Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Comparing Two Cultures

I recently returned to California after spending a few weeks vacationing in Italy. Although each Italian city I traveled to had its own, unique flavor, they were all quite different from the United States. At first it was hard for me to put my finger on what exactly made Italy “feel” so unlike my country. Finally, I realized that it was because the entire mindset of the country was different.

The United States is a “fast” country. We pride ourselves on being efficient, hardworking, and always focus on getting things done. Quickly. Businesses churn out as much as they can for the cheapest price and people devote their lives to work. This directly contrasts with Italy. The Italian culture is much more laid back, relaxed and “slower”. People take their time and do not like to rush. They would prefer to take things one at a time and completely enjoy what they’re doing. Time and time again my travels in Italy proved this. For example, one morning I went to an Italian bakery to purchase some pastries for breakfast. Upon walking in, I found the baker sitting down, sipping coffee. “Come back in a few minutes,” she told me, “I’m having caffé right now.”

Nowhere in America would that have happened. A storekeeper would never have risked losing a customer just so she could sit for a few more minutes drinking coffee, while she was supposed to be working! The Italians are not as focused on making money and being productive. This is evidenced by the month of August. In Italy, the entire country shuts down in August as everyone goes on vacation and takes a month off work. Most shops and restaurants are closed for the whole thirty-one days. Imagine that happening in the U.S! The entire country closing down for over four and a half weeks?! Inconceivable.

The relaxed Italian culture is apparent from daily life. Just watch the restaurants. Ristorantes do not open until 8:00 PM and people often come much later. Eating out in Italy is not just a quick meal. People spend two and a half or three hours digesting their various courses, sipping wine and of course, conversing with friends and family. You are not rushed when eating out, but are in fact encouraged to take as long as you would like. The dessert menu will not be handed to you as soon as you finish the main course, as it is in the United States, and people sit at the table talking for hours after finishing.

How do the two contrasting cultures and ways of life measure up against each other? As one could predict, the American economy is much stronger and more powerful than the Italian economy. We work more and harder than them. Our philosophy towards life is simply different. Americans focus on results and production. But, is this worth it? Or is it better to just relax and enjoy life, doing exactly what you want to do at the moment, even if you won’t achieve as much or be as “successful” over time. That can lead to a different debate, what defines success? What is it that is important to achieve in a life? One thing is for sure: the two attitudes towards life are utterly different. However, which one is “better”, is not something that can be declared so easily.

~ Olivia


  1. What is success? Being able to confidently say that if you were to die, you would be happy with your life.

  2. An insightful read, Olivia. Well done.