Embarking on my first experience living in Europe (for more than a few tourism-laced weeks) left me feeling uneasy about plunging into an entirely new culture.
The thought of being an unwanted visitor crawled under my skin as I grabbed my suitcase and headed out the FCO Airport doors and into the open of Italy.
What I quickly learned, as I explored my new environment, is Italian culture holds dear to their hearts something that isn’t given a second glance by Americans: patience.
I don’t know if this generous kindness is subconscious or actively practiced, but every Italian I have encountered thus far has given me nothing but respect and copious amounts of patience.
For tasks as simple as ordering a coffee at a corner bar, Italian employees have gently assisted, or corrected me, (sometimes accompanied by giggles, but can I blame them?) when I completely butcher Italian pronunciations.
Coming from a country notoriously known for expecting people to speak English, and conveying their nationalistic opinions in rude ways, a gesture as simple as helping me order my caffe freddo was an extremely pleasant surprise.
Patience is also shown through Italian services. I began to rethink my immediate aggravation after waiting for more than five minutes at a red line stop after waiting nearly an hour for Italian public transit. I sat in a bus at Piazza Cavour, in the center of Rome, for 20 minutes waiting for the bus driver to finish his cigar before driving my friends and I home.
This is shown in restaurants as well. Italians give you endless amounts of time — and food — when you sit down and eat. Nothing is rushed, no one is pressuring you to sign your check and leave your table.
When I found myself frustrated with this sluggishness, I began to consider how this molasses-like movement actually benefited me. My experience on public transit gave me an opportunity to connect with people I never had a chance to before. I can smile at at least a dozen new faces due to my time waiting for a bus driver to end his smoke break and start heading towards my home stop. The breaks in between courses were packed with laughter and amazing conversation, I didn’t even notice as hours passed.
Italian is one of the most generous and hospitable cultures in the world,and, after living here, I can see their patience is key in making them a lovely community to coexist alongside. If I had to pinpoint the most important lesson I’ve learned in Italy so far, it’s to be more patient and observe the accompanying kindness.