How’s daily life in Italy? What do Italians usually do? How Italians spend their Sunday, for example?
These are some of the questions I get asked quite frequently, by either students or newsletter readers. It’s always difficult for me to answer these kinds of questions, as I have the feeling that each of us lives his or her own life and it is really difficult to generalize.
Maybe it would have been easier in the past, when people were more attached to traditions and had common behaviors, but life has changed so much lately that it seems quite difficult to find a common pattern, in big cities especially.
However, after I started getting these questions, I began to notice some general habits among us Italian guys and I thought it would be nice to write a post about it. Obviously, the reality I am speaking of is that of the place where I live, which is a very little provincial town in northern Italy.
I am sure that there are other habits or traditions in other areas of Italy – even if I have no doubts that the general pattern stays more or less the same. Moreover, I decided to describe to you a typical Sunday, because somehow it is the day when people tend to do more similar things.
Well, let’s find out what Italian people usually do on a Sunday, here where I live.
First of all, it’s Sunday, we take things easy. People get up late and take their time to do a proper breakfast. As you may already know, many Italians totally skip breakfast – I will never understand them, it’s the best meal of the day! – and just have a quick shot of coffee before heading to work. But even this weird kind of people have a little breakfast on Sunday morning, I am sure.
If you decide to have breakfast at home, it is quite common to have a nice cake, like a crostata or some very simple ciambellone or just some cookies, if you didn’t have the time to bake some proper cake. But if you want to treat yourself, you might decide to go and have breakfast at a cafè – which in Italian will always be called bar.
Well, if you think of provincial town cafès, you have to remove any fancy idea that comes to your mind. Forget filter coffee, vegan cakes, muffins, or even soy milk: if you want these things, you have to hop on a car and drive for a while before finding a place where you can have them.
Colazione al bar, in little towns, is very simple: cappuccino and cornetto. That’s it.
Don’t think about getting anything else, really. I live in Liguria and it is common to get a slice of focaccia, otherwise it’s just some sort of cornetto – we call it brioche, by the way.
If you arrive late, you might meet some old folks who had breakfast at home and are having their mid-morning coffee – another very common Italian habit – while reading the Sunday newspaper, which is another very common thing to do on a Sunday morning (you are supposed to buy it, actually, but lots of people read the free copy which is always available in Italian bars).
If you arrive even later for your breakfast, it might be already time for an aperitivo.
Around 11 am, bar owners start getting ready for the pre-lunch drink, but once again, forget about all the coolness of certain Italian aperitivi. In my town, aperitivo is a drink – usually a glass of white wine or a Crodino – with some chips, peanuts or pistachios, usually consumed at the counter because the few tables are taken by the abovementioned folks reading the newspaper.
While the bar is crowded with people enjoying their Sunday habits, some others might attend Sunday Mass. The number of people who attend religious celebrations is decreasing nowadays, but Sunday Mass is still quite a popular event. It usually takes place at 11 am and lasts one hour, more or less, ending in time for the most important event of the day: Sunday lunch.
Sunday lunch is something really serious, here in Italy.
You know how important family is for us Italians, right? Well, Sunday lunch is the perfect opportunity to spend time with your family and therefore it has to be big, fat, and overwhelming – a bit like every family is. On Sunday, it is quite common to go to your parents’ or parents-in-law or even to your grandparents’ and have lunch with them.
Needless to say, Sunday lunch is neither easy nor quick. A proper Sunday lunch – just a standard one, no special celebration included – requires at least one or two antipasti (starters), a first course – usually some kind of homemade pasta – and a glorious second course, usually involving meat or fish. Dessert can’t be missed, coffee is mandatory and ammazzacaffè – usually limoncello or a similar liquor – is much needed to help the stomach digest all the food.
Please keep in mind that this is a normal Sunday lunch, no big thing. I won’t even speak of Christmas or some other feasts of this kind. Things are quite similar even if you go to the restaurant on a Sunday. Actually, you might end up getting even more food. A few days ago, for example, we celebrated my father-in-law’s birthday at a local restaurant and we ended up leaving the table at 5 pm, after five starters, a first course, a second course, and a selection of desserts. I could easily have died of food overload.
What remains of Sunday, after such a big lunch? Not much, really.
If you have experienced one of those lunches, there’s nothing much to do after them than crash on the sofa and watch some TV. A staple in the Sunday of Italians, for ages, was 90° Minuto, a TV show that provides results for Serie A and Serie B soccer matches.
The show is still running, but it’s less popular than in the past since you now have a variety of ways to be updated on how your favorite team is doing. When I was a kid, at 6 pm, when the TV show started, everybody turned the TV on to see what had happened in soccer fields.
If you somehow managed to free yourself from the food marathon, you might spend your Sunday afternoon at the movies or doing whatever you want – lucky you! – ending your day with a nice pizza at the local pizzeria: I have never understood why, but it seems that Sunday night calls for pizza around here!
And you? What’s the typical Sunday in your area? Is there some kind of common pattern? I’d love to know!
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If you sign up to Giorno dopo giorno, you will receive an email every other day for 365 days. Each email will contain a prompt, a little exercise, something to watch, read, listen or something that will gently force you to practice your Italian every day, making it part of your daily routine.