Quirks the US would benefit from

Submitted by Nayzeth Romero-Chavarria on the 2024 Winter ENGL program in Florence…

Pidgeon graffiti that’s commonly seen.

Quirks the US would benefit from: 

Living in two different cultures my whole life has been very conflicting. My family is Costa Rican, so we live by those traditions and customs but living in the US can contradict them. For example, at home no one makes eye contact, we walk on the opposite side of the street if someone is walking toward us and whatever you do, don’t talk to strangers. Meanwhile, when I visited “the motherland,” every older woman was an auntie, anyone my age was a cousin and your neighbor greets you some mornings with fresh eggs.

This is my first full day here and these are the things I have decided would make the US better.

  1. Graffiti is everywhere
  2. Everyone walks alongside each other with our colliding
  3. We prioritize car traffic, highways everywhere
  4. Wine window
  5. No one is in a rush
  6. Very low waste; more conscious and actually doing the change instead of just saying they think about it and recognize

Now, I bet you’re wondering why some of these quirks matter, why the US should try some of them, and what they would do for society. So I will go through each.

Wine window
  • Graffiti: It’s literally just art. In the US there is a significant stigma around graffiti, people could say that it’s gang culture, vandalism, and an act of delinquency. The immediate reaction from most people is negative but I have always loved to learn about the history of tagging and the political aspect of it all. Many murals are done with this art form, really it’s just an art medium and sometimes it happens to be on a public wall. I do get the vandalism part but most of the time it’s not obstructing anything. In Italy, there are portraits of women, men, really anything, beautifully placed on random walls. I could turn any corner and admire some scribbles and wonder what the artist was thinking. I have been taking photos of them and trying to see what they mean.
  • Walking: I have been dodging humans left and right while walking to class on the teeny tiny sidewalks. Usually, if I am walking to class in Newark I’ll try to avoid walking next to someone for too long. Here it’s very typical to be able to listen to people’s conversation from right behind me the whole walk. I think Americans tend to be more isolated and here it’s more together. My point is more that we have a stand-offish demeanor and it’s weird. everyone is so kept to themselves that they can’t even walk next to another person.
  • Traffic: In the US there is a highway anywhere to get you where you need to go. Even in major cities, it’s common to find a highway interrupting it. Here, the cars have to honk to get people out of the way for them to go down the road. Bikes and Vespas zoom past just as much as pedestrians crossing the roads. Transportation by foot is far more useful in Florence since everything is so close. All the buildings are super close making the roads narrow. There are no random cement blocks taking over the city allowing the beautiful city to remain just as beautiful as it’s been all along.
  • Wine windows: Our professor told us about these things called ” wine windows” where in medieval times someone could walk up, leave money, and in return, a glass of wine would appear. They became popular again during COVID which is really cool. They knew something we didn’t and they knew wine was going to be a necessity. I really liked that it’s just a random little thing that exists, not many are open but I will try to find one and update you all on that experience.
  • Rushing: McDonalds, Dunkin, any chain really will get you your food in less than 20 mins. Meanwhile, my friends and I sat at a restaurant and it took 20 mins for a waiter to come take our order. One of the CEA CAPA staff told us that coffee is not ever taken to go and one tell for spotting an American is someone walking fast with a coffee in their hand. Everything is just slowed down which has been really weird to me because we are so used to everything being fast and efficient. It’s been really nice to be able to appreciate everything and take it all in. I’ve gotten coffee a few times (I haven’t mastered a good order quite yet) and I was not a huge fan BUT I did love being able to sit and sip. Usually, I have to glug my iced latte down and get a stomach ache soon after. I was able to actually appreciate it and relax while sipping and preparing for the next adventure.
  • Low waste/eco-conscious: With not having coffee to go, the plastic or paper cups that would come along with that are completely eliminated. Less trash, I haven’t had to throw anything away since I’ve gotten here. Another CEA CAPA staff, Lorenzo, told us to keep waste in mind. We went on to tell us that talking about the change will do nothing, but actually implement the practice of using low-waste products. In the US there is so much talk about “save the turtles” this, that, and the third but still, anywhere you get a drink a plastic straw will come with it. We rely a lot on trends, like the metal straw trend, to be eco-friendly but trends will always die out.

All in all, the US needs to encourage art more, stop breaking things down to build highways, drink more wine, slow down, and love the earth as much as she tries to love us.

Il Mercato

goat cheese

Sheep cheese is really good, I never thought sheep could produce dairy. Obviously thinking about it now I’m thinking to myself “Duh.” The first cheese we tried was very fresh as opposed to the second which was aged, the way we all described it was like a cream cheese texture and taste. I had a tough time deciding which I liked better but I was also trying to puke from eating some prosciutto, don’t get me wrong, the flavor was great but after not eating meat for so long it was a lot. I’m glad I was able to try it but boy did I have a hard time getting it down. Enough about my almost regurgitation, the cheese here tastes SOOOO much different than the cheese back home. Usually, it’s a bag of shredded cheese mixed with a light dusting of preservatives so it’s 100% yummier. 

Our tour guide shared with us all that the way that they do grocery shopping is different than the way we do. They will go about 3 times a week while we usually go once and stock up. She told us they do not like to freeze their food and they prefer to buy what they will eat that day or the next day. My thought was how much less food waste would be. It’s normal to throw out the berries I bought because they went bad, but if I were to buy berries because I’m buying them for later to eat, I wouldn’t have to throw them away. That’s so much smarter and you don’t have to buy a huge metal block that will take up space and run up your bills. 

She also said how they will take their time to grocery shop, they specifically allocate time for it. The same goes for lunchtime, their lunch is not a sandwich on the way to class. They sit down and have a MEAL and it’s not an interruption. I remember she said that they won’t eat at their desk or anything like that, they go eat and come back to finish their work. Often I have found myself saying “I didn’t have time to eat today” as do my friends and classmates. Not here, it’s important for them to eat and nourish their bodies which should be the case everywhere. Meanwhile, I’ll have to go back to being a hunchback little gremlin inches from my screen and trying to type while eating a granola bar.  (Submitted on January 23, 2024)