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Slow Living Abroad: An American Student’s Thoughts

Italy is renowned for its pasta, hand gestures, art, and its many staples of which the tourism industry constantly reminds us.

While those cultural symbols catch our eyes for a reason, I want to highlight a manner of living that stood out to me during my month-long study abroad in Italy last summer: a lifestyle called “slow living”.

Slow living consists of the idea that life does not need to be rushed and that there is beauty in taking time. Not receiving instant gratification for every desire may be less convenient than what we are used to. Still, it allows human beings to be present and appreciate the process of simple actions. It is strange how this perceived “lack” can actually make life feel more full.

A city square in Italy

Americans know good and well (or have been conditioned to think) that “time is money” and that a person must always chase more: more money, more assets, more fancy titles, etc.

The American mindset, to me, involves a lot of saying “I will be happy when ____” or “I will feel good about myself after ____.” There is a daunting cycle of chasing dopamine looking for the next moment, but one will only find that when they experience the now and acknowledge their present accomplishments.

Although what I’m about to share are minor differences in everyday life between Italy and America, they speak volumes about what we put value on and how we use our time.

Today, I want to explain the top four everyday Italian behaviors that reminded me to slow down a bit; maybe they will inspire you to take in the simple moments, too.

It’s all about #UNLITTERing your mind.

  1. Mindful Meals:

Meals in Italy were unlike any American dining experience I’ve had. There was an expectation of spending hours at lunches or dinners. Eating was not scarfing something down between tasks for mere survival.

Instead, meals were brought out in multiple courses. We were also not rushed by the waiters because they wanted us to enjoy our time talking.  Waiters wouldn’t so much as mention bringing the check until we asked for it.

To-go meals (besides maybe a pizza) were uncommon at even the more touristy restaurants. All of this stems from Italians wanting to relax over food; they generally have no desire to rush meals home.

I loved how dining felt like a sacred use of time. The Italians’ way of thinking serves as a healthy reminder to take time with loved ones and indulge in every flavor of a meal.

2. Less Shortcuts:

This is not true for every Italian apartment, but in my case and many others, the apartment had no microwave, toaster oven, dishwasher, or dryer. This sounds odd, but it is the way things have always been in Italy, and they don’t feel compelled to alter that tradition. 

Perhaps this is partially related to utility costs or being conscious of electricity use, but I believe it is also having the patience to wait more than two minutes for a meal. Shortcuts are simply less ingrained in their lifestyle.

Cooking is an inherently intricate process, but we see much less of that in America. So many foods are pre-made and packed with preservatives to be ready at will with a simple microwaving. 

The difference in appliances alone between the US and Italy says a lot about the Italian attitude of allowing life to take time (as it naturally does!)

I’m not speaking from a place of practicing this lifestyle every day like many Italians do. I am accustomed to the fast-paced life I have in the United States.

But when I went to Italy and saw another way, it made me question how we do things in the US. Does every action have to be so intertwined with instant gratification? The more I consider this thought, the more I try to immerse myself in my daily rituals.

Preparing meals from scratch, washing dishes by hand, and hanging up clothes to dry can bring more presence and peace into household tasks.

3. Walkable Cities Make for Peaceful Daily Strolls:

Florence, or Firenze, was my home base during my study abroad. Not only was it an incredibly walkable city, but it had this sense of not needing to rush emanating from the locals. Italians are more leisurely with their time. A nice thought, right?

Italians seemed to find assurance in knowing they would get to where they were going. They are less bothered with where exactly the minute hand lies on the clock.

Punctuality is a strong value in Americans, which I am not arguing by any means. However, a constant rush makes a person miss out on life.

Though Italians may not concern themselves much with lateness, we Americans can take a page from their book while still being early to events, just without such urgency

This could look like leaving a more open schedule or using time wisely with upcoming plans (instead of doomscrolling when you have to leave the house in thirty minutes…I can confirm I’ve been guilty of this in the past). 

These simple changes can create room for you to spend some extra time people- or nature-watching during what is normally your frantic walk to work or class. Sometimes a mindful stroll can add a lot to your day!

Here’s some beauty I saw while walking in Italy:

4. The Aperitivo:

Getting an aperitivo has to be one of my favorite traditions of everyday Italian culture. It is common for Italians to head to a bar or restaurant right after work to enjoy a drink, snacks, and socialization for a short while before making their way home.

Europeans regularly enjoy their work-life balance and lots of chat with loved ones. An aperitivo is the Italian expression of that. A drink for aperitivo often comes with peanuts, olives, and potato chips to snack on.

People take the time to rejuvenate themselves after a long day of work and ease their hunger before dinner by doing this, which I found so relaxing to try for myself!

“Happy Hour” is a similar concept in America but far less practiced and may place a greater focus on cheap drinks than on valuable socialization and refilling our metaphorical cups. Regardless, we don’t need an exact equivalent of this in the United States, but we surely can make a greater effort to do self-care and wind down after the workday in whichever way that looks for us.

Exposure to these Italian slow-living practices opened my eyes to a new way of moving through life, one with patience and mindfulness.

This doesn’t mean you have to drop everything within your typical lifestyle or even dislike the go-go-go mentality if that works best for you.

However, if you felt any of these points strike a chord with you, maybe ask yourself, “Why don’t I take a second to look around at the day outside before rushing to work?” or “What am I saying about myself by refusing to sit through a meal and taking a quick bite while running to my next meeting?”

It can be hard to break away from the American hustle, but taking a few extra minutes to enjoy a meal or do a task by hand can make a great difference in adding some love to your day. Shoutout Italy. ;)

Photos courtesy of author, Bella Goodnight

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Jul 03

Patience is so important on the journey to happiness


Jun 23

Involving all our senses in our meals, and simple daily tasks can really be rewarding! I love the slower and connected vibe. Perhaps I should visit Italy.


Jun 22

Very true we need more people to find their true wants and needs in life, not just what is mainstream.

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