6 years in Italy, and I’m still dumbfounded on a daily basis.

Today marks 6… that’s right, SIX… whole years since I stepped off the airplane from Sydney and began my residency here in rural Emilia.


You would think that in six years (5 of which have been spent working in the architectural design and construction industry)… you would think that in all this time, the mind-blowing scenario which I am about to describe to you would have already happened.

But no.

It took six years (to the day) to glean this little pearl of cultural wisdom… just one of many in the long pearl necklace that alternately chokes and adorns my neck.

As you may know, I recently returned from a 5-week trip to North America where I was able to recharge my expatteries and feel a little normal for a minute or two (only a minute or two… then the reverse culture shock set in, but that’s a story for another time). On this trip I re-acquainted myself with a little American habit, and one that I didn’t even realize that I have missed over these years…

ice coffee in a jar

Big-ass, huge, cold, ice coffees. Best served in the jar from whence it was stored in the fridge.


I mean, don’t get me wrong, I really do love those little tiny, sock-ya-in-the-gut espressi; and they have served me well over the past 6 years. But some summer mornings, there is just nothing better than sipping on a long, milky, and highly caffeinated beverage all morning long. Yeah, you know what I’m talkin’ bout.

So since I got back from my trip, I have made it a point to put a jar of coffee in the fridge in the evenings, in order to have a cool treat waiting for me the next morning.

This morning was one such morning.

I awoke from a troubled slumber in desperate need of caffeine before our early morning site visit to one of our construction sites. My marito and I were rushing around the house to get out the door, and I grabbed my jar-o-caffè in the final moments before leaving.

He stopped me in the doorway.

“Are you kidding? You can’t come like that.”

… (looking at myself in the mirror to see what of the many usual faux-pas items of clothing he was referring to)…

“Honey, they all know that I’m American and I dress more casually than Italian ladies. It’s ok.”

“No, not that. That thing in your hand.”

… (checking the inventory of 20 things in my hand)…

“The iPad? I’ll make sure it doesn’t get dirty. We need it to show them the detail and the muratore doesn’t have email.”

“No, daaaaiiiiii, M, basta. The caffè. You can’t bring that; leave it in the kitchen.”

Now, I am willing to table a lot of arguments that I would sometimes prefer to pursue because, at the end of the day, I am the guest in this country, and my dear marito probably does know what’s best to avoid the dreaded brutta figura.

  • I understand that I get weird looks because I don’t dress like it’s Milan Fashion Week every time I walk out the door.
  • I understand that other professionals find me troppo diretta when I tell them that everything we just spent 4 hours discussing could have happened in one 3-line email.

I get these things, and I’m willing to meet half-way in a compromise.

  • I’ll throw on a nice shirt, but I’m still wearing jeans to a construction site. Sorry, but I’m not climbing up scaffolding in a skirt or pantsuit just to have all the sleazy muratori stare at my ass. If they’re gonna stare at my ass, it will be covered in denim, thank you very much.
  • I’ll let these crazy Italians talk all they want in their long-ass meetings, but I always follow up with a 3-line email showing how it could have been done more speedily. Who knows, maybe I’ll convert one of them every once in a while.

But I am sorry. WHAT?!!! I can’t take a coffee to the site with me? We’re going to a construction site where, I am certain, I will be able to see at least 4 butt cracks in plain view. And I’m the one risking inappropriateness?!

My husband then went on to describe how rude it appears to show up at the site with a to-go coffee in hand. It’s as if I don’t care enough about the work to give it my full attention. Eating or drinking in someone’s presence outside of designated eating and drinking times would just appear cocky and too relaxed. It would offend.

Mother flooper. You have GOT to be kidding me.

I was indignant.

I insisted on bringing my refreshing morning treat with me.

He yelled and seemed genuinely embarrassed to know me.

I pushed more, thinking, “there is no possible way this can matter to ANYONE. In fact, I can’t think of an architect in the United States who DOESN’T show up at the site with a coffee in hand! Usually you show up with like 6 to-go cups in a little Starbucks tray and pass them around! He’s just being overly sensitive because he hasn’t had HIS coffee yet… which he COULD take to the site with him, but nooooooooo…”

He started to break down into that defeated ‘why-the-hell-did-I-marry-an-American’ mode, and I started to take pity on him. We were late anyway, so I left it in the kitchen.

But I’ll be damned if I didn’t insist on discussing the cultural origins of this oddity the entire way to the site. By the time we got there, he was wishing he’d just let me bring the dang jar-o-caffè. I had broken down the local cultural significance of food and drink, evaluating the Italian tradition of spending eating time together at the table and nowhere else. I ran through out loud the number of times I had seen an Italian snacking in the work place (one time. I could think of one time). I stopped at least 3 people to ask them if they found it weird for someone to bring a large cup of coffee to a meeting (they didn’t even understand the question… “why would you bring coffee to a meeting? You go to get the coffee together after the meeting!”). And I texted all my Italian girlfriends, seeking someone… anyone… to back me up.

I got nothin’.

They all think I’m the weird one.


Happy 6 Year Anniversary to me.




54 thoughts on “6 years in Italy, and I’m still dumbfounded on a daily basis.

  1. As I have my morning coffee I am killing myself laughing!!! Married to an Italian for fifty one years, trust me it doesn’t end !!!! Thank you for making me laugh-

    • it was a rough day all around! But I did get an aperitivo on the square at the end of the day… so not all bad

  2. Haha! Omg, hilarious. Those cold brew American coffees are certainly awesome. The story is so funny, but I know it wasn’t funny living it, I’m sorry.
    It was so funny too that people wouldn’t even understand the question.

  3. Thank you so much for this post! I really needed to hear about someone else’s frustrations today! And “forse sono troppo diretta” – thank you, these are the words I have been missing to make my apologies about my lack of Italian woman appropriateness when dealing with so many people out here! And, btw, I’m so with you on the iced coffee! Perhaps an iced donut in the other hand would have helped complete the brutta figure 😉

    • mmmm, donuts….
      Sorry, what were you saying? Ah yes. 🙂 You’re welcome! I have PLENTY of frustrations to go around. Stick with me and you’ll never feel like you’re the only one.

  4. You are so funny!! Being an Australian/Italian I see both sides and I could totally see the whole scene. But glad you didn’t take the coffee with you – bella figura must always prevail. Happy 6 year anniversary! Paola

    • it’s so difficult though! I think I make a brutta figura every 3 hours on average.
      Thanks for the anniversary wishes|

      Some day… some day I will credited with starting a new ice-coffee-to-work trend in Italy… any day now.

  5. I’m wondering how Dutch and Italians ever manage to work together. The Dutch are infamous for their directness (although they do like to talk things over extensively before reaching some sort of compromise), but more importantly, they always ALWAYS offer you a cup of coffee wherever you go, especially at any meeting.

    • haha, you just reminded me of the most fantastic thing I saw in India, while we were on a backpacking vacation there a couple years ago. It was an Italian restaurant, and to prove their worth in a sea of restaurants trying to get the tourist dollars, they had a huge sign above the restaurant that read:

      “Italian Chef. Dutch Supervision.”

      I wish I could upload photos to the comments… fantastic.You’re right though… I only know one Dutch guy here in Italy, and he stresses a lot over forcing himself to not be so direct. The coffee part is just common sense. 🙂

  6. Happy expat-o-versary! But to-go coffee being rude?! Oh dear, I think I’ve just crossed Italy off of my to-live list!

    • Thank you! May I entice you back to us with a mention of The Three P’s? Prosciutto, Parmigiano-Reggiano, and Pasta? 🙂

  7. Fear I’m not as flexible as you……. I would have told him to “man up” and would have had my coffee in hand. LOL

    • Yeah, I didn’t either before I got here. You can’t really conduct business without drinking coffee, so you adapt. It’s like golf back in the States.

  8. I moved from Northern California to venezia to live with my italian husband 5 years ago and reading your blog is like reading my italian story. The coffee issue has been a big one for me-when I found myself begging my husband to stop at McDonald’s on the autostrada just to get a crappy to-go coffee I knew I was in trouble. They just don’t get it. Next week-Cali visit-Starbucks here I come!!! (And Mexican food, sushi, Thai, real avocados, normal dryers, grocery baggers…..)

    • YES! I just got back from a Stateside trip like 2 weeks ago, and your little mention of avocados there has me drooling. Guess what? I found a guy in Sicily who grows Hass avocados. But he’ll only ship me like a 20 kilo case, and they’re mixed with his local variety called “Etna” (which are blah). My husband got me a case for Valentine’s Day last year, and… um… it was kinda insane. I’m thinking of trying it again, though, and having like an avocado exchange meetup on the Autostrade somewhere. Somewhere that serves crappy American ice coffees.

      • Avocado exchange?!?! I want in. I have Claritin, canned pumpkin puree, chili powder and Dayquil to barter with!

        • I just got back from a road trip around the Baltic Sea… during which I collected and ate Hass avocados from every country we drove through. EVERY SINGLE ONE OF THEM had avocados, INCLUDING a little island in the Aland Archipelago off the coast of Finland. I got back home this weekend and out of foolish hope I went on the search once again. Nothing.

          It’s just cruel.

          The Claritin is a valuable coin. Use it wisely.
          More info to come shortly on an official exchange program. 🙂

  9. I love your blog! 🙂 You have such a sense of humor!

    Is it possible to pick you brain on something? Is the postal system in Italy generally very slow? I sent my Italian friend a letter on July 1st from Califorina and he still has not received it as of today July 18, 2014. How can this be??????? Just wondering if you could shed some light on the postal system there.

    • thanks Meagan!
      Now as far as your question… please allow me to laugh.
      Ok, thanks. Got that out of my system. Well… I’ll probably need to dedicate a whole blog post to it (thanks for the idea, I’ll add it to the list), but just to give you an indication: Yesterday we received an official notice on the status of a project we’re working on, delivered by Post Italia. The notice itself, in fact, originated from Post Italia (they manage other business services as well). It arrived YESTERDAY. It was supposed to have arrived in February. The date marked on the letter was end of January.

      • Friggin’ hell…..LOL! I swear…I really really love Italy! I have tons of Italian friends that I have made over the years…. Every time I send them something, they’re too polite to tell me that ‘something’ in the mail from America has not yet been delivered. 😛 This time I initiated the question, since I have been wondering in my mind on this.

        I really love your blog. You have such a sense of humor plus everything you write about Italy I can really identify with – the good, the bad, and the ugly, but truth be told, my love for Italy has not lessened a bit. 🙂

        Keep on rocking and rolling in Italy!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! 😀

        • no prob! I’m pumped we finally got internet back tonight… can’t get to sleep because I’m reading all the great comments!! 🙂 Glad to hear that my ridiculous blabbering isn’t putting you off this bella paese.

  10. I do a double “brutta figura” from time to time. I bring my tall, golden (literally golden) Starbucks to-go cup with me. With TEA in it. Not even coffee. Sometimes I triple it up by bringing it around with me IN THE SUMMER. On the bus, through the streets. Yep! GASP!!! boo. hiss. whatever 😉 I’ve only lived here for barely two years, so I guess there’s plenty of time for me to “learn.” (yes I like coffee, but my marito knows and the rest of Italy can too that you don’t mess with this Canadian and her tea mug!) Happy 6!

    • Ha ha, I also carry a to-go cup of tea around with me at all times. I had no idea it was a no-no; it comes with me to school pick-up every day. I sometimes suggest that the other mums bring one too but no-one has taken me up on this offer – now I know why!

  11. I’m from the US and I once took my coffee to work in my coffee canteen (i.e. small thermos) and I got this in response: “coffee from home is not coffee with colleagues” as I was expected to go with everyone to the cafe at 10 and also at around 3.30. I had things to do — but I eventually gave in, and went, and let other people pay, and now I can imagine not taking my coffee breaks. Even if I bring it form home, i still go. My Italian wife although, I have converted her to iced coffee — but shakerato style! Of course…. and it still doesn’t go out the door.

    • Haha… god… a thermos. I don’t think they can handle that information. The only time I’ve seen a thermos used here is if you’re at a dinner at someone’s house and they only have one mocha. They pour the first round in the thermos to keep it hot until the second round is ready. That way everyone can drink hot coffee at the same time. So the thermos was effectively used to carry the coffee from the kitchen to the table. No, you’d NEVER leave the house with it… WHY?!

      Shakerato style is another thing I should blog about… It just one step away from a Frapuccino but they’d rather die than add milk to that thing and blend. Whatevs. Their loss!! 🙂

      I agree, the communal coffee breaks are what I imagine cigarette breaks are like for smokers. I enjoy now.

  12. i have lived in italy almost 5 years; I am heading to the US for ferragosto, where I will indulge in frequent iced coffees, often in to go cups…

  13. Pingback: Best Blogs about Spain and Expat life: Followed in Sevilla, Selfie at San Fermin, Brits Abroad and more… | A Novel Spain

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  15. I laughed and laughed! Here I am, more then 20 years in Australia and I still struggle to see people walking around with a coffee in their hands!! I could identify with your husband, how could you possibly take a coffee to a cantiere??? Just another reminder of how italian I am, no matter where I live 😉

  16. I was just thinking this morning, especially given that Starbucks announced the early arrival (August 25) of their Pumpkin Spice Latte, how I would love to go through a Starbucks drive-thru, pick up a latte, and go on my merry way driving my husband to the station at 6:30. How I would have LOVED it.

  17. I’m coming up on 4 years in Italy (Torino) — and I find your blog fantastically hilarious to relate to. I actually bring back from California, Coffee Bean’s Vanilla powder to mix creamer into my Italian espresso (oh the horror!). =)

  18. Hi, I’m italian but I understand what you mean, and I think that you’re totally right. The problem can be summarized in a little: our stupid obsession with formality. Although I am Italian I hate this formality, and in this case maybe your husband exaggerated a bit. I’m very close to your discomfort.

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