It took some time for me see some of the authentic cultural differences between life in Italy and life in America. I would guess that as time continues to go by, even more dissimilarities will become apparent. For now, one of the strangest adjustments for me has been the absence of the phrases “Excuse me” and “Please,” or as the Italians would have it, “Scusi/Scusa” and “Per favore.” However, if I didn’t have friends who knew the language, the Internet, and an Italian 1001 class, I would never have known these words, because they really aren’t used by Italians!
I can honestly say that in the 10 days that I have been in Rome, I have not heard one Italian say “Per favore.” This is a colossally difficult adjustment for me to make because at home, I would simply never ask someone for something, especially someone I do not know, without ending the sentence with “Please.” It’s simply a matter of being mannerly. I often have an internal conflict when I am out ordering a sandwich or buying produce at the market because I want to say “Per favore,” but I know that is simply not what they do here, so I also feel like I shouldn’t say it. It’s very confusing!!
What then surprises me even more is that the Italians are constantly saying “Thank you” and “You’re welcome,” or “Grazie” and “Prego.” I would think that if they aren’t keen on saying “Please,” that perhaps their culture just doesn’t use these kind of mannerly phrases to which we are so acclimated in America, but that isn’t the case, as “Grazie” and “Prego” are being thrown around everywhere you go! I’m definitely thankful for this because I feel like I can finally show my appreciation in a culturally acceptable way at some point during my interaction with whomever I am dealing.
Despite the fact that I find Italians not saying “Please,” this doesn’t bother me per say, it just will take some getting used to. One part of the culture here that I do find rather odd and, at times, bothersome even, is people not attempting to get out of your way when you walk by a small area. I’m not sure if this is part of their not having much personal space, as Gianni has repeatedly told us about, or if they just don’t care to move for each other, or maybe they just don’t care to move for Americans, but they almost never will try to get out of your way when trying to get through a small area. Along with this, the Italians don’t seem to say “Excuse me” when they walk through tight areas. Instead, they tend to push right on through, which, in America, people generally find rather rude. One of the only Italians that I’ve heard say “Scusa” while here has been the maid that cleans our room each day. I guess she’s extra polite?
Along these same lines, I’ve noticed that not one merchant or sales person with whom I’ve dealt while in Rome has actually handed me back my change. EVERY SINGLE person puts the change down on the counter and lets me then pick it up instead of putting it right in my hand. This is another action which in America, people would often find rude. Maybe the Italians do this because they’re angry that they have to give the change in the first place….since Italians LOVE exact change. What are we supposed to do with the $50 euro bills the ATMs give us!? Finding these slight cultural differences definitely takes you spending time here and having all different types in interactions with the natives. I’m sure there will be more to come!