Marisa La Greca is the Assistant Program Coordinator for SAI’s program in Sorrento.
What do you love about living abroad? From the food to the people, the cities, the landscapes, or the museums, there is a lot to take in. In addition to all of Italy’s other wonderful qualities, I have come to appreciate “la passeggiata”.
According to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary: Passeggiata | foreign term pas·seg·gia·ta \päs-sād-ˈjä-tä\ Definition of passeggiata: stroll : evening stroll after work hours by the residents of a town
Between the hours of 6:00 and 8:00 pm parents get off work, families come together after a long day, and friends meet up to enjoy an aperitivo; it’s a time when everyone in town steps out for an evening passeggiata. As you meander along the streets weaving in and out of the slow moving bodies on the sidewalk, you see people greet one another as they pass, chat about current events or peruse store windows. They remark on the displays of clothing, shoes jewelry, and the seasons’ fashion trends.
At first it can be frustrating, stepping past people who block your way as you struggle to match the slow pace of the stream of people moving around you. Infants in strollers and children who bump you as they run about offer a stark contrast to the old men sitting quietly in the piazza comparing life now to ‘the old days’. The only thing you can discern of the conversation are thick accents, and hands flying through the air, each gesture matching the debate’s change in tone and energy. It is a time when life is simultaneously calm and chaotic, and it is one of the best representations of Italian culture.
Halfway through the semester, you’re no longer an observer, but an active participant in this cultural phenomenon. In the evenings when you have finished classes and homework, instead of switching on the television or sitting behind your laptop monitor, you now step out with your flatmates and walk through the streets. The local fruit vendor is out with his family. You smile and wave from across the street. A bit further, you notice your friends from class and decide to stop for a gelato at the nearby bar. Just like that, without even realizing, you have become part of your new home, smiling at faces you have come to know and love as you walk the streets taking in your study abroad experience.
‘La passeggiata’ is not the first thing that comes to mind when we think of Italy, unlike the image of pizza, hundreds of pasta dishes or sweet gelato; however, it is my opinion that it is one of the most important representations of Italian culture and the dolce vita. The significance of family and community, relationships and communication, and slowing down to reflect on your day and appreciate the essential things in life are all part of this simple practice. It is the balance of calm and chaos that makes this country unique and will make your study abroad experience a memorable one.