Moving to or even visiting Italian villages is a unique and sometimes perplexing experience. Expect people to stare (and I mean really stare) as you walk down the street, without letting it give you a complex. No, you are not funny looking or strange. They just don’t see many outsiders, and curiosity is one thing people don’t lack!
Life in small-town Italy can be interesting!
“But they’re whispering about me!” That’s normal. They want to know who you are. And actually, if they’re limiting it to polite whispers you’re probably in a medium-sized town. In smaller towns they loudly query with a total disregard of discretion, “Who are they? What are they doing here?”
And then there are the villages. Ah, the villagers. They’re really a breed apart! They cover all those bases, and then if they still haven’t discovered any inside info, come right up to you! “Who are you?” they ask. Or in whichever local dialect they speak: “Chi sei?” (Who are you related to?) Again, no worries. It’s all quite normal.
Be prepared for your life to be an open book…
You see, the small towns in most areas are diminishing. People (especially the young) move away to find work. So perhaps through this multitude of questioning, they’re really searching for long lost friends or relatives. It’s hard to watch people go one by one.
And as they don’t get many visitors, they’re searching for a connection. Something that will tell them just who you are, how you fit in, and how they can relate to you.
Most visitors and new comers find this an unmitigated nuisance or downright rude. But I don’t believe they’re trying to be rude. It’s natural to want to connect to others in some way.
But all this nosiness can take a lot of getting used to.
Here in our village, our house is part of a little group. Sort of what you’d call a cul de sac in America. It’s in a u-shaped row of houses, with one little house planted right in the center. The comune (city hall) has conveniently placed park benches along these little alleys, which make great gathering spots in nice weather.
And we love it! Most of the time. Of course, there are annoying dogs, this one neighbor who loves loud music, and all the rest. But it’s got a real community feel to it, almost like a family!
And we all watch out for one another. Sometimes too much! Bringing home any kind of shopping can seem a bit like running the gauntlet. Everything gets a good looking over. Any large items commented on, and if they tend to be unusual, actually inspected. They do stop short of opening the bags to see their contents. But just barely.
If you come to visit while we’re gone, no need to leave a note. The neighbors will tell us. When we get take-out pizza, they all eye it longingly. (But decline when we offer to share.) And if we leave for a trip, they of course want to know where we’re going, why, and when we’ll be back.
If shifty salespeople show up at the door, the neighbors are quick to pay a visit. Don’t buy from them. They’re con artists. Trust me, someone up to no good will have a hard time getting past our neighborhood watch groups!
And tradition can be a wonderful thing. But they often seem to think that tradition is an equivalent for conformity and uniformity. We must all think alike, act alike, and be alike. The same language (sometimes incomprehensible local dialect), ideas, beliefs, dress code, religion. Anything else is a threat.
Because, they think, “If I change or alter from this what will people say?”
Like the mom who came to see us about English lessons for her son. I didn’t hear her, as our door bell was broken. No problem, the Neighborhood Watch (always on duty) came to get me. Her response? “Oh no, now everyone knows I’ve come here!”
“So what,” I replied, “we’re not doing anything wrong!” Imagine if she had shown up at our doorstep for Bible study! That’s what makes missions work so hard in the small town. Fear binds and blocks them, even those we see are clearly yearning for truth and hope.
So remember in coming to Italy, that unless you want your life to be an open book, city life might be best for you! And please do keep Italian missions in prayer. It’s an uphill battle.
All images are mine.