Be prepared for your life to be an open book…

Moving to or even visiting Italian villages is a unique and sometimes perplexing experience. Expect people to stare (and I mean really stare) as you walk down the street, without letting it give you a complex. No, you are not funny looking or strange. They just don’t see many outsiders, and curiosity is one thing people don’t lack!

Life in small-town Italy can be interesting!

“But they’re whispering about me!” That’s normal. They want to know who you are. And actually, if they’re limiting it to polite whispers you’re probably in a medium-sized town. In smaller towns they loudly query with a total disregard of discretion, “Who are they? What are they doing here?” 

And then there are the villages. Ah, the villagers. They’re really a breed apart! They cover all those bases, and then if they still haven’t discovered any inside info, come right up to you! “Who are you?” they ask. Or in whichever local dialect they speak: “Chi sei?” (Who are you related to?) Again, no worries. It’s all quite normal.

You see, the small towns in most areas are diminishing. People (especially the young) move away to find work. So perhaps through this multitude of questioning, they’re really searching for long lost friends or relatives. It’s hard to watch people go one by one.

And as they don’t get many visitors, they’re searching for a connection. Something that will tell them just who you are, how you fit in, and how they can relate to you.

Most visitors and new comers find this an unmitigated nuisance or downright rude. But I don’t believe they’re trying to be rude. It’s natural to want to connect to others in some way.

But all this nosiness can take a lot of getting used to.

Here in our village, our house is part of a little group. Sort of what you’d call a cul de sac in America. It’s in a u-shaped row of houses, with one little house planted right in the center. The comune (city hall) has conveniently placed park benches along these little alleys, which make great gathering spots in nice weather.

And we love it! Most of the time. Of course, there are annoying dogs, this one neighbor who loves loud music, and all the rest. But it’s got a real community feel to it, almost like a family!

And we all watch out for one another. Sometimes too much! Bringing home any kind of shopping can seem a bit like running the gauntlet. Everything gets a good looking over. Any large items commented on, and if they tend to be unusual, actually inspected. They do stop short of opening the bags to see their contents. But just barely.

If you come to visit while we’re gone, no need to leave a note. The neighbors will tell us. When we get take-out pizza, they all eye it longingly. And if we leave for a trip, they of course want to know where we’re going, why, and when we’ll be back.

Or if shifty salespeople show up at the door, the neighbors are quick to pay a visit. Don’t buy from them. They’re con artists. And trust me, people up to no good will have a hard time getting past our neighborhood watch groups!

Italians love tradition.

And tradition can be a wonderful thing. But they often seem to think that tradition is an equivalent for conformity and uniformity. We must all think alike, act alike, and be alike. The same language, ideas, beliefs, dress code, religion. Anything else is a threat.

Because if I change or alter from this, what will people say?

Like the mom came to see us about English lessons for her son. I didn’t hear her, as our door bell was broken. No problem, the Neighborhood Watch always on duty came to get me. Her response? “Oh no, now everyone knows I’ve come here!” Imagine if she had been coming for Bible study! This is not a place one can easily hide.

Please pray with us that the people will be liberated from this unspoken obligation to confor, even though it does give them a certain sense of security. Because it also hinders them from embracing new things – even the message of Christ’s liberating power to make them totally new creations.

So remember, unless you want your life to be an open book, an Italian city might be best for you!

Images are my own.

20 thoughts on “Life and Missions in Small Town Italy

  1. Thank you for sharing your experiences! Praying with you for them.
    I think this Conformity issue is a human experience. Even in grade school in America kids expect to have all the other kids conform. I guess the difference here is that when you get older, it’s seen as okay to discover one’s individuality.

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    1. Yes, we humans do seem to gravitate toward conformity. I guess in many ways it makes us feel secure. But it can definitely hinder in many ways too. On the other hand, though, too much individuality can run the risk of rebellion. One thing is certain – cultures are very challenging!

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      1. Yes! Yes, secure and perhaps like things are in control.
        Yes, the risk of rebellion is there. I guess it depends on whether the individual is trying to do things God’s way or their own way. Isaiah 53:6
        Yes, it’s kind of ironic looking from the outside in how each culture and even subculture has it all laid out what the rules are and believes they’re doing it right! And yet going from one culture to another can feel like being a square peg trying to fit into a round hole.

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  2. I’ve noticed the nosyness even in Italian cities, but I appreciate it’s much more in villages. And I am clearly a foreign tourist when I visit.

    I can imagine for the gospel in a way it’s a good thing- “Why are you here?”… “to tell you about Jesus”… but then I guess when you have layers of unhelpful tradition to peel back it’s not so easy!

    God bless you in your labours 🙂

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    1. True, Robert. It does overall seem to be a nosy society. But it’s that which also makes Italians friendly, which is great! And yes, it often does create opportunities for sharing. But sadly though many listen, few are willing to leave their traditions. Yet we know the Lord can break through any wall!!

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  3. Hi Sheila. Having just relocated from UK to a small town in Campania, I can relate to your post and the stares. Loved your insights. Your neighbourhood looks lovely.
    .

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    1. Hi there to you too, Sheila! I’m sure you can relate! Small town Italian is great. I think it’s really slow living at its best. But it does come with challenges, for sure. Welcome to Italy and I do you are enjoying your small town and the wonderful simplicity of Italian living!

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  4. You’ve got a real knack for reading people well–and believing the best. It’s one of the things that makes you so good at what you do. I love the downhome feel of all this–this is community in action. Makes me a little jealous–people in the states are rarely that interactive.

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    1. Thanks Dayle, that’s really sweet of you! The existence of community is one of the greatest things about Italy if you ask me. We count it a real blessing!!

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