1. You’re getting the hang of heels on cobblestones.
With so many intact historic centers, cobblestone streets are a nightly battle. Inexplicably, Italian girls manage to glide over them as though on a runway, while you awkwardly hobble along behind tugging at your heels every couple of meters. After a while, however, you too seem to develop that mysterious leg muscle than renders the back of your foot redundant.
2. You say ‘ciao’ at least 6 times before hanging up.
Even as you are taking the phone away from your ear to end the call you’re still saying ‘ciao’ like an echo.
3. The phrase “We’re having lunch at Nonna’s,” fills you with dread.
The quickest way to be struck off the Christmas gifts list is to refuse food from an Italian grandmother. Apparently being ‘full’ is not a concept in her household, and to say so is just a poor way to conceal your dislike of her food. An invitation to lunch means you have to starve yourself for two days to prepare for being force-fed carbs like an athlete before a big race. And remember, if Nonna offers you seconds but ‘senza pane’ (without bread), it’s a trap – the portion will be double the size to make up for the missing carbohydrates.
4. You can no longer eat chicken on pasta or pineapple on pizza.
For the first few months you may have tried to reason with the Italians, expound the succulent delights of barbeque chicken pizza or cheesy garlic bread, but in the end, you too start to tut at spaghetti Bolognese and laugh smugly when a tourist looks confused by their pepperoni (pepper) pizza. However, if you do have a moment of weakness, you just have to remember that Italians keep quiet about their wurstel and chips pizza that they claim is only for children.
5. Even when you’re not speaking Italian you still do the hand gestures.
Waving over your shoulder to mean years ago, shaking your hands in a prayer motion to signify your utter disbelief or brushing your hand under your chin to show you couldn’t care less, they’ve become so natural you even do them when speaking on the phone.
6. You find it normal to ask a thirty-something-year-old if he still lives with his parents.
If an Italian is living alone the age of thirty you can be sure there has either been a dramatic family feud or it’s a last-ditch attempt at dieting. You’re no longer surprised to be invited to a friend’s house for dinner and notice their Mum lurking in the kitchen surreptitiously preparing the dessert.
7. You think too much about digestion.
You know well the dangers of swimming less than three hours after you’ve eaten, not to mention milk after dinner. And you’re aware that grappa has medicinal properties.
8. You know that air con has a dark side.
It may be 35 degrees outside but you know not to blast the air con as soon as you arrive home for fear of the dreaded ‘colpo d’aria’.
9. Half your weekly food supply comes from friends.
Regular gifts include homemade salami, a chicken, crates of vegetables twice the size of those in the supermarkets, and a few bottles of slightly dodgy homemade wine. And heaven forbid you should actually have to buy pasta… Nonna!
10. Your English is ruined.
From arriving to work ‘by feet’ to saying ‘we are in four’ when booking a table in a restaurant — when you find Italianisms creeping into your language you know it’s time for a visit home for a while. The problem is nobody at home understands ‘boh’ or ‘dai’, expressions that are now so familiar you think they must be internationally recognized.
11. You care less about what people think.
Staring is not considered rude in Italy, and old women can be particularly vicious. Nor is it brutal to tell someone they’ve put on weight or look really tired. You’ve learned to have a thick skin, not to take yourself too seriously, and do things that make YOU happy, not a bunch of judgmental snobs. (p.s. wearing yellow shoes gives a surprising confidence boost).
12. Your bathroom habits have changed radically.
You’ve developed thighs of steel required when using those astonishingly antiquated holes in the ground they call toilets, and you’ve become a bidet convert – not a footbath, who knew!
13. You’re just a little bit smug.
Ok, sometimes life here isn’t all homemade pasta and Vespa rides, but dealing with the completely inept bureaucratic system is just that bit easier when you can navigate it with a gelato in one hand and a spritz in the other. Italians can be irritatingly arrogant about the Boot, but as you start to discover its secrets – the desert in Tuscany, the heavenly taste of porchetta, the private beach restaurants of the Amalfi Coast, the pink of the Dolomites at sunset – you can’t help but think they have good reason.