Monday, March 7, 2011

The countdown continues, reasons 8-6

Tuesday, March 1
The top ten reasons I come to Italy, continued.
Number 8: Learning a new language. “The mind can be compared to a plant, says the BHIA health advice website. “If you ‘water’ it through mental activity and challenges, it will grow. Although a brain may get old, it still produces new cells . . . that aid in communications between different parts of the brain and in the retrieval of information.”

I hope this is true, because my mind is getting a good workout every day here. Sometimes I question whether my brain is still producing new cells, because it seems I learn so slowly. It’s particularly frustrating because I can speak and write English so easily, and you’d think that would help me learn Italian more quickly, but there is no magic ticket. I struggle along slowly, not being able to tell from week to week if I am really improving. Nonetheless, it is a challenge that overall I enjoy facing, and though I have a long way to go, I have come a long way as well.

Number 7: Emphasis on family. The importance of family here is something I observe more than experience. I see families strolling together in the evenings, sometimes with arms linked together. I see grandfathers and grandmothers playing in parks with their grandchildren. Here at the Agriturismo, Enzo minds the flower farm, while his wife is in charge of cooking the large meals they host for groups they cater to. Meanwhile, their children Luca and Roberta take part in every aspect of the operation, as does Roberta’s husband Paolo, so they are all together every day.

I know that the closeness of my family in the United States is a carry-over from my Italian heritage, because my dad worked with and kept very strong ties with his brothers and sisters. He gave property to all three of his children and helped us build houses in his neighborhood, and we hope to be able to do similarly with our own children. Of course this family unity is not solely an Italian trait, but it is unquestionably strong here, and it is a pleasure to observe.

Number 6: Learning a new culture. It is fascinating to me to observe and learn even simple cultural differences. Just going to a supermarket here is an example. To use a shopping cart, you must put a euro into a slot to free the cart. When you are done, your euro is returned; thus every cart is returned to the proper location. To pick out fruit and vegetables, you first put on plastic gloves. Then you put the produce in a plastic bag and weigh it, and then you push a button on the front of the scale which has the name and a picture of the product. At the end, the scale spits out a sticker that you fasten to the bag with a price and USB code, so the checkout clerk doesn’t have to weigh the produce. And speaking of the checkout clerks, they are seated on stools instead of standing the way American cashiers must do. There are hundreds of small differences like these that add interest to my days.

Click here to continue to reasons 5 through 3.

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