I can hardly believe I'm home. Italy feels like a faraway dream. I'm still thinking through and processing a lot about what I experienced there (and living vicariously through E who is there for another month) so I hope you guys don't mind me sharing some more reflections and thoughts from the trip...this time about Italian greetings and etiquette.
On the plane ride to Italy, E and I flipped through a travel book for some tips on Italian culture before we arrived to prepare for the culture shock. We had been warned by previous visitors that the expectation at church was that we would greet every single person when they arrived, and greet them again/say goodbye after every event.
We knew that it was customary to kiss both cheeks, but were misled about which cheek goes first! We had read it was left cheek, right cheek - which seemed natural to me - but it turns out its the opposite! (only a few awkward near-misses before we figured this one out)
E would greet every man with kisses (more like a light cheek touch with a kissing sound), and all the older women and children, but not usually women his own age.
I would greet every women with cheek kisses, all the older men and children. The nonni (grandparents) were usually a little more affectionate with some real kisses on the cheek.
The occasion, and level of emotion seemed to dictate how long you would hold each other, or whether or not the cheeks were actually kissed. :-)
It took me a few weeks to not instinctively put my hand out for handshake prior to the kisses. (This is proper for the first few times you meet someone, then you can stop putting your hand out). Finally after watching the ladies for a little while I began to greet with just a light holding of one shoulder, or just leaning in for the kiss-kiss.
I have to say I fell in LOVE with the cheek-kiss and cannot figure why it isn't customary in the US!
We had studied a few words of greeting before we arrived in Italy, but didn't know the rules of when to use them or how. Here are some tips we picked up!
For greeting formally before 2pm, buongiorno = good day
after 2pm, buonasera = good evening
When you are leaving or saying goodbye:
buona giornata = have a good day
buona serata = have a good evening
Ciao = (informal) hello/goodbye
ce vediamo _____ = see you _____
you can say it on its own, or add a dopo (later), a domani (tomorrow), a venerdi (on friday...or fill in any other day of the week)
For a wine toast, you say "Salute". & don't drink before the toast!
(humorous note, our hosts thought it was so funny that Americans use the same word for toasted bread and a glass clink!)
Everyone repeats "buon appetito" after the host says it, before eating.
I learned that it is impossibly to compliment a meal appropriately, unless you speak Italian.
It's proper to say either buono or buona -- the gender is determined by the gender of the name of the food which you are eating!
Since I never knew this I usually said buona cena = good dinner. (I'm still not sure if this was right or not!)
It was really fun, although awkward at times to learn a lot of the social customs and words, but we were so thankful for our patient hosts!