Laura is a foreign exchange student from Venice, Italy. She is a senior here at Westlake who is involved in track and tennis. Laura wanted to come to America to learn more about our culture, and to have new experiences. She learned English in school, and speaks it fluently.
If you’ve ever been to Olive Garden, you may think you know about the Italian culture, but this Italian exchange student, Laura Callegari, tells us that meatballs with spaghetti is unheard of in Italy, the Mafia is actually popular there, and pizza isn’t served for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.
Italians education means everything to them. “In Italy if you don’t go to college, then you can’t work, so you have to go to college, and even if you get a degree, most of the time you still can’t work.” Laura explained to me that even if you get a degree, there aren’t a lot of jobs available because of how poor the economy is. It is not like America how once you turn 16 you can get a job at Walmart or McDonalds. “Most of the time when you have a degree you just work at places like McDonalds because you don’t have any other options.” It’s hard for 16 year olds to get a job because they’re usually competing with a college graduate for that same position. Most people grow up and do what their parents do, move to a place with more opportunities, or if they are one of the best at what they do, they can get a good job.
Laura says that one of her favorite things here in the US is school. “This is not even school to me. It’s like going to hang out with friends.” She says school here is so easy compared to school in Italy. In Italy there isn’t any time for socializing, and she can’t even talk to her friends. School there is so hard and stressful that it isn’t uncommon for teenagers to commit suicide because education really means everything to them.
In Italy one of the most disrespectful things that you can do is talk in a colloquial manner with someone older than you. “I would never go up to my teacher and give him a high five in class, as you do here in America.” Laura says that one of the most disrespectful thing you can do is treat your teacher like your friend. Any adult you talk to, you have to talk to respectfully and formally.
I asked Laura what she doesn’t like about the USA, and she said, “The worst thing is probably that people here waste a lot of stuff. Like we us bikes and buses because we don’t want to pollute the air.” She explains how recycling is really big there, and how on Sundays you can’t even drive a car downtown because they want to keep the city clean. “Here people don’t care.”
During school, everyone is on their best behaviors, and are trying to make good self-images, but on the weekends, no one really cares what their self-image is. “Like we’re supposed to be very good, but at the same time we can do whatever we want. We can smoke, drink, we can do drugs, like no one really cares. And they know that you do it.” Everybody gets drunk on the weekends and lets loose, and then they go back to school, and create a totally different self-image.”
Dining etiquette there is much more formal than it is here. “We put a tablecloth, then we put knives, spoons, and forks, though we don’t use spoons. (It’s kind of stupid.) Then you have like napkins, then you have like two glasses, and then you have more than one dish.” They set the table up like that for every meal. The whole family eats together too. Italians only have three meals: breakfast, lunch, and dinner. They don’t snack, even if they are hungry. It is much different from the US because it seems like every hour we eat a snack. They don’t eat lunch at school because “We don’t even have time for lunch.”
Italy has many different practices than America, and I learned so much about their culture just by interviewing Laura. I never knew how hard it is for them to get a job, or how challenging and strict school is there. This has really opened my eyes to other cultures, and has really extended my knowledge.
Editor’s note: To learn more about Italian culture, you should probably go to Italy. Or at least read our article, “Are American Teenagers Really This Stupid?” to learn how you, too can educate yourself about other cultures.