Running on Italian Time

By Amanda Adams

“Ragazzi, be there at 8am, American time”

Beloved professor and program co-director, Julia Caesar

We were going over logistics for our first morning walking tour around Rome when we encountered our very first lesson abroad – how concepts of time vary across cultures. Although we were in Italy, our professor could not stress enough that we still needed to function according to “American time” and arrive at our meeting point promptly at 8am. I figured out what this meant quickly, once I realized that I do not operate on “American time” myself and rolled in foolishly late to our tour, causing a ruckus. Turns out, Americans are known for being on time, if not early, to their plans, which are regarded with great rigidity in the first place. We, for the most part, are incredibly future-oriented. This includes completing tasks, reaching goals, and abiding by strict schedules that aim to better our future selves or greater society. Further, we are instilled with values of overall promptness, convenience, efficiency, and achievement.

Surprisingly, it was not until I came here that I discovered the expectations around time in my own culture versus in another culture. It became clear where I did, and where I hopelessly did not, fit into that. I always recognized myself as an outlier in this regard but luckily, found myself quite at home among Italians. Italians view time much differently. It is treated with approximation, and punctuality is only of relative importance. Rather, their values lie with beauty, experience, spontaneity, fluidity, and relationships. In return, tardiness is somewhat tolerated, especially on the bases of relational or familial hold-ups, making it appropriate to arrive closer to 15 minutes late to the original “set” time. Due to this mentality, along with the rich history that fills their environment, Italians are equipped with more past and present-orientations than Americans. Their appreciation for the past is evident in how they tirelessly preserve ancient sites, art pieces, food traditions, and more. I am further infatuated with their appreciation for the present, which manifests in the ways they continue to incorporate the above cultural aspects into their daily lives, slowing down and savoring every sweet detail along the way.

Now, I cannot entirely excuse my own actions by claiming that I ascribe to “Italian time”. So, I would like to simply pay tribute to this beautiful concept. I first noticed it in the light of transportation. Public transportation is abundant and widely accessible here in Rome. From trams and buses to trains and metros, we can get nearly anywhere we want or need to go in this expansive city. Many locals take advantage of this, as we can tell by our crammed daily commutes from A to B. Because it is not typical to rely on one’s car, commutes can take exponentially longer. Not to mention, public transportation is not the most reliable, reflecting the same relaxed schedule as its users. It is not uncommon for locals to get by on their own two feet, either. In fact, I have undoubtedly walked more in the last month than I had in the entire year prior back home. Although exhaustive, Italian transportation has taught me to treat every venture out of the apartment as a rewarding journey and to set aside time to enjoy it. Despite sacrificing what is quickest and easiest for me, something unheard of in America, I have found leisure in taking the long scenic routes with my new friends here. Who knew you could experience good views and good company during your commutes? I never want to forget this.

The other big area we witness the workings of “Italian time” is in food. In America, fast food is second nature to us. We are always within eye’s-distance of some drive-thru or take-out joint. Families rarely eat breakfast or dinner altogether, and when they do, these meals are often interrupted by television and phone usage or simply do not involve socializing. Even sitting down for a meal at a restaurant with family or friends does not typically exceed an hour and a half. The American food industries are known to pump out wide varieties of foods from unknown origins, and to do so as fast as possible. Getting the food straight into our systems tends to trump the process of making it and experiencing it – bonus points if eating can be done en route to the next task. These American tendencies go against the very ideals of Italian culture.

Italians seem far less concerned with the eating itself and more so with the process of sitting down with their loved ones in the first place and then of course, indulging in something that was made locally with great effort and care. This is reflected in the Slow Food Movement that was founded in Italy in 1986 with the first implementation of a McDonald’s in Rome, as an effort to counteract globalization and promote local food and traditional cooking methods instead. Despite an inevitable rise in fast-food chains throughout Italy, this organization persists and has since managed to spread worldwide. We have gotten to experience the perks of “slow food” ourselves, being surrounded by mostly local businesses offering mainly Italian specialties. These restaurants have challenged us to invite friends, sit down for hours, share stories and laugh, and take in the views, welcoming multiple courses and savoring every bite. We now understand tasting the labor and love behind the food, a quality that we so often take advantage of back home. Although I miss tequila and queso dearly, there is absolutely nothing like the pizzas, pastas, and risottos that are crafted, fresh and from scratch, for us here in Italy. We also cannot deny how these qualities shine through in their meats and cheeses. Finally, there is a profound level of bonding you reach with your friends and your loyal servers while patiently passing the time – not to mention sipping on house wines that are both cheap and absolutely exquisite.

My personal relaxed and unpunctual nature may not be a favorable quality as a student anywhere in the world, but it has suited me in taking on other aspects Italian life like food and transportation. Having quickly adapted to “Italian time”, I hope to continue celebrating it and to carry on its legacy back in America, when I am once again subject to the hustle and bustle of life there. I want to keep setting aside time to relish in my surroundings, including all the beautiful people I am with, the places I go, and the things I encounter. Maybe I can encourage everyone to do the same. Except for, of course, when you just “really need to be on American time”!

About the Author

Amanda Adams is a senior earning her Bachelor’s degree in Interdisciplinary Liberal Arts with a minor in Philosophy, graduating this December 2019 from Colorado State University. She is particularly interested in Religious Studies and Film Post-Production. She has no immediate plans for the future, other than to continue pursuing her travels. This study abroad program to Rome was her first, of hopefully many, times leaving the United States. Amanda is a middle child of five, all of whom reside just south of Denver. She is very close with her family, visiting them often, but loves to fill her time meeting new people and trying new things. Her other pastimes, to name a few, include biking, swimming, snowboarding, dancing, and going to concerts. She is content indulging in good food, drinks, and of course, coffee. Caffé doppio per favore!

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