6 things to know about Reggio Emilia

I occasionally get asked to summarize my vast (ha!) knowledge on life in Reggio Emilia to those who are looking to visit or move here. The following is what I usually tell them…

I start with a caveat. Keep in mind, I live in a small town (population just under 10k) in the PROVINCE of Reggio Emilia. La Provincia di Reggio nell’Emilia is a bit different from Reggio nell’Emilia. Ergo, my comments should be considered thus…

truck full o' sissoWhile I am familiar with the city center of Reggio (as it is a whopping 15 minutes away from my tiny town), I  have limited contact with it (somewhat related to the fact that I have no driver’s license… another story, another time). So, while I cannot tell you the cutting edge latest developments in the city center, I CAN coach you on how to identify the difference between sisso and cow merda in 3 seconds flat.

I can also make vast generalizations about the province and pass them on to you.

So, what does a person really need to know about Reggio Emilia? The following subjects will each be a topic of their own that I will cover in future posts this coming autumn, but it’s always good to start with an overview, yes?

1. Get ready to eat or you can take a hike.

You MUST be a foodie to appreciate all that Reggio has to offer (which is primarily in the food category). If you’re moving here and you’re not a foodie, it’s ok. You’ll get there. Eat what’s on your plate and you won’t rock the boat, but you will get fat … unless you follow these tips.

If you’re not ready to eat, take a hike.

No… seriously… take a hike. The Reggiano Apennines have some excellent hiking trails. Usually there’s good food along the way, though. The first hike I ever did in Reggio Emilia was to the summit of Mount Cusna. Upon arriving, my Italian trail mates pulled out bottles of wine and salami from their packs. When I asked, shocked, why on earth they carried glass and heavy rolls of meat up 3000 meters, they stared at me and said, “We have to eat. What are we, barbarians?!”


2. E’ così in Reggio Emilia. Like it or leave it.

“Di Reggio Emilia è nota l’elevata belligeranza nei confronti della vicina Parma, il nome degli abitanti di Reggio Emilia non è Reggiani (nome usato in tempi moderni) bensì Teste Quadre.” – Nonciclopedia

I nemici o concorrenti, modenesi, parmigiani, sfottevano: “Tsè, fedeli perché han la testa quadra”. Effettivamente, i reggiani sono prevalentemente brachicefali, teste quadre. “Quadre perché il bordo ve l’ hanno mangiate i pidocchi, sennò sarebbero tonde come le nostre”, gli dicevano i parmigiani. “Quadre perché in guerra ve le abbiamo spiattonate noi con lo spadone, ai tempi della Secchia Rapita”, gli dicevano i modenesi. – Venerio Cattani

Reggiani are known by their neighbors in Parma and Modena as somewhat stubborn or belligerent, earning them the affectionate title “Teste Quadre”, or Square Heads, a name which most of them stubbornly embrace as a source of pride and cite it as the reason that they are also known to be quite trustworthy. In fact, they say that the only reason their neighbors heads are round, instead of square, is because the rats have gnawed at them.

For a whole range of historical reasons that I won’t delve into right now (not excluding a bit of an inferiority complex), Reggiani tend to be skeptical of change and like to challenge anything new. They believe what they can see and what they have personally tried and tested themselves. After 6 years of trying to push advanced sustainable building methods, I am well acquainted with this… feature… of the culture.

Generally speaking, they are farmer folk… even the non-farmers. Meaning that they are very down-to-earth people, and care a bit less about fashions than the rest of Italy. They appreciate practicality and have little patience for fuffa (that will need to be explained, but for now let’s call it ‘superficiality’). There is definitely an art to convincing a Reggiano of something. I highly recommend reading my post on how to dance throughout the Italian language for a sense of what to expect, even if you don’t speak Italian. Also on your summer reading list, please try ‘1,2,3, E’ Così: Learning to submit to the system“.

I find Reggiani to be some of the most sincere and genuinely friendly Italians I have met (keeping in mind that I am a white American female from the great state of Texas, which gets props here for some reason). And I really appreciate that what you see is usually what you get, for better or worse. E’ così.

3. Reggio could be poised to be the next big thing.

I believe that the city of Reggio itself is changing a lot. I don’t want to sound melodramatic, but I believe that Reggio Emilia is on the cusp of becoming a major tourist destination.

Up until now, Americans have swarmed Florence, Venice, and Rome. They’re getting frustrated by the heavy tourism and high prices, and they all want to experience “real” Italy. Sure, there’s Bologna, which is a big food destination as well. But I sincerely believe that Reggio is in a position to become a base for tourists wanting to see the Apennines – the cheaper version of Tuscany with better food. The new high-speed train station (designed by Calatrava, ooh la la), for one, means that we are easily accessible from all over Italy.



The city itself seems to be livening up a bit. No one here agrees with me, but since I arrived in 2008, I swear it’s gotten a lot cuter. It still has less night life than Parma or Modena, but there are things popping up more often now. Plus, Lambrusco, our regional wine, is making a little name for itself amongst the savvy! It is especially funny to find Lambrusco for $30 in upscale wine bars in the States, when everyone here has a local guy that fills up our cantina once a year with 5-euro-per-bottle goodness. Pretty soon wine lovers from around the world will start showing up to see the source. I’m telling’ ya. Reggio is the next big thing.

4. We’z all just country folk at heart.

This province is purty darn cawntry. Piggie poo and hay bales everywhere. Reggio Emilia is actually sister cities with Ft. Worth, Texas, which I find hilarious, since I’m originally from Dallas. And there’s like a whole subculture of Country Western music and dancing here that rivals anything I saw in the Big D.

Plus, we get some crazy cloud formations as storms blow in over the fields in the Pianura.

5. Here lies a strong sense of recent and ancient history.

I live in a town famous for the bust of Lenin on the piazza, bestowed upon the town for its support of the Communist movement during the war. The entire area has a very strong Partisan history. If you’re unfamiliar with the Partisan movement and are scared of the C-word, I suggest reading up, and I will attempt to tackle that subject at a later date. The most famous war-time event around here, which is still referenced frequently, was the massacre of the Cervi brothers by the Fascists. Many of the town festivals still feature Partisan musical groups, and most people (even young) know some of the historic songs about resistance. Like I said… a stubborn and proud people, but justifiably so. They’ve been through a lot.

Looking farther back into history, the province is home the lands of Matilde di Canossa, a powerful nobleWOMAN (that’s right) who was credited with mediating that little spat between the Pope and the Emperor that we all studied in high school. In fact, the phrase in German “to go to Canossa” still means to go ask for forgiveness (as the Emperor Enrico had to do).

Looking even FARTHER back into history, there have recently been some pretty substantial archeological findings here (read more about the Tazza d’Oro).

6. Don’t worry, you’re not alone.

Well, as far as I know, I’m the only American in my town. But everyone is eager to point out that there’s a woman from California in the next town over.

There are actually a number of English-speaking expats in the province, most of whom I have virtually met online but not in person. I want and desperately NEED to go the group meetings in Reggio for therapeutic reasons (sometimes it helps to know you’re not alone), but I am still senza macchina … o meglio, senza patenta (I really have to tell that story… keep forgetting). In addition to the Reggio Emilia English Expat Meetup Group, I recommend the Italian Reflections Group on Facebook. It’s all the English-speaking expats (or at least a good percentage of them) in Italy, and we discuss practical things like what phone plans are best. We even have an expat author in our hills who wrote a great book about her move to Reggio Emilia, which I recommend.

All in all. Reggio Emilia is a pretty kick-ass place. I dig it. Have you visited here? Are you a local? What’s your favourite thing about the Reg’?

I dig Emilia too


If you’d like to know even more about what it’s like to live in Italy, join our live Google Hangout Q&A session on Sunday, August 2nd. It’s hosted by the C.O.S.I. group (Crazy Observations by Stranieri in Italy), a mix of expat from all over Italy. You can go ahead and start submitting questions whenever you’d like (even now), and we’ll tackle them one by one in the hangout. Come join us!! 


20 thoughts on “6 things to know about Reggio Emilia

  1. La menzione del busto di Lenin mi ha fatto capire dove vivi; paesello che conosco bene, anche se io vivo ai confini con Piacenza… ho un sacco di amici reggiani o che abitano nel reggiano.
    Fortuna vuole ch’io non possa proprio dirmi “parmigiano” dato che appartengo a una “minoranza linguistica”, l’erre moscia è per sempre, meglio del diamante, dell’amato Ducato (che, però è decisamente meno amato da Piacenza che ne farebbe volentieri a meno).
    Tra le cose da aggiungere, anche se forse questa è più per un livello avanzato di conoscenza, c’è anche l’uso creativo dell’imprecazione nel reggiano, ove si usa, almeno è più diffuso che dalle mie parti, sacramentare con una certa frequenza.
    Ci sono anche alcune interessanti differenze linguistiche nel dialetto tra il “di qua dall’Enza” e il “di là dall’Enza”; a partire dal nome del pattume, al nome del maiale (vivo e defunto, pronto per salumi vari insomma), alle zanzare e a vari modi di dire interessanti; ma anche questa è materia avanzata, per quasi residenti.
    Nella zona dei teatri, a Reggio Emilia, c’è anche un bel museo archeologico, con molti reperti; una organizzazione ottocentesca del materiale con polvere filologicamente corretta… in ogni caso merita una visita.
    C’è anche un bel percorso a piedi da fare intorno al Bianello, a Quattrocastella, e ho un bel ricordo dell’escursione al Ventasso; per non parlare di Bismantova… citata da Dante nel… purgatorio credo (“Vassi in Sanleo e discendesi in Noli- montasi su Bismantova e ‘n Cacume- con esso i piè; ma qui convien ch’om voli”).

  2. I tried Lambrusco for the first time after reading about it on your blog. I really enjoyed it. I’m a big prosecco fan but I think Lambrusco may be my new thing. Unfortunately it’s very difficult to find here, I checked two wine stores and they didn’t have it then the liquor store here only carries one type it was “Lambrusco Di Sorbara Frizzante – Casolari”. I hope to find more to try, and it definitely should be more popular then it is. It’s a hidden gem lol.

  3. Hi

    I really appreciate your post about Reggio Emilia, although i am not a Reggiano by born, i lived there for several years and i think that place as one of most livable small town in the world ,

    Of course to know the difference from “sisso” and ” bida” could be interesting but don’t change the meaning of a life, But what make reggio Emilia so unique is the people that live in, ok, square head, but genuine friends and once they accept you, you syill be friends for years and years, may be a whole life .

    About Cavriago ( where you live, i suppose) you are lucky, there is a bus that cross the village hourly, to Reggio , so you don’t need a driving license ( and saving money lol) Of course you will be conditionating by the bus timetable, but…better then to be blocked at home.

    Anyway, due the short distance, from Reggio you may use a bike too ,

    I completely agree with you about reggio as next touristic place for expats after Florence, Rome and venice where people ( i mean ALL PEOPLE) getting fucked up by high price of everything.

    Reggio is a cheap place,with relaxing life and very social area where to try the authentic italian style life.

    Great article you wrote about Reggio Emilia,

    Thank you!


    • Thanks Audra! Torino is actually a place I’d really like to get to know better… beautiful city and under appreciated I think!

  4. Oh my lordy, I’m glad I found this. As a fellow Texas girl about to hightail it over to Reggio Emilia to study at UNIMORE next month (!!!), I’m glad to know there’s a smart, sassy lady I can read/ping for encouragement! High-fives for the primer and the tips!

  5. Pingback: The fear of the fake: What “authenticity” means to a foreigner in a strange land. | Married to Italy

  6. Do you have any general info on the schools that use the Reggio Emilia approach? We are interested in finding out more, but there is limited info!

  7. ciao! I think I’m the girl from California that people mention to you that lives in Reggio Emilia. Heard of you from the store Naturlandia in the center of Reggio. I just found your blog and I enjoy reading your articles (especially this one – it’s so true and humorous!). You write so eloquently and with a splash of humour about living in Italy and your experiences, I can relate totally because it is exactly how I feel! Complimenti! Cathleen

    • You!! YOU are “the Californian”! Hi, nice to meet you. I’m “the Texan”. (Although there are several of us now!) Thanks for reading, Cathleen!

  8. How did I love your article (despite reading it long after you wrote it)! I felt like replying to you because I am also an expat but the other way around. I am originally from a small town next to where you live and 18 years ago I moved to the UK. I still visit my friends and family at least 2/3 times a year so I have seen these places change over time, dramatically. Unfortunately, to my eyes these changes don’t appear to be for the best so it was so reassuring to read that a “fresh” pair of eyes rates Reggio and its province so high. Thank you, you made my day! Next time I’m in Bibbiano we should meet for a coffee. Ciao.

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