Rome is Different

You’ve finally arrived in Rome after hours of exhausting travel and lay your bags down in your apartment, your home away from home. You’re getting the grand tour of your new place and you’re excited, you’re taking it all in, you’re….wait a second, something isn’t right. Things are NOT like this where I come from!

You have a keen eye, and you’re right – things are indeed a bit different in Italy, especially if you’re coming from America. But behind every difference, there’s history and tradition, and in some cases, politics. And you may discover that it’s not, in fact, so bad.

A hint of the first major difference may present itself to you on your way to the apartment, especially if you’re travelling by train. You’re bound to catch sight of clothes hanging from clotheslines from apartment balconies and windows, flapping in the wind. And when you reach your apartment, it’s confirmed. There’s a washing machine, but no dryer. Indeed, most Italian families do not own a dryer. While they are sold in stores, it’s considered by most to be a luxury on the basis of its high energy consumption. But what makes the dryers in the stores here so different from our dryers back home? Well, actually it’s not the dryers that are different at all – it’s the price of electricity. Italy, completely devoid of any nuclear power plants, imports as much as 81% of its energy from surrounding foreign countries, a dependency that significantly drives up the price of electricity for Italian households.

And so, since electricity is pricey, Italian households do what they can do – adapt. If you’re arriving in the sweltering heat of July, you’re lucky to have air-conditioning (many Italians do not!), but you’ll probably notice it’s not central air. No, that would be far too expensive and Italians instead use a split system unit that is mounted on the wall and is reserved only for the hottest days and the most lived in rooms in the house. So pick up the remote controller and get used to clicking on (and off) the air to suit your needs!

While that cool air is churning out, feel free to dry your hair, pop some clothes in the washing machine, switch on the oven for dinner, and see what’s on the tube…right? Wrong! Unless you want to experience a blackout, you’d better raise your consciousness of the energy you’re using. To prevent overconsumption of energy (and sky high electricity bills), each Italian household is allotted a standard of only 3kWh at any given time. While some may find this annoying, others see it as simply an efficient way to prevent wasting energy. Fortunately, the gas-powered stove doesn’t factor into all of this, but if you’re not used to this system, you have to locate the gas valve and it’s a good idea to turn it on and off before and after cooking.

Okay, so we’ve got some electricity differences. Other first impressions? Well, while the front door key is huge, everything else seems…small! Kitchens in particular are lacking in space, which may seem surprising considering how strong the culinary tradition is in Italy. In the past, before the advent of big city life, kitchens were indeed much bigger, accommodating large families that cooked together and ate together. As cities grew and both family and housing size diminished, kitchen dimensions shrank. Italian families today prefer to dedicate what space they have to more accommodating rooms, like the living room.

So, fine, there’s not much counter space in the kitchen, but the refrigerator…how am I supposed to fit anything in here?! Yes, the refrigerator is also small compared to American standards, but it serves the Italians just fine. No, they don’t eat any less than you, but they place a huge emphasis on keeping only the freshest foods and vegetables in stock, going to a produce market or supermarket often multiple times a week. Furthermore, most foods don’t contain preservatives in Italy, so you have just five days to finish a liter of milk and three days to finish that opened jar of tomato sauce. Turns out, for a healthy lifestyle, bigger isn’t really better.

And different isn’t necessarily bad. Let your clothes dry while you are out exploring Rome. Or stay in and uncork a bottle of Italian wine, fling open the balcony windows, and take in the city. You won’t regret it.

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