Things I Don’t Miss about the US, #1-3

Around this time last year, I wrote a post about some of the little things I miss about the United States: coffee shops with Wi-Fi, getting anything done during the month of August, drivers who are capable of choosing just one lane on the highway. I love living in Italy about 95 percent of the time. The other 5 percent — when our house gas tank runs dry in the middle of a national truck strike, when the trash piles start to block traffic, when someone tells me “va bene” for the 100th time when all is NOT “va bene” — is a small price to pay for the privilege of living here.

On the other side of the coin, while there are many aspects of living in the States that I miss, there are also a few that I’m happy to be missing out on.

stromboli volcano

Sometimes a total disregard for safety is awesome.

1. The presidential election

Oh, calm down. I’m obviously going to vote in the November election (request for absentee ballot, sent: stop judging me) and I read the news, but two years of endless campaigning (read: baby kissing, finger pointing and mud slinging) makes me weary. And then a brilliant scientific mind like this guy comes along, and I’m especially grateful I don’t have access to 24-hour American news channels because I just might gouge out my eyes. Italy has inane news programs, of course, but I have the benefit of only understanding 40 to 50 percent (on a good day).

2. Check-pushing restaurants

“I’m just going to put this here for whenever you’re ready, no hurry…” That’s what a server says when she is indeed hoping you hurry up and pay your bill so she can turn the table and maximize the tips for her shift. I’m not saying this to blame servers for this system; they are vastly underpaid and overly dependent on tips to make a living, and I did the same thing when I was waiting tables. What bothers me is that the American obsession with speed and efficiency has made lingering over a good meal with friends damn near impossible. The last time I was home, I noticed a disturbing trend of servers delivering your check at the same time they deliver your food. BUT NO RUSH.

In Italy, we often have the opposite problem: we need to ask for the check several times before we get it, and no one is ever in any kind of rush. This can be annoying if we are running late or need to be somewhere at a certain time, but mostly, I love being able to sit, relax and enjoy a three-hour parade of food and wine and limoncello without anyone trying to push us out the door. Some things are sacred.

3. These pesky “safety” standards

Last month, Brian and I traveled to the Aeolian Islands in Sicily with our dear friends Jess and Peter, and on Stromboli, we climbed a volcano (see above). Like an active, liquid-hot-magma-spewing, no-joke volcano. It was a five-hour hike: one way was up a steep, rocky cliff face with no guardrails at dusk, and the other was more of a Hail Mary stumble down a slippery mountain of sand and large rocks in complete darkness. And in between, we sat and watched live volcanic activity erupting below us. And it was amazing. One of the coolest things I’ve ever seen. The entire hike, I couldn’t stop thinking, “There is no way in hell this would ever happen in the States. It’s way too unsafe. That idiot kid leaping from rock to rock in front of me has a 1 in 3 chance of survival.” The Italians, on the other hand, make you go with a guide, hand you a helmet and a headlamp and tell you to go nuts. Va bene.

8 comments

1 Jenny { 08.23.12 at 3:02 pm }

Loved this post! I cannot wait to visit Italy one day…your adventures there only make it move higher and higher up my “must see” list. Great stuff Gillian!

2 Kaila { 08.23.12 at 4:53 pm }

It has dawned on me, only just today, exactly how soon I will be leaving for Italy. I am both excited and feeling woefully unprepared!

3 Gillian { 08.24.12 at 12:37 am }

Thanks, Jenny! I’m glad Italy is high on your list — it really is an incredible and beautiful place. We will be here for another year and a half if you can make it out for a visit before we leave!

I know, I can’t believe how soon you’ll be here, Miss Kaila! So exciting. Try not to stress too much. You don’t really need to bring much except art supplies and your appreciation for wine and cheese.

4 Melia { 08.30.12 at 1:15 pm }

Love the post. I’m with you on numbers 1 and 2, but you know what I think about number 3! While “Safety Melia” doesn’t have quite the same ring as “Safety Tracey,” it’s just as fitting. You are a braver soul than I for climbing that volcano!

5 Sierra { 09.02.12 at 5:19 pm }

Love it. Spot on (as usual). My approach to the presidential race has been jamming my fingers in my ears and singing “La la la la la la.” Isn’t working great. I especially like #3. I recently read “Last Child in the Woods,” which is primarily about how our kids don’t get to hang out in nature enough. However, it has some analysis of our liability culture and how it contributes to that. The Girl Scouts are leading that charge. For pete’s sake – when I was a camp counselor, we had to tell the girls not to run…AT CAMP!!! I just got back from Alaska, the only place I’ve visited in the US where you could totally get yourself killed (without ignoring 10+ warning signs). I liked that about it.

6 Dustin { 09.06.12 at 1:59 am }

Hahaha! Super duper post. I totally feel you on number 2. I have gotten over being upset for wanting to pay right after you eat and not being able to, ever. Now, I just plan on being there for a while. As for the elections…let’s just say I’m glad I’m out of the muck and I can distance myself from any slung mud.

The Dutch are pretty safe, and I am turning into grandpa already when I do stuff but there are somethings that just wouldn’t fly in USA, like my intersection. Keep your head on a swivel and your wits about’ya because our large street wrapped with two trams lines crossing, two bike paths (which allow Vespas), pedestrians galore thanks to the grocery store and our street which is rife with foottraffic, and all of the gangly Dutch on their too-tall bicycles texting, hugging, breastfeeding and generally being Dutch-on-bikes-y, with no stoplight.

Oh, and the fried bits you get at every bar, they wouldn’t pass FDA. Not by a looooooong shot.

7 Gillian { 10.01.12 at 4:57 am }

Sorry for my delayed response to these fab comments!

Haha, I figured Safety Melia would not be down for the volcano hike, BUT you might have changed your mind when you saw how awesome lava looks in real life.

Sierra, that book is on my list, too! Jeez, telling kids not to run at camp? Crazypants. I really want to visit Alaska — to live up there, you’ve gotta be pretty tough, so who needs these over-the-top safety guidelines?

Dustin, I am cracking up imagining all the Dutch cyclists doing all kinds of crazy tricks while dodging pedestrians. Let’s ignore the presidential mud-slinging and eat unpasteurized cheese in restaurants all day without getting our check…

8 Paris { 11.04.12 at 12:32 pm }

I’m getting ready to send a care package to a friend living in Italy as a surprise. I need some tips if you can help me. What kind of snacks/treats are hard to find in Italy that are common in the U.S.? Doritos? M&M’s? I remember living overseas and I craved Jolly Ranchers, so my family sent me a huge bag, because I couldn’t find them over there. Thanks for any help!

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