WOUB-HD to Broadcast ‘Rick Steves’ Heart of Italy’ Dec. 31< < Back to
If one types “Italy” into a Google image search, the results are a visual cornucopia of gorgeous hilled country sides, artfully crumbling remnants of the Roman empire, stunning designs by the likes of Versace and Fendi and Prada, and heaps of gourmet pasta and deeply hued highbrow wines. It’s no wonder that Italy is one of the main places that American travel internationally, and if anyone is aware of the centuries-long fascination that Americans have with Italy, it’s experienced travel guru and host of PBS’ Rick Steves’ Europe, Rick Steves himself.
On Sunday, December 31, WOUB-HD will broadcast Rick Steves’ Heart of Italy at 12 p.m., which documents Rick’s plunge into the Italian heartland. He starts out in Umbria, sleeping in a agriturismo (farmhouse inn) and learning how delicacies like pecorino cheese and prosciutto are made. He then visits Assisi, gendering at is Giotto masterpieces and incredible basilica. Rick also makes a trip to Siena, and ends up in Cinque Terre, where he is schooled on the “five lands” of Italy, everything from the vineyards of Vernazza to the hardscramble Riomaggiore.
“Just like any place one imagines travelling to, Americans have an idealistic view of Italy in general, but I would say that, largely, Italy actually delivers for those expectations,” said Francesca Colloredo, an Italian professor in Ohio University’s division of Modern Languages. Colloredo was born and raised in Milano, and first came to New York some 35 years ago. She has been on staff at Ohio University for the past 12 years. “For example, I’ve never heard an American say that they had a bad meal in Italy, or that Rome was just ‘so-so.’ Americans think of Italy as a country of people who are relaxed and who are surrounded by beauty, and that’s not wrong. I don’t think that it is a distorted idea that Americans have, but perhaps a little idealistic.”
Molly Morrison, Ph.D., is the director of the Italian Studies Certificate program at Ohio University, who also developed a longstanding study abroad program in Florence, Italy for OU students. Morrison came on staff at Ohio University in 1997 after studying extensively in Italy. Before her interview with WOUB, Morrison reached out to students that have travelled abroad with her in the past to get their words on some of aspects of their trip that they found the most surprising.
“Just like any place one imagines travelling to, Americans have an idealistic view of Italy in general, but I would say that, largely, Italy actually delivers for those expectations. For example, I’ve never heard an American say that they had a bad meal in Italy, or that Rome was just ‘so-so.’ Americans think of Italy as a country of people who are relaxed and who are surrounded by beauty, and that’s not wrong. I don’t think that it is a distorted idea that Americans have, but perhaps a little idealistic.” – Francesca Colloredo, professor of Italian at Ohio University
“Perhaps the smallest, and most humorous, thing is that in Italy, there is no salad dressing. There’s no ranch – and I think that kind of encapsulates the whole thing,” said Morrison. “There are other small things, like, for example, Italians don’t like to split checks, which can be an issue for students, and Italians also use plastic gloves while handling produce in the supermarket. There are lots of unwritten Italian rules for eating that students find surprising, like, for example, you would never have a cappuccino after a meal. It’s just not done. And Italians would never have a big breakfast of scrambled eggs and ham and bacon. Those smaller things both puzzle and fascinate students.”
Although American students may not understand why a merchant would bristle after being paid with a credit card for a $1.75 coffee or why Italian drivers do not stop for pedestrians, Colloredo said that generally Italians welcome American tourists sincerely.
“Italy has always had a pretty good relationship with America, and Americans are usually welcomed there more readily than they might be in some other European countries,” she said. “Most Italians speak some English, and they don’t usually get upset that Americans might not try to speak Italian, it’s a very warm country. As an Italian, I was always in love with America, and that’s why I came here. I didn’t know at the time that I would marry an American, but I always liked the country. My father travelled here when I was a child, and he would always talk about his love for this country.”
Part of America’s longstanding fascination with la dolce vita stems directly from the strong association that Italy has with fantastic food, and a diet that is not only tastier than the American diet, but also conducive to a longer life.
“Students often think that while they are in Italy, they will only be eating pasta and pizza, and nothing could be farther from the truth,” said Morrison. “Italians do eat a lot of pasta, but they also eat a lot of vegetables, they are big fruit and cheese eaters. They also eat meat, obviously, but meat is not the center of every meal.”
Morrison said that Italians have the longest reported average lifespan among European countries, probably in no small part thanks to their diet.
“In Italy, people eat a lot of pasta and they drink a lot of wine, but they are not as unhealthy and obese as Americans are in general,” said Morrison. The Mediterranean Diet (which is basically the Italian diet,) has surged in popularity in the U.S. over the past decade or so, and for a reason. The “diet,” which is more of a lifestyle, focuses on healthy fats, whole grains, legumes, fruits and vegetables and moderate amounts of red wine. This method of consumption has been linked with lower rates of obesity, as well as reduced risk for heart disease, stroke, and even Alzheimer’s disease.
Morrison said that another facet of an experience studying abroad in Italy that often confuses students is the lack of public restrooms and free sources of water.
“In America, if you go into McDonalds and don’t buy anything and just use their restroom, you’re not necessarily a bad person. In Italy, you often have to pay to use a restroom in a train station or in public, or if you use the bathroom at a bar, you’re going to have to buy something, like a pack of gum or something,” she said. “America is very much a drinking fountain kind of culture. But in Italy, when you go to a restaurant, you will have to buy a bottle of water if you want water to drink, it isn’t free. It’s not too common to ask for a glass of tap water.”
Being that Italy is home to some of the most renowned fashion houses in the entire world, it’s no surprise that Italians, in general, dress much better than Americans.
“This is something that I tell students again and again, but they don’t really get it until we are in Italy, even though we do have meetings before the trip,” said Morrison. “If a girl is wearing very short shorts, it kind of says very loudly ‘I am an American,’ because Italians just don’t dress like that. People don’t wear flip flops in public, and they certainly wouldn’t be caught dead in a pair of sweatpants outside their home. They don’t wear anything with slogans, either, not that they won’t sell clothing with slogans on it to tourists, because they will, and those items make great gifts, although no one wears them over there.”
In general, Morrison said that the number of American students who are utilizing their college years to travel abroad to Italy is incredibly high.
“People don’t realize how many American students are studying abroad in Italy, but that number is quite high,” she said. “Americans are fascinated with Italy for many reasons, I think. For the food, for the beauty of the country, for the art. Not every aspect of Italian culture may be loved by Americans, but it certainly intrigues us and fascinates us.”