Today I was listening to one of my Dad’s favorite songs, ‘Good Times’ by the legendary Sam Cooke. The lyric, which is in fact the title of this post, made me think about letting go and just enjoying everything about life. I’ve traveled all over the world, but living in another country is an entirely new eye-opening revelation. If I sound like I am being a little dramatic, then you are following me exactly. When I travel throughout a country, I still have in the back of my brain that the return home is inevitable. If you are anything like me, right when you pull out of the driveway to head to the airport then you immediately say to yourself, “10 days away from home”… Or however much time you have off. Living abroad, the sense of ‘return’ vanishes. When I moved to Italy, I was immersed day-to-day with a foreign language and a variety of delicious exotic food. Every single one of my senses were overloaded with an unknown world far and away from anything familiar. Upon engaging with the Romans, I noticed that my personal space was instantly under attack! At one point I thought they were trying to give me an Eskimo kiss by touching noses together and rubbing. This was not the case and I eventually realized I was another typical standoffish American. The United States is a culture of individualism, which is sometimes a fantastic characteristic, however this is not how Italy operates or any Latin culture for that matter. While living abroad, I met more people and developed friends while out by myself than I ever have in the United States. In America, almost all of my friends have been either introduced to me by another friend or I have met them at work. Whether it was sparking up a conversation with people at a pizzeria, a laundry mat, or in a coffee shop, there always seemed to be another friend waiting to be discovered.
The most fascinating aspect to going out in Rome with a group of friends was to see how some Europeans would meld their groups with ours. Our ‘Group A’ (Americans) would meet their ‘Group B’ (Italians/Spaniards/etc.) and before the end of the night everyone would have exchanged numbers and decided to meet later in the week for lunch, dinner, or coffee. It was all for camaraderie and socializing in order to deepen one’s friend base/family.
A society of interaction was so comforting being so far from home. I have tried to analyze why parts of Europe seem to be more of a conducive environment than America, to having an engaging conversation with strangers, but can’t put my finger on it. Like I mentioned before, the standard arms length distance between strangers is crushed when you enter a country such as Italy. I will admit that I felt this to be intrusive and even rude at first. But, after I understood the spirit of Italy, I understood the connection among it’s people. I don’t want to seem too philosophical, but having family plays such a huge part in Italian life and I believe they wanted to bring any kind soul into their ‘family’. For example, when I am interacting with my immediate family, all rules of personal space are thrown out the window and the warmth of home, love, and closeness takes over. I believe this is probably how a majority of the Latin cultures operate, but I can only speak for Italy. Being able to connect with a random stranger and allowing them into your circle forces you to give them a bit of trust. I guess I always had some sort of trust issue with strangers as many Americans do. We were constantly told as a youngsters to, “never ever talk with strangers”, and this was undeniably great advice up to a certain age. I carried that sense of fear of strangers into my adulthood and it thus thwarted any sort of deep interaction with a person I had only met an hour ago! I am not saying that I now grab any stranger by the arm in Italy and say, “Brother! How are you?? How’s about a cappuccino? Then we can go to my house for a meal!” But letting go of that tense gait in our stance and just letting life come at you can be extremely rewarding! If living in Italy taught me anything besides how to eat like a Roman, it was to trust a little bit more, engage a little bit more, and do not be afraid to open a small aspect of your life to a stranger. Now don’t go around yelling out your credit card number and giving copies of your passport to random people, but combine a little wisdom, with a little spontaneity.
As they say in Italy, “Chi trova un amico, trova un tesoro.” Which means, “He who finds a friend, finds a treasure.”