Although there are many well known truisms about Italy, we’ve recently done some digging for the facts behind some of the most common observations made on the Boot and about its people.
1. The obsession over digestion.
If you’ve ever eaten with a true Italian, you may have noticed that Italians obsess over digestion. Whether they serve an aperitif before dinner to stimulate appetite or a liqueur afterwards to help digestion, they are constantly trying to get their stomach juices flowing. And if you’ve ever traveled through Europe, you may have noticed that Italians are the thinnest people in Europe and it is important to note that they tend to live long, happy lives. But does the explanation lie solely within the culinary customs of Italy? According to digestive history in Medieval Europe, Gelenic cooking is the main culinary custom used by Italian chefs, and it involves a specific order of eating in which foods that are easily digested are eaten first. In Italian Cuisine: A Cultural History, the writer explained, ‘After the choice of appropriate cooking methods and the assessment of the proper food combinations, the third important stratagem for healthy eating was the organization of the dishes served at a meal into the sequence considered most important to their absorption and digestion.’ According to the book, the meal was always determined by the person eating it, not the chef, by requesting what he craved. Although this may not seem like typical diet advice, it could be a good way to go if your craving is minestrone, instead of cookies and cake.
2. Afternoon cappuccino? I don’t think so.
While you may think it’s okay to drink your cappuccino at all hours of the day, you may as well write ‘tourist’ on your forehead if you ask for one of these thick, frothy drinks after lunch in Italy. Italians will think you’re crazy if you go for a cappuccino in the afternoon. Not only is it a cultural no-no, but there are also reliable dietary reasons for replacing this latte with an espresso in the afternoon. ‘Italians cook and eat with purpose and intent,’ says dietitian Kimberly Crocker Scardicchio. ‘If they have already had it in one of their meals, why repeat it?’ While fruits and vegetables can be eaten throughout the day, Italians know milk is difficult to digest, so if you repeat it with big meals, the unused calories are wasted and stored as fat. So try to remember: you’re not in Starbucks anymore. That Caffe Latte at 4 pm might not go as smoothly here in Italy.
3. Turn off the air conditioning and stay away from “colpo d’aria.”
Every notice the constant scarves worn all year long in Italy? Italians cannot stand the cold. They turn off their air conditioning and fear cold breezes—the notorious “colpo d’aria.” They use their scarves as a defense mechanism against unwanted gusts of wind, and they look fashionable in the process. But are these scarves necessary? Is the “colpo d’aria” really a threat? Scientists offer a not-so-pretty explanation that mucous protects against bacteria and viruses, but thickens when we are exposed to wind and cold air. If cold, tick mucous is not working effectively to trap viruses, the viruses are more likely to make it to our lungs. A clinical professor of pediatrics at Stanford University, Dr. Alan Green explains that ‘it is more likely that an individual will become sick if he or she has been breathing cold air.’ So next time you walk by the many scarf shops in Florence, maybe stop and take a look. Not only will it protect you from the colpo d’aria, but you will look great doing it.