After spending the past few months living in Italy and traveling around Europe, I can confidently say that there are some key lessons that we Americans can take from their way of life. People in Europe seem healthier and happier than most Americans, and watching the way they live, eat and speak to one another, this makes sense.
Life in Italy is slower than just about anywhere I have ever been. Mississippi isn’t exactly known for its hustle and bustle, but the American values of hard work and achievement permeate even the smallest towns.
It isn’t that Italians and other European citizens do not want to find success, it is just that their definition of success is quite different from ours. Italian culture is not built around climbing the corporate ladder and success is not measured by how much money a person makes. In Italy, it is about working to live rather than living to work — a mindset that all too many Americans hold above all else.
This difference is clear just walking around the city. Life starts later in Europe; you rarely see anyone in the streets until after 9 a.m., even in the big cities. There is no point in getting up early to start your day because nothing is open. Businesses also often close in the afternoon so workers can go home for lunch with their families.
Many Americans would see this lifestyle as lazy, but in reality, it is far from it. Italians are constantly walking, which is likely why their obesity rates are much lower than other nations, about 1 in 10 compared to 2 in 5 in America. Sure, Europeans have cars and Vespas to drive around, but it is much more common to walk. A 20-minute walk may seem like a lot in America, but in Italy, it is part of your everyday routine.
I spend most days back in the U.S. trying to find time in my schedule to walk, sometimes even pacing around my kitchen to reach my 10,000 steps for the day. It has been incredibly refreshing these past few months to have a seemingly less active day, only to see I fit in 15,000 steps or more without even trying. I haven’t ridden in a car in months, and even as someone who loves to drive, I can’t say that I miss it. Between the fresh air and the Renaissance architecture around every corner, it’s hard to imagine going back to any other way of getting around.
Food in Europe is also less processed than in America, with many prominent American food additives being banned in the EU. Many European countries follow a Mediterranean diet, consisting of more fresh produce, whole grains and less fattening ingredients.
When people think of Italian food, they tend to think of pizza and pasta.While those are in plentiful supply, they are not the common dishes in Italian homes. With daily farmer’s markets selling all sorts of fresh meat and produce, it is easy and inexpensive to find whole foods and healthy options to cook with. Imagine how much better grocery shopping would feel if you could get everything you needed, anytime you needed it, at the Oxford Community Market.
My favorite part of Italian food culture is not the food itself, but the practices around eating it. Meals are slow in Europe, and the restaurant is never in a rush to clear your table. The waiter does not bring your check until you ask for it, and they often offer a free glass of limoncello or vinsanto, common after-dinner digestive drinks, after you pay to help you better digest your food.
Whether you are sitting at a cafe in the morning, having aperitivo with friends in the afternoon or at a five-star restaurant, the service is slow and relaxing, giving you time to enjoy your meal and time with whoever you dine with.
The United States is full of wonderful ideas and immense opportunities, but we as a nation have begun to lose what life is all about in the midst of competition and social climbing. If you want to feel happier and healthier, take a note from Europe and just slow down. Go for a walk, take a trip to your local farmer’s market or enjoy a coffee with a friend. Life is far too short to waste it on achieving a status that won’t mean anything when you’re gone.
Liv Briley is a junior integrated marketing communications major from Lemont, Ill.