America From the Italian Point of View Part One: First Impressions

Last year, when I was in Italy, my landlady and landlord, Stefania and Bruno, basically adopted me. I ate with them every day, and they took me all around Umbria. Honestly, I couldn’t have completed my Fulbright without them. So when I left last June, my family and I invited them to come to America. And this week, after months of planning, they did.

 

They’ve been here for four full days now. They have recovered from their jetlag, and we’re planning a leisurely tour of the northeast. So far, we’ve had a lot of fun.

 

We picked them up Monday night at the airport. It took over an hour for them to get through customs, while we waited on the outside and tried not to worry too much. Neither Stefania nor Bruno speak any English, and without any English, we knew it would be hard for them to navigate the airport. At the same time, we knew that other Italian travelers or the flight crew from Italy would be able to help them. Finally, they came through customs, and we set off for NH. After a light dinner, we all went to bed. I was glad to find that while my Italian is a little ragged around the edges, it is still very much alive and kicking. I did devote the last several weeks to reading Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone in Italian, which I’m sure helped.

 

On Tuesday, we relaxed and strolled around our neighborhood, but it was a bit rainy, so we didn’t do much. It was a good day to sleep and continue to adjust to American time (Italy is six hours ahead). Things I took for granted before I spent a year in Italy—like ziplock bags, vegetable steamers, and garbage disposals—fascinated them. They were also fascinated by the chipmunk population in our backyard. I guess chipmunks are far less common in Europe, and also apparently chipmunks are cute (I know a lot of people think they’re cute, but having never seen one, I’m not so sure I can get too excited about it, especially when it sounds like they’re candle pin bowling with acorns in our attic at midnight).

 

It continued to rain on Wednesday. I had a clarinet recital, just for them, where I played the concerto I’ve been working on all year. It went really well. Then we all cooked my mom’s famous roast chicken and my up-and-coming smashed potatoes together, and then I taught Stefania and Bruno how to play Uno. Of all the games I have, it seemed the simplest to play in multiple languages. Throughout my very fractured explanation of the rules in Italian, Stefania asked question after question, but Bruno said absolutely nothing, giving me no indication of whether he understood what I was saying. I was pretty nervous about it, pretty sure I completely messed it up, but apparently I did all right, because Bruno creamed us all.

 

On Thursday, we drove from New Hampshire to Pennsylvania. It was a long, long drive, but we took the scenic route, and they enjoyed seeing the American countryside and the architecture. They’re keeping a running list of all the states we’re driving through and visiting. We spent a lot of time going over the geography with them. We stopped in Poughkeepsie New York and crossed the Hudson River on the Walkway over the Hudson. It was a bit cold and windy and still cloudy. Honestly the bridge wasn’t what we expected, given everything we’d heard about it. It was so big that it was really just like being on a road—it didn’t feel like a bridge—and the sides of the bridge were so high it was difficult to see the river over them. But it was a nice way to stretch our legs, and we found a good lunch right on the waterfront. Finally, we had the quintessential American experience: eating McDonald’s for dinner in the car. We’d planned to have dinner upon our arrival in Pennsylvania, but the walk over the Hudson took longer than expected, and we hit a bit of traffic, and we knew we didn’t want to eat dinner at ten o’clock.

 

Today is another day for relaxing. It’s still raining. We really hoped we would have escaped the rain, but at least it’s a little warmer, and the forecast is for better weather. This weekend, we’re going to visit Washington D.C. and Gettysburg. Then we’ll start back up towards New Hampshire, spending a few days in New York along the way. Once back in New Hampshire, we plan to spend a day in Boston, where I’ll show them where I’m going to school next year. We’re also planning to go to Portsmouth for lobster one evening. And based on the hours and hours we’ve spent playing Uno so far today, we’ll be doing lots of that too.

 

So far, I think it has been a great experience for them. I’m certainly having fun, and it’s really just nice to see them again and show them America, after everything they did for me in Italy.

 

The purpose of the Fulbright program is cultural exchange and understanding. I learned so much from Stefania and Bruno about Italian culture, and while I explained a lot of aspects of American culture to them, it’s one thing to have it explained to you and another to see it. We’re barely a third of the way through their trip, but I think already they’ve seen a lot of American culture. Here’s hoping the rest of the trip is as great as these first few days have been.

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