doing as the Romans…don’t do

As much as I love my little San Francisco life and being close to so many family and friends, every time I see an article about travel or photos on Facebook from globe hopping friends, I actually get kind of mad at myself for not making travel a priority. When I left living in Italy for good, I have since really looked forward to my return where I can simply “enjoy” the country and relax, while not having to work there. Basically, I just want to be a tourist. Although after living in a foreign country, or for someone who is an avid and aware traveler, that word means something a bit different, I think. To me, I see it as fully engaging your entire being into the country you are visiting; to adapt their eating habits, their cultural ways, and to appreciate the people and try out the different-than-you lifestyles they lead. Not that any of this is profound, it’s just my personal view of how folks should travel.

So I read an article by the Huffington Post this morning entitled “10 Essential Food Rules for the Americans in Italy.” I laughed at every one of the 10 pieces of advice and how accurate they were, nostalgically remembering how (yes, pretentiously) annoyed I would get when I would witness or observe an American breaking a rule. When I lived there, I made it a point to “do as the Romans do” and really, truly loved the lifestyle, but my expectation on visitors, guests I took on trips, etc. was that they immediately needed to adapt the same way I did. I felt protective over my new home and wanted everyone to respect the people and the traditions the way they deserved. Well as we all know too well in life, having expectations always leads to disappointment.

Then, I thought about my own judgements….sure, I drank cappuccini (plural for cappuccino), negroni for aperitivi, and only wine with dinner, took the proper passegiata and siesta, NEVER asked for anything ‘to-go’, and got used to the whole ‘no ice’ thing. However, one thing I refused to give up from my “American” lifestyle…was running. So maybe in my own way, I am the same as every other American traveler who just wants a sense of normalcy in a foreign land.

I’m still baffled at the fact that I swear Italians just don’t run. Maybe they do, some of them have to because I KNOW there are marathons in Italy, but even in our tiny little Tuscan town, us Backroads leaders were the only crazies that you ever saw out on the Arno trail or running through the Centro (center of town). Over time I got used to the “what is this weird American doing” stares.


especially when I did tricep dips or jumps on a park bench. They were the BEST.

Living in Rome during college, I experienced this to an even greater magnitude. In small towns, it is more family oriented and a slower pace of life…with less people. In Rome, running along the Tiber River, or Via Vittorio Emanuele jam packed with cars and vespas, I basically slapped a sticker on my forehead that said “Yes I am American. I’m exercising outdoors. Make fun of me.” Even gyms in Rome were few and far between, and really grungy. Everyone just…walks. Everywhere (which I also adored). My all-time favorite embarrassing moment was when I returned to our apartment complex from a jog, and was doing some sit-ups and pushups in the courtyard. A few floors up, there was an elderly, tiny Italian woman (we used to be scared of these ‘angry nonas’ – trust me, the nonas of Italy RUN that country)

3 oldies of san gimi dLThey look so sweet and harmless…THEY’RE NOT.

The angry nona shouted “questa non ‘e una palestra!” (or “this is not a gym!”). With my tail between my legs I scurried out, because hell, she was probably a part of some mafia and the last thing I needed to do was call my parents because I got kicked out of Italy…oh wait, that happened later. Another story for another time. 🙂

I realized at that moment that I was probably breaking some “Italian cultural etiquette” by trying to be a fitness nut in a big, sophisticated city like Rome…but I just didn’t want to stop. It was that American part of me I wanted to hold on to, because it made me feel good and it was a fantastic way to see the city. I still say that the best way to explore a city is to run through it, and make a point of doing this everywhere I go! One of my goals in life is to run a destination marathon in a new travel location. Talk about a cultural crash course with a side of serious accomplishment.

Back to my point. After realizing that I had little “isms” I was not comfortable giving up when I went abroad, I started to soften my judgements on my fellow American counterparts. When one travels to Italy, all they ever want is to be engulfed in the breathtaking scenery, drink good wine, listen to the beautiful language, laugh while imitating things like talking with your hands, eat fantastic food, see ancient and historical landmarks, etc. Their goal was not to focus on “living exactly like an Italian” and that is completely ok. I found that as a cultural buffer and teacher to my guests in Italy, if they were, at any point, intrigued or tried something new, and enjoyed themselves thoroughly, it was a successful trip. My favorite part of leading was to see people vibrantly react with pleasure and awe upon things like a new discovery, learning a new word, a sip of Brunello, or coming down a hill on their bike to an unbelievable valley of vineyards. Why would I want to taint their trip, or mine, with wishing and hoping they’d just be “more Italian”? So ok, sure Mr. Smith, have that diet coke in the morning (even though that is so un-Italian and kind of weird). If it makes you happy, and it’s going to help get you up that gorgeous Tuscan hill climb later where you’ll smile and bask in and appreciate the beauty of the landscape? I think that’s a pretty good compromise. 🙂


Breathtaking view from Fattoria Palazzo Vecchio in the Valdichiana – the Southern Tuscan Valley named after the Chianine cattle

Well, it’s official. I am adding “book trip back to Italy” on my list of things to do. ASAP. And you know what I’ll probably do once or twice when I’m there? You guessed it. I’ll run.

One thought on “doing as the Romans…don’t do

  1. Katie says:

    There’s always a delicate balance between embracing the new and staying true to who you are and where you’re from. It’s equally important to understand that it’s a balance, not a competition. “Different” shouldn’t carry along the weight of also being “better” or “worse” – it’s our differences that make travel interesting and exciting.

    On a sidenote, it might be a more recent change, but Italians definitely do run. They just don’t run where there are cars. Villa Borghese, Villa Pamphilj, and along the Tevere (down below) are full of runners in the morning & evening.

    So keep on running Linds, wherever you are, because it’s who you are. But if you want to avoid the crazy looks the next time you’re in Italy, you might consider avoiding the center =)

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