By Katlyn Campbell, senior in journalism and mass communication
When I’m in Ames, Iowa, I usually come home from class late, eat dinner quickly (usually while watching Netflix alone) and head off to student organization meetings. When I’m in Urbino, Italy, I get out of class and eat dinner at a restaurant for anywhere between two and four hours.
Italians treat dinner as a social occasion rather than a necessary nourishment needed to continue the day.
Before studying abroad in Italy, I was unaware just how differenly Italians regard time as opposed to Americans. In my experience, Americans are used to the go-go-go hustle and bustle of the working weekday. We don’t have a pausa, a three-hour lunch break, in the middle of the day. But Italians do.
During pausa, or “ora di pranzo,” stores close their doors so workers can go home and enjoy a meal with their loved ones.
“Chiuso” (closed) was one of the first words I learned when I arrived in Italy. At the beginning of my stay in Urbino I found it difficult to manage pausa because stores would close when I had a break from class. This made it impossible to use the time to walk to shops and buy Urbino souvenirs.
However, most supermarkets and food shops tend to stay open during these hours. On my way to class one day in the spring I walked past a café located in the main piazza of Urbino and noticed the chairs and tables had been moved in the piazza to take advantage of warmer weather. I’m sure many Italians enjoyed an espresso outdoors during pausa that day.
Aperitivo is another Italian tradition that we don’t have in America. This tradition dates back to the 1920s and refers to a social occasion of drinking wine or a spritz and eating hors d’oeuvres before dinner. While it can be compared to America’s “happy hour,” it is much different. In America, happy hour often resembles enjoying drink specials at a bar with your friends or coworkers while snacking on peanuts at the bar top. In Italy, dinner starts late, so aperitivo starts around 4 p.m. to stimulate the appetite.
When my fellow Iowa State students and I experienced our first aperitivo in Italy, we were surprised the waiters continually refilled our plates with appetizers as we ate them clean off the plate and sipped wine. Being new to Italy and its traditions, we were all ready for dinner by 7 p.m. and ate the appetizers as if they were our dinner meal.
“The aperitivo, aperitive time, is a particular section of the end of the day. When the working day gets to the end and then you get little by little relaxed and close to home to your beloveds, you decide suddenly to stop and have a little drink,” Giovanni Garbugli, co-owner of Sugar Café, said. “You stop at your favorite bar, your favorite people, you ask for a glass of wine. In the meanwhile you get relaxed, you sip this wine.”
Beginning with aperitivo, Italians bond over conversation and food at restaurants and cafes until the late hours of the night.
In my experience, this concept of drawing out the time spent around the dinner table seems to be foreign to Americans in recent years. Life is simply too busy to sit down at the table for hours. After a long day of work, many Americans want to eat in front of the TV and have time to themselves. This is usually my ritual for dinner, at least.
However, I already know that the tradition of aperitivo is something I will continue to enjoy with my study abroad friends and family now that I’ve returned to America.
This post is one in a series of blog posts written by Iowa State University students who studied abroad in Urbino, Italy, in spring 2018 with Dennis Chamberlin, Greenlee School associate professor. The program focuses on mobile image making, Italian language, Renaissance art history and literature and the history of food and culture. The Greenlee School of Journalism and Communication will offer the program in collaboration with LAS Study Abroad in spring 2020.