Two weekends ago I took a train to Marino, Italy for the 93rd Sagra dell‘Uva (Grape Festival). This train held passengers beyond the, ‘impatiently waiting to get from point A to point B’ mindset. My friend and I sat next to a group of young Italians who were fully feasting on the train. By feast I mean wine, sandwiches, chips, and beer. All of which were being spilled on the floor and passed amongst the ten of them. Rowdy just starts to describe the enthusiastic chaos that soon surrounded us. With more passengers than seats available, people piled in the aisles conversing freely – one drinking directly from her bottle of Chianti. Then, they all started singing! This was one of those times I really wished I spoke Italian. Eventually I realized one part of the song being repeated, “buno compleanno” or “happy birthday.”
If this is how Italians celebrated their birthdays, then America is sorely losing out. It’s not because of the wine, because there are vineyards in the States. It’s not because of the sandwiches, because America has Subway, right? I loved this train-celebration because of the pure joy that came from simple companionship. The banter and unapologetic energy from being themselves is what I was attracted to.
Why am I talking about birthdays in Roma? Because last Wednesday I celebrated my 21st and on Friday I helped celebrate a friend’s 21st. In the States, this birthday symbolizes adulthood – where I am independent and self-sufficient. Tradition holds that you go out with your friends, drink yourself silly, and tell your parents that your “first-ever” sip of beer was gross.
However, in Europe the 21st tradition holds little meaning. I was told, “being abroad, means celebrating your birthday with strangers.” It’s been seven weeks and I can assure you that after conquering travel-hiccups and dining on pounds of cacaio e pepe together, the people I’ve met here are far from strangers. I am thankful for the SAI program because I instantly had people to connect with (and celebrate birthdays). We bond over our American-ness and are humbled together as we experience the world.
For my birthday dinner, seven of us went to Dar Poeta for individual pizzas (the only Italian way to order pizza). We laughed recanting stories about each other’s weeks and reminisced at shared trials. That said, I truly appreciate (and recommend) turning 21 overseas and in such good company.
Lucy is Fall 2017 SAI Rome student from Lindenwood University.