Experiencing another culture almost always provides me with the gift of a new perspective on my own. It helps me to see more clearly what Iím proud of and what makes me feel shame, what is pleasing to me and what is not.

In many ways, Italy does not seem so foreign. Yes, the people speak Italian and I donít. But otherwise they are a lot like many people in the USA and I feel at home with them in spite of the language difference. Their history is my history in many ways. Western civilization owes a great deal to the Roman Empire, to the Renaissance which was centered in Florence, and to modern Italian fashion, automobiles, food and movies.

 Dancing With Life

Still there are ways I gained a new perspective from travel in Italy. I came to appreciate what many have called la dolce vita, the good, sweet, life as lived by Italians. Although they are surrounded by remnants from their long past in the form of buildings, ruins of buildings, paintings, sculptures, and other art forms, Italians seem to live very much in the present. There is a relaxed feeling that all is well. I did not sense the restless, driven energy that characterizes so many activities in the States. Italians appear to enjoy the life they are living now, rather than striving to reach the life they donít yet have.

Whenever I engaged with Italians, they were not only very present to me; they also seemed to have all the time in the world. They were in the moment, living it and enjoying it. Laughter was always just below the surface of all exchanges. Perhaps it is the melodic sound of their language which helps them to feel the pulse of life, or perhaps their lilting speech is the out picturing of the rhythm they feel pulsing through them in their daily lives. Whichever way it flows, Italians seem to dance with life. Their bodies and voices move with fluency and delight. By contrast, many Americans seem almost rigid, worried, and hassled.

Although we didnít have the opportunity to visit local families, everything heard and read indicates that Italians are very family centered. This is true, of course, for many in the USA as well. But there is a special delight that the Italians seem to take in their families that communicates no sense of burden or heavy responsibility or hassle, but only pride and happiness in this association.

And then there is food. Every few meters in Italian towns and on city blocks, there are places to stop to eat or have a cup of espresso or cappuccino. Throughout the day, Italians pause to have a drink of coffee, a snack, or a meal with friends. And of course meals are central to family life. Whereas in the States people eat on the run and often have trouble getting the family together for a meal, food seems to be the glue that holds the Italian good life together. Food seems to equate with joy and companionship. When I think how far in advance my friends and I set dates to eat together, I realize how far we are from enjoying the Italian dolce vita where food is concerned.

 Sweetening My Life At Home

Once again I return home, eager to incorporate into my daily life some of what I observed and tasted of in a foreign culture. A relaxed enjoyment of the present moment, a playful attitude that keeps humor bubbling just below the surface all the time, an elasticity of time that doesnít feel the pressure of rigid schedules, a sense of dancing through my days in response to the pulse of life, and an eagerness to enjoy sitting down with family and friends to share a meal, or snack, or coffee, so that we can celebrate our good life.

I plan to bring more of la dolce vita into my very American life.


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