Monday, September 20, 2010

Trying To Be Italian...Part I: La Bella Figura

One of the first things I learned about Italian culture is that no self respecting Italian would ever be caught in sweatpants in public. This is because Italians put a lot of stock into what they call La Bella Figura. During orientation, our teachers translated it into dressing for success all the time. But it's more than that. It's your clothes, but also they way you carry yourself and your attention to etiquette. Here, the way one walks down the street represents how he or she wants to be perceived. So, no Italian would roll out of bed and head off to run errands. From teenagers to seniors, they put time and thought into their appearances. It is not at all odd to see a little old lady in heels. And the same standard is set for men and women. The grungy, scruffy look doesn't fly here. Wearing jeans around your ass and exposing your underwear doesn't fly here -- not unless you want everyone to think you're a bum. And they will think that. An American walking down an street in Rome would notice two things. One, unlike American streets, there are no casual salutations or smiles to strangers. Two, Romans stare. They don't mean to be rude, they're just trying to figure you out. Do her shoes go with her purse? Where could she be from -- she's definitely not Italian. Oh, they must be foreign, probably from Milan...* It can get very intimidating because no one wants to make a Brutta Figura. One makes a Brutta Figura when they don't follow decorum, in dress or behavior. For instance, in the Italian language, there is the informal 'you' and the formal 'you.' To use the informal when the formal is necessary is to make a Brutta Figura. Even to say 'ciao' to someone older than yourself is to make a Brutta Figura. It's a lot to take in, especially for American students who tend to throw 'ciao' around like nobody's business.

So far, I have learned tons of little things like this about the culture. I'll probably tell you about all of the at some point. But, now, I have to get some sleep. I don't want to make a Brutta Figura in the morning....

*I do know that Milan is in Italy. But, Italy wasn't a unified country until 1861, so it is still relatively young. Before that, each region was autonomous. Today, they still have their own foods, wines, and norms, so to a Roman, someone from Milan is a foreigner. Interesting, huh? I can't wait to tell you the rest!

1 comment:

  1. what an interesting post!! i follow a fashion blog called The Sartorialist and the photographer has the most beautiful shots of Italian men - all dressed flawlessly, stunningly, all the time. i hope you're taking a lot of pictures!!! miss you!