Tuesday, January 18, 2011

My Italian Family, and home away from home

My Italian Family
Florence University of the Arts, the school I attended while in Italy offered a special program called the “Italian Family Club”. The organizer of the program receives application from both students, and families who are willing to participate, and match you up together based on what you’re looking for.  They said it is their most popular extracurricular program and it is hard to find a match for all those who would like to participate. Although it sounded like a long shot, I decided to turn in an application in hopes of getting a match.

About 3 weeks later, I received an e-mail from the coordinator of the program informing me that they had found me a match and there was a mandatory “pairing dinner” the next week. I was so excited! Our first dinner was fine, but a little awkward as we were just meeting and didn’t speak much of the others language. The mothers English was very good, and the father had a pretty good grasp of what I was saying most of the time. We were sitting with another family and their new “match”, and did not speak English near as well as my family. We planned to meet up the next week for a carnival in their hometown.

To get to their town, I had to walk to the train station, which was about 15 minutes from my apartment. Then I had to hop on the city tram that goes to the other cities outside of Florence. It took about 25 minutes to get to their town, Scandicci. The first night we decided to meet, I got off at their tram stop, the mother and twin ten year old children, Bianca and Lorenzo, were waiting for me with a big red balloon. They were in an argument about something, which just goes to show that 10-year-olds are the same just about everywhere you go.

We walked around the carnival, scoping out the rides, food, outdoor market (similar to a flea market), and indoor market selling food from all over the Tuscany region. After this, we headed back to their apartment for dinner.

Every night after this, it was just about the same routine. I would ride the tram out to their town, walk to their home, and just hang out in a real Italian family atmosphere. Most nights, I would play card games with the kids, help them with their English homework, play Wii and help cook dinner. My Italian really improved the first few weeks with them, as I had to think of words in order to have a conversation with them. The mother’s English was really great and she was always willing to help. I often had questions on words, phrasing, and my Italian homework that they were all able to answer. That was such a big help!
One thing that was cool about the Italian culture was how big of a production every single dinner was. I was excited to learn that my Italian mother made every meal from scratch and also served it in the typical manner of Italian tradition. I was able to cook with her and learn to make many great dishes, which was one of my goals before going to Italy (learn to cook from a real Italian).

My family's tiny apartment
Each dinner consists of 5, or even 6 courses and you are so full by the end without eating too much of any one single thing. They would always start with pasta (my favorite was a beet spaghetti, it doesn’t sound or look particularly amazing, but it was!), after pasta, they have salad (no dressings for salads in Italy. They just use olive oil, vinegar, and sometimes a little salt). After salad, they sit for a little bit and just relax and then have a meat. Our family usually had pork, or some kind of beef (steak or roast). Next, they rest for a little bit and then have bread, cheese and wine. Then, for dessert, they have either some kind of cake or bar (my Italian mother did all of her dessert cooking with chestnut flour, which I am not sure is typical of all Italian families or not) and fruit. Now if that doesn’t put you into a food coma, I don’t know what would!

My favorite meal we had, beet pasta
It is crazy to think that all Italians are thin when they seem to eat so much at every meal. I believe there are a few reasons for this. Most food in Italy, and other parts of Europe, is bought fresh. They go to the grocery store every day to buy their food for the night, and the next days meals. Therefore, they are not packed with preservatives like a lot of the food here in the U.S. Another reason they are so thin is portion control. They are able to eat smaller amounts of each food and get every food group into their daily meals. Another reason is all the walking they do.  Not all families own their own vehicles, so you end up walking everywhere, especially if you live in the city center of town.

I also learned a lot about the school systems, sports and other things the children were involved in. I learned that every public school in Italy has catholic religion classes. Although they are usually optional and can be replaced with another class, I found it odd that they offer religion in schools. Having the pope in your country sure changes many things.

I became really close with the 16 year old, Tomasso, who really liked American music and playing the guitar. He was pretty shy in the beginning and wouldn’t talk much, but really opened up in the last few weeks I was there. He understood my sarcasm, which is not something that all foreigners caught. I taught the kids how to play the card game “spoons”, which is pretty popular with my family at home. We had so much fun with that game and played it almost every time we were together.
Their 16-year-old son, Tomasso
Top 5 things I leaned from my Italian family:

1: most Italians live in apartments, as the cost of living is so high and they don’t see sharing close quarters as a problem.

2: Kids are kids everywhere you go. They can be crazy, spoiled, whiney, and immature. That is not just an American thing. They do however have a much wider scope of the world and other countries. I was surprised at how much they knew about the American culture and history.

3: Great cooking techniques and amazing recipes that I can carry with me for the rest of my life.

4: All about European football (soccer). Tomasso and the father were football fanatics and I typically got the low down on the rankings for the week for both Italy and the rest of Europe. Soccer is a religion in Europe unlike any sport we have here. 

5: There’s no place like home, but having people who treat you like family sure makes a big difference! 

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