Story and photos by Grace Nyberg
It’s 9 p.m. on a warm Roman summer night, and the quaint restaurant I have been in for an hour already is still packed — the aroma of freshly made pasta and wine filling the space. I came to Rome to learn about a variety of sociological and environmental issues regarding immigration, the mafia, slow food, gender politics, etc. — and while my studies were the primary reason for my trip, the classroom was only the beginning of my Italian education. By immersing myself in Italian culture, I gained a deeper understanding about life and myself that will stick with me for much longer than a semester.
In the United States, people love to boast about their busy schedules and unhealthy lack of sleep. In fact, the more you have on your plate and the less time you have to enjoy yourself, the more successful you are thought to be. This culture of busyness and stress is all too prominent — especially in Boston, and it’s even stronger around college students like myself.
Although it varies by region, central and southern Italy, where I spent my time, had a noticeably slower pace of life than in Boston and the American northeast. There is less emphasis placed on efficiency and speed, and more priority placed on quality — of meals, experiences and life in general. A strong example of this mindset is seen through food culture.
In Italy, mealtimes are a means to bring families and friends together, to socialize and enjoy each other’s company. This is in contrast to the United States, where food is broadly seen as just a necessity that can be accomplished through a quick drive through trip or a snack to eat on the go.
Although it is commonplace in American cities, in Rome, I quickly learned that getting takeout and walking while eating was seen as rude. In the United States, and especially Boston, the busy culture ensures that everyone has somewhere to be all the time. When one can save time on something as seemingly unimportant as eating, they do; it is typical to see people eating as they walk, are on the subway, while they work, etc. Meanwhile in Italy, eating is a sacred time to enjoy yourself, catch up with friends and family and to certainly not rush.
During a dinner in Florence, I asked for the check prematurely because I had a train to catch back to Rome that night. The waiter was visibly offended, asking repeatedly if I had an issue with my food even as I reassured him that everything was amazing. It is considered rude to not spend much time at the restaurant and to ask for the check too early, and the waitstaff tends to give you privacy and time during your meal to enjoy. In American restaurants, the waitstaff act quite the opposite — they check in on you often, sometimes in a way that is almost pushy and makes the customers feel rushed.
In addition to slower mealtimes, there is a movement that began in Italy called the Slow Food movement. In opposition to the rising popularity of fast food and fast life, this grassroots movement combines environmental justice with social justice and is focused on sustainable agriculture and ensuring everyone has access to good, clean and fair food. We were able to visit a few Slow Food establishments and enjoy some local, fresh and delicious four course meals.
Near the end of the dialogue, at the foot of Mount Vesuvius, we enjoyed a nearly six hour lunch. Enjoying good food and good company, I was able to reflect upon the unsustainable pace of my life in Boston and realized I need to slow down. There is nothing wrong with being busy, but my time in Italy has taught me that sometimes it is necessary to take a step back, sit down with loved ones and enjoy a slow, delicious meal.
The story is featured in VOL 7 ISSUE 2 SPRING 2023 (Print Edition).