We’ve headed home to the U.S. for the holidays and I’m in Chicago now. Talk about some reverse culture shock! Big SUVs, big supermarkets, big everything. Even the toilet bowls have more water in them than the ones in Italy (check out this YouTube link for a philosophical explanation: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XfOa8G8J72g)
But the main difference I’ve noticed has to do with children. We went to church last weekend with Alex and had to keep the stroller in the back room, whereas in Pesaro, people keep the babies and strollers next to the pews. In Pietrelcina, a small town in southern Italy where we lived prior to Pesaro while Michael did research, not only were there plenty of babies and strollers in church, but churchgoers talked constantly (and rather loudly!), and flowed in and out of the church like it was their home—which, in a way, it is. People in Pietrelcina feel especially blessed by Padre Pio because they’re his kin—they come from his hometown. My husband calls it a form of “Old Testament spirituality,” which differs from the “New Testament spirituality” that other devotees show toward Padre Pio, where all are Padre Pio’s spiritual kin as long as they believe in him, regardless of where they are from or who they are (Matthew’s Gospel and St. Paul’s Letters talk about this as the basis of the catholic (or universal) church).
Anyway, we attended Mass in Chicago and noticed that as soon as a baby started fussing, the parents whisk him or her to the back of the church (or to a “cry room.”) Alex particularly likes to “sing along” to the music at Mass, and so when he started doing this, I raced to the back of the church. It was so quiet in there! In Italy, when Alex fussed, we would just walk him around to calm him, and no one seemed to mind that we stayed inside. We’ve apologized to people (even the priest!) in church in Pesaro when Alex would cry and everyone looks at us like we have two heads. “But, he’s a baby! He’s supposed to cry. It’s natural.”
We’ve noticed that the U.S. certainly has a very different “baby culture” when it comes to these public places—especially restaurants. We were able to take Alex into any restaurant (fancy or low-key) or bar in Pesaro, and that’s certainly not the case in Chicago. I feel like there’s a much clearer separation of adults and children. If you want to go to a restaurant, get a babysitter. They get babysitters in Italy as well, of course (mostly it’s la nonna, or grandma, that watches the baby), but if you prefer to take your child out with you, no one seems to bat an eye.
We’ve already begun to discover places that are baby-friendly (we had no problems going out for sushi last week), and so far everyone has been just as nice as in Italy…although strangers don’t stop us all the time on the street wanting to touch or pinch Alex’s cheeks. 🙂
I had to laugh at the water in the toilet bowl observation! That was one of the first things I noticed on my first trip to the USA. Living in a country with almost constant water restrictions due to drought, I was stunned. Half the time that water actually splashes up at the sitter under certain circumstances! Rather unhygenic was my thought!
And it seems so wasteful! Thanks for reading.
Nothing like a little reverse culture shock! I know i’ll be feeling that too, next year!
I love your post, and the Mediterranean way of life, not only the dolce far’niente but the way of thinking about the simple but important things and joy of life. I always have to stop and remind myself of the priorities:-), while they simple live those priorities, and has to be reminded to the others.
It’s always a real shock to come back to your native country and see it all with fresh eyes. One of the hardest parts is that, if you find you prefer how life is lived elsewhere (as with how babies are treated, for example) you can find yourself homesick for your adopted land — and your American friends or family may have no understanding of this if they have never lived outside the U.S.
It can make you feel twice as foreign.
I’ve lived in the U.S. since 1989 and going home to Canada (still very different in some ways) always reminds me that I feel a little out of place in both.
Thanks for reading!