Thursday, January 30, 2014

A sense of community Italian style

When I talk to different Americans about why they love Italy and or why they would like to live here,  a common answer is "life style."  I also love the Italian life style. But what exactly does life style mean to people? As people discuss this topic further, they talk about life being at a slower pace, which means that they live at a slower pace.  What makes the pace slower here, or to think a bit differently about it, why is the pace in the US so fast?  One reason, which I have talked about ad nauseum, is the difference in our understanding of the value of time.  Coming from Silicon Valley, there was a sense that time was a precious and finite resource.  To not value time, brings up the idea of profligate spending.  Italians, as opposed to most Americans, have a much broader sense of time.  I think that it is based upon living in a place that has been inhabited for more than 2000 years. I am still struggling with the idea that time is something to be enjoyed rather than segmented, and accounted for in a total reckoning at the end of the day.

Life style is a way of living that reflects our values, habits and attitudes.  My life style here in Umbria is quite different than my life style was in Oakland, California.  It is not only that I am in a small town.  I have lived in small towns in the US and trust me it is not the same as living in this small town in Umbria.  For me life style also includes a sense of community; the emotional experience of community; a sense of belonging, of identification, of feeling emotionally and physically safe; a feeling that I can influence others and they can influence me. I feel all of these things in Umbertide.  I know that part of this is because we are retired, and so we can take the time to integrate into the community here.  Part of this is that there are not many Americans in town, so the citizens here still have patience and interest with foreigners.

We had lunch here the other day with a mixed group of Italians and Americans.  We talked about how you can never really "belong" in a small community like Umbertide.  I said I belong here as much as I want to belong.  Quite frankly any more feeling of belonging would feel very invasive, but that is just me.

I have a very simple example to show how a sense of community works for me here.  We were leaving town for a few days, and asked our friends Joseph and Paul to watch our dog Luca.  Before we took him to their home, we had Luca bathed and groomed.  (He came back with a bit of a short hair cut.) When two of the Italian women in town saw Luca, they almost had a heart attack.  "It is too cold to have the dog in such short hair."  "Luca will surely catch cold without a coat. What was Susan thinking?"  So far this might seem like criticism rather than sense of community.  What happened next seems like it could only have happened here.

Clementina and Simona decided that Luca needed a sweater. so they got him one and put it on him!  It looks a bit like a horse blanket to me.  They were so sweet to do it.  They thought I might be mad, but I was touched that they noticed him, were concerned for him and took steps to fix it.  That to me represents a sense of community.

(When I got back in town, I did return the pony blanket and got him a proper US sweater.)

A sense of community Italian-American style.


  1. Well stated, Susan. Through all that I am sure Luca was wondering why he was cold and what all the fuss was about. Probably his first time even wearing a sweater being a Cali dog. Curious to know, were the ladies insulted that you returned their selection for the USA one?

  2. Hi Melanie. No they were worried I would be upset. When I gave the pony blanket back to Simona, I also gave her a dog coat from the Queen Mary that was too big for Luca. She was thrilled!

  3. I love any stories about Luca! He is so cute in his new sweater!

  4. Luca is the toast of the town! Everyone loves him. He bounds around chasing cats and pigeons in the piazza. When we go out to eat now, everyone asks where he is!