Don’t expect to find only beauty; have realistic expectations.
- Don’t judge, but instead accept and try to understand. In so doing you broaden your horizon.
- There will be things you will love and things you will hate; make them part of your growing experience.
Every time you visit a new place, meet new people, and encounter a new culture, you grow. Make your time in a new country a reality check on stereotypes; be open to new learning adventures. You will return home enriched and inspired, and more deeply appreciating the diversity of God’s world.