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Italian Culture 101: The Importance of Family

by Catherine Slabaugh
Italian Culture 101: The Importance of Family | AIFS Study Abroad | AIFS in Florence, Italy

Arguably the most important aspect of the Italian culture is “la mia famiglia” — family. Everything Italians do centers around their family and loved ones — meals, work, social and free time. Being that I’m living independently in the bustling city of Florence, I haven’t had the opportunity to experience an authentic Italian family. That was until this past weekend.

Last weekend, I had the privilege of visiting distant relatives of mine in Lanzo, Italy, just northeast of Torino. To begin, here’s a little context. My great-aunt and her husband (my grandmother’s brother) began researching their family members and became very interested in genealogy. About three years ago, they got in contact with some family of my grandmother’s in Lanzo, Italy, the Magnetti’s (my grandmother’s maiden name). My great aunt and uncle visited these family members two summers in a row and developed a wonderful relationship with them, which led to one family visiting the United States last summer! Dario, Catia, and their daughter Beatrice spent about a month in the U.S., visiting New York and California, which is where I first met them. I’m honestly not too sure I understand the entire family relation, but I know that Catia and the others I met are cousins or 2nd cousins of my grandmother; something about their grandfathers or great-grandfathers being brothers. Long story short, we’re distant relatives who have connected over the last 3 years.

Being that I would be studying abroad just a few hours south of Lanzo, the Magnetti family insisted I come visit and stay with them — to which I said yes! I went into the weekend with few expectations and many uncertainties, as I didn’t really know the family. Boy, was I shocked with the continuous amount of love, care, and hospitality they showed me in less than 48 hours.

I arrived at the Torino train station where Dario, Catia, Beatrice, and another cousin Rosa met me. They greeted me with warm hugs and bright smiles, instantly taking my backpack off my hands and asking me how I was doing. Eagerly taking my arm and walking hand-in-hand, we spent all morning wandering the city of Torino. They took me to see the ancient palace, government buildings, and multiple museums. Throughout this walk of the city, they continually spoke English to me, which none of them know very well, but they worked hard, with a translating app in hand, to ensure that I was understanding them and learning about Torino. Time and time again, I was shocked with how much care and love they showed me as they ensured I was having a great time.

The view outside of my la mia famiglia’s house. Quite the view of the breath-taking Italian mountains!

After a full day of museums, 20,000+ steps, and tasting all the sweet treats of Torino, we headed up north to their hometown of Lanzo. We had a few hours to rest before meeting other cousins for dinner that night, and the family immediately offered me a bath to relax and unwind. They lit candles, provided me with bubbles for the bath, brought a heater into the room, and gave me a robe for afterwards. Their entire focus of the day, and now night, was ensuring I felt comfortable and welcomed in their house. I was floored by their hospitality. 

Later than night we went to a very classic Italian pizza place. The entire menu was in Italian, no tourists were in the restaurant, and the pizza was incredible. We talked and laughed, ate until we were about to burst, and ended the night with smiles on our faces. I ended the day exhausted but with a full heart. I couldn’t believe the hospitality they continually showed me by taking me to museums and restaurants, buying me gifts and endless treats, and overall spending a whole day showing me their city! Words could never do them justice. 

Luisella, Catia, and myself standing on a beautiful bridge in a nature reserve in Lanzo.

My second day began with a wake up call from Catia, telling me that a traditional Italian breakfast of a croissant with jam, a cappuccino, juice, and a few traditional treats from Lanzo were waiting for me downstairs. Can you think of a better way to be woken?! Afterwards, Catia and I headed out on foot to see their small town of Lanzo, meeting up with Luisella and her husband, another cousin of my grandmother. They too live in Lanzo in a beautiful house in the hills, and gladly walked with Catia and I through Lanzo’s nature reserve and the historic parts of the city. They shared with me details of Lanzo and the history it holds, showing me different churches and buildings, places where newer parts of the city were added to older parts. Luisella and her husband had never met me, and likely never would have, yet they spent their entire morning talking with me and sharing the town they know and love. 

Afterwards, Catia and I walked home and she began preparing for a grand Italian lunch! Both Rosa and her significant other came over to share the meal with us, along with Luisella and her husband. We ate SO MUCH FOOD! Bread and cheese and meats and salads and sausages and polenta and more meat and dessert and prosecco, oh my! Needless to say, I didn’t need to eat dinner that night. The meal lasted a few hours as we shared conversation and smiles. The family asked about me and my time in Florence, making sure I enjoyed the food I was eating and had enough to eat. 

After lunch, the cousins departed and I rested before catching my train back to Florence. Saying goodbye to the family was so heartwarming. They were so kind and gracious that I had come to visit, saying goodbye with warm hugs and lots of cheek kisses. I truly felt as thought I had known them for years and that I was a grandchild or child of theirs with the love they expressed. I was given so many gifts and wonderful memories to cherish, I truly can’t express how kind and thoughtful everyone was. 

Here I was, a third or fourth cousin having only met a few of them once before, being shown an abounding amount of love and welcome into their established family. During my time with the Magnetti family, I was reminded of the importance of family in my life and how we can all learn something from the Italian people. Being that my family has always lived close-by and I’ve seen them often, I find myself taking them for granted simply because they’ll always be around. But family should be more than that, family should always be cherished and at the center of our lives.

La mia famiglia in Italy is an incredible culture of care and hospitality in which everyone is welcomed into a house and loved just as much as their own child would be. The great lengths la mia famiglia went to to ensure I felt at home — speaking English, preparing large and delicious meals, establishing a physical place for me — was a wonderful representation of the importance of family in the Italian culture.

This post was contributed by Catherine Slabaugh, who is spending her fall semester studying abroad with AIFS in Florence, Italy.

Italian Culture 101: The Importance of Family | AIFS Study Abroad | AIFS in Florence, Italy

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