This spring and summer my husband and I spent three months in Maiori, Italy, a town on the Amalfi Coast. After the grueling air flight, complete with stopovers, delays, and upright airplane seats, we made it there!
Finding our 3-month rental apartment from the directions was not simple. We wheeled our suitcases on the cobblestones, looking like the typical tourists with bags falling and confused looks on our faces. Once we located the building, we met our Italian landlord. Through broken English and our limited Italian, we had all our questions answered and we settled in.
The interior of the apartment was updated, even though the exterior of the building was old and worn from standing proudly for many years by the sea. The town itself was quaint, stunningly beautiful, walkable, and situated right on the Tyrrhenian Sea. The streets throughout the town were narrow, some barely accessible by car. Almost all were paved with old cobblestone, that survived through many centuries.
In the town center there was a triple wide street and center median area where tables with large umbrellas were set up. On several occasions we enjoyed cappuccino, gelato, or a restaurant’s evening meal under those umbrellas.
Deep dark espresso with its fragrant aroma could be found in many coffee bars. Italians stand at the bar to have coffee (1.20 Euros) while tourists like me usually end up sitting at a table like we do in American coffee shops. A seat at a table adds a few coins to the bill. Several Patisseries lined the streets, making for endless possibilities of various sweet and savory additions to the espresso!
Without a car, the train, bus, or water ferry were our choice to get around from town to town. The water ferry gave us an incredible view of the Italian coast. As I close my eyes right now, I can envision the rock formations, cliffs and caves, and the sea as it washed up on the coastal shores. I will never forget those beautiful views.
Many times, we wondered why the local Italians were so kind and gracious to us. We came to find that they are just that… kind and gracious. After three months we found it sad to leave them to come back to our home in the US. Some of our new acquaintances had tears in their eyes as they gave us their final hug and Italian kisses.
Here’s are some things learned about Italy while living there.
Every town has a patron saint that they adore. Celebrations center around bringing a statue of this saint on a parade route, as the Italians follow behind.
Grocery stores are typically small and visited almost daily by Italians. Fresh is best, with fruit and veggies supplied directly from nearby countryside farms. Products have different names, not just Italian names, but could be called something quite different altogether. Several products I have grown to depend on in my cooking could not be found at all, such as chicken broth, rotisserie chicken, and premade meals.
The most compelling and surprising part of our stay were the Italians themselves. Every day we were greeted by almost everyone we met on the street with a heartfelt “Buongiorno!!” Shop owners wanted to know our names and then they remembered them.
One day as we sat on a bench, enjoying a morning in a park, an Italian woman came over for a chat. She spoke very little English, and we spoke very little Italian, but we spent the next 45 minutes talking and laughing together (with the help of our phone translator). She invited us to join her in her home for homemade tiramisu. What an honor to be invited into a local home, treated with tiramisu made from her long-held family recipe.
All the shop owners and locals really do know each other. This small Italian town of about 5000, knew the sons and daughters of neighbors and shop owners. It sometimes took a long time to walk a short distance with an Italian as they stop to catch up with friends, shop owners, and neighbors who walk by.
On the 3rd anniversary of the death of a young man who lived and grew up in Maiori, locals posted a large sign in his memory. Tourists had no idea who this person was, and why he was being honored, but would find out that the town had lost a young person that everyone knew, and everyone still grieved this loss years later.
We were surprised to learn that coworkers were all related in some way: siblings, cousins, parents, grandparents. The beautiful lemon and olive groves that lined the mountains have been in family hands for generations. The owners use their family secrets for harvesting and supplying the world with the delicious fruits of their labor.
Italians work hard together, and many live together, or close, to care for each other. Shops close from approximately 1:30 p.m. to 4:00 p.m. to have time off in midday for lunch with family or to rest before going back to work for the evening.
Celebrations and parades are based on years of traditions that made no sense to us. Some of the parades were quite weird and odd looking to foreigners yet loved by and very important to the locals. One thing we could not understand was the frequent fireworks. Almost every night we could hear them, with no obvious reason given. We came to learn that fireworks are used to celebrate large and small events and are very much part of Italian tradition.
The Italians are very much into soccer. During our stay, one of the teams had won a match and the entire town celebrated with whoops and hollers, singing and fireworks! This celebration was spread out over several days. All this action happened without the overuse of alcohol, as it is frowned upon to drink heavily in public.
The locals would always respond “no crime,” when we asked them questions about the current crime rate. We were skeptical of this answer, but we asked various people around town, and they responded the exact same way. We researched and found the crime rate is very low, which was obvious by how people leisurely walked the town center after their evening meals.
Moms pushing strollers, little kids walking with parents, older people out for a stroll enjoying gelato is normal after dark and after the late evening meal. This was the most refreshing for us. We didn’t think or worry about gun shootings, car jackings, or any number of violent things that were happening in the US while we were gone. It just didn’t exist there.
Italians were not interested in what we did for jobs or how we made a living. We were never asked to answer this. What they wanted was for us to enjoy living. They readily explained or gave information on anything we asked, and then wanted to give us espresso or feed us something! No wonder living in Italy is called “the dolce vita!” (The good life.)
Read about my previous experience in Italy here.
What observations have you made from living in a different country? Are the locals similar to what you’re used to, or are they quite different? In what ways? What did you love the most about your foreign stay?