A Day in the Life of an Italian

Italians. It’s interesting how much and how little that word means. Little because, as we’ve been exploring in Select Italy and Eataly’s 20 Steps to Becoming an Italian Foodie, each of Italy’s twenty regions are richly diverse and varied. However, there are some striking similarities in habits which unite the citizens of this very regional county. What makes an Italian an Italian, you ask? As the field of cultural anthropology, which studies cultural particularities through ethnographical research, would say: just follow one, observe, and you’ll find out fast enough!

Did you know that "vespa" means "wasp" in Italian?
Did you know that “vespa” means “wasp” in Italian?

7:00 – 8:00 am

The morning hours. Wake up, hop in the shower, and begin thinking about what you are going to eat that day. Perhaps ask your spouse, parent, roommate, person walking by on the street, or the cat what they think about eating for dinner. Have a 20 minute discussion on this topic. Take a glance at Corriere della Sera for latest news and Gazzetta dello Sport for last nights soccer scores, which you already know. Eat a light breakfast of biscotti and tea (OPTIONAL) before heading to the local coffee bar for an espresso (MANDATORY).

  • Note: Italians are not heavy breakfast eaters. Eggs, sausage and toast for breakfast utterly perplexes Italians. Sure, they eat scrambled eggs, but they come in the form of a frittata, served at lunch or dinner. The idea of eggs at breakfast baffles them.

8:33 am

Hop into your Smart Car or onto your Vespa and head in the general direction of work.

8:37 am

Park in the spot absolutely nearest to the coffee bar nearest to your work. Whether or not you are double parking and locking someone else in will be debated – between you and the owner of the car that was in your way.

  • Note: Parking spots located far away from the final destination are not only undesirable, they are not an option for many Italians. The process begins circling in search of the perfect posto, followed by the necessary curses that there is not one. This continues with a quick calculation of how long the driver versus the owner of the parked car will really be staying in the bar, which inevitably comes out to “less time.” This is proceeded by a completely validated and perfectly logical double or even triple parking. Italians are the masters of logic, most notably of their own.

8:42 am

Order a caffè, aka an espresso, and a cornetto whilst standing at the bar. Note the tourists, all of whom are sitting at the tables, chatting and slowly drinking their cappuccini, and the Italians, all of whom are standing beside you with identical orders to your own. Drink your espresso in one or two gulps while holding your cornetto with the other hand. Participate in local gossip or discussion about the latest news. Mention what you will have for lunch or dinner and how your aunt/cousin/wife/sister/nonna is the best at making it. Leave your cup on the counter and pay the barista.

  • Note: In most traditional bars (coffee bars, that is), the customer pays after consuming whatever he or she ordered. Also note that espresso in Italy is simple caffè, and drip coffee is usually frowned upon. If you can appreciate a good espresso but miss your coffee, as does the author of this blog every time she goes to Italy, bring your own machine. This may or may not be frowned upon, but then again, the author also knows several Italians who have brought their own caffè-making moka and hotplate to use in their American hotel room on a weeklong Chicago vacation. It’s all about priorities, people.
Espresso and
Espresso and cornetto is what Italians order at the bar in the morning

9:00 am – 1:00 pm

Work, doing whatever it is that you do, which has probably been being done in your family or friends of your family, for 100 years. The building you are in is also about 10 times that old, but you are not in the least bit impressed.

12:58 pm

Wish your co-works a buon pranzo (Happy lunch!) and pack up your stuff.

1:01 pm

Arrive at your car and make bold exclamations about that jerk that doubled parked you in. Luckily, that jerk is also leaving for lunch (as is the rest of the  city’s population), so quickly forget your frustration and head home.

1:15 pm

Sit down to lunch with your family, most of who came home from the same office. Talk about what you are going to have for dinner tomorrow over lunch (dinner for today is obviously already decided). Have a heated discussion with much gesticulation about an issue on which you all take the same side, but also all agree that there is no fun in that.

  • Note: Some Italians work through lunch these days, but traditionally, lunch is a primo, or first course, of pasta/rice/starch, followed by a secondo, or second course, of protein and a contorno, or vegetable dish. Bread is present for all of these courses but usually only eaten with the contorno or a saucy protein. Table wine is also present throughout but rarely drank in tall-stemmed glasses; rather, it is drank is stemless juice glasses (it is a juice, after all). Bread and pasta hardly mix unless, of course, you want to fare la scarpetta and wipe your plate clean of nonna’s delectable sauce. After the lunch plates are cleared, the basket of fruit comes out and apples, pears, nectarine, grapes, or oranges are eaten with a fork. Italians don’t eat fruit with their hands, and they rarely eat the peel, which is removed with their fork and knife. If the occasion is special, a small sweet will be offered and coffee served.

2:45 pm

If you didn’t get caffè at home, stop for your mid-day espresso before returning to work (catch up on the last 5 hours of gossip and news).

3:00 pm – 6:00 pm

Return to work and continue doing what you do until 6:00 pm. Shut the phones and your computer down promptly at 6:00 pm, whether or not you leave.

6:00 pm

Head to the town center for your evening passeggiata, a tradition across Italy in which families, friends, children, and acquaintances stroll through the streets in the center of the town. You are dressed in your finest, as you are every evening, since you never know who it is that you will see and absolutely must impress with your bella figura. Make the eternally difficult decision: stopping at a bar for an aperitivo of Spritz and local snacks or dipping into a gelateria for a pre-dinner coppa, or cup, of your favorite flavor. Everyone once in a while decide that you deserve both.

  • Note: This is the reason Italian women can walk on cobblestones in 4-inch heels. They’ve been taking part in the passeggiata and strutting their fashionable choices since before they could walk.
Pasta and wine are never missing from Italian kitchen tables
Pasta and wine are never missing from Italian kitchen tables

7:30 – 8:00 pm

Head back inside and begin making dinner, which you will eat around 8:30 pm. Dinner can be one of a number of options: another dish of pasta, seafood cooked lightly in the pan with EVOO-dressed salad, or a breaded piece of chicken with fennel. Generally, this meal is lighter, and also involves the local wine, of which you will have a glass.  Dinner could take more of the form of lunch, if it is a special occasion.

  • Note: The further south you go, the later dinnertime gets. If you are in the north, you might eat at 7:00 pm. If you are in Sicily, you might eat at 11:00 pm (and probably not even be hungry until 10:15 due to the enormous lunch you ate). Italians also have different definitions of “light” than Americans. The author was once told that a cucumber was “too heavy” for an Italian to have at lunch, as was an egg-white omelet for breakfast. Both of these comments were made as the interlocutor was eating an entire pizza margherita for a their version of a “light” dinner.

10:00 pm

Hang out, chat, read the newspaper, talk about the meals for tomorrow, paint your nails, or continue the never-ending calcio debate you continue to have with your co-habitant, and generally enjoy yourself with some “me” time. Because after all, you always deserve it!

11:00pm – Midnight

Snuggle in bed with either the sounds of the countryside or the sounds of the noisy city (ahem…ROME) lulling you to sleep.


What do you think of the Italian kind of day?