The Italian in the Basement 9

 My travels take me to many places, repeatedly. In my years as a tour guide, I’ve formed great relationships with local guides, hotel owners and restauranteurs, to the point that they have become a part of my life as friends and extended family. One of my favorite hotels in Italy is a small family-run hotel in a sweet little beach town called Levanto. I’ve know the owners for about 10 years and have seen their daughters grow up to be delightful women. Their older daughter and I have talked for years about having her come to the US to visit and, finally, this month she is here and living for a few weeks in the apartment in my basement. Her name is Giuditta, and she’s the Italian in my basement.

Giudi (pronounced Judy) is 24, and owns a fantastic restaurant, Piccolo Diavolo, in the little town of Monterosso al Mare. If you happen to go to the Cinque Terre, you’d have a hard time finding a better restaurant. The food is fresh and the atmosphere is friendly. It’s my go-to place when I’m in the area. Because she owns a restaurant in a beach town, she works 14 hour days for 9 months, then takes 3 months off when the season is over. That gives her time to travel, and although she has been many places, this is only her second visit to the US. She came 9 years ago, so this time is almost like the first. She’s got a total of three weeks in Seattle, not much, but we’ve been trying to make the most of her time.

Having her around the house has been fun, she’s just a happy and positive soul. I don’t get to speak Italian outside of Italy often, so that has been a delight for me. But what I’ve enjoyed most has been watching her reactions to things and watching other people react to her. I’ve learned some cool things about Italian culture by listening to her thoughts about normal American things, like grocery shopping or banking.

Some interesting observations so far….

 Italians don’t eat with their hands. I’ve never thought about it but it’s true. In my effort to expose her to the best and worst of the USA, I got Kentucky Fried Chicken for dinner one night. She looked at it sheepishly and asked “But how do I eat it?” She saw us eating it with our hands but wasn’t convinced until I told her to just try it. As it turns out, Italians won’t eat with their hands unless they are with their immediate family or on a picnic. Even pizza gets the fork and knife in most situations.

Drinking a glass of milk is weird. I knew that Italians only drink milk at breakfast time, but my parents didn’t. My dad drinks big glasses of milk several times a day, and I did too when I was a kid. At dinner with my parents, my dad poured milk for everyone as we always do. She just stared at it. She tried it, just a sip, but I could hear the “No, grazie” in her head.

 American grocery stores are overwhelming. Italy does not have giant supermarkets in the same way that we do. The sheer amount of selection was surprising to her, as well as the concept of 24/7 availability. I took her to Fred Meyer, which is a big grocery store with general merchandise mixed in, a crazy concept in and of itself. She looked down the beer aisle, double sided with a hundred kinds and just said “Oh, wow. We only have 2 kinds of beer in our grocery store.” She giggled and sighed when I showed her the frozen foods, dozens of kinds of ice cream and frozen pizzas. She eyed with wonder the aisle of chips and snacks. It wasn’t all heavenly, though, she was totally unimpressed by our pathetic selection of pasta shapes.

Things are easier here. From banking to buying shoes to watching a movie, everything is easier here. Need cough syrup at 3 am on a Sunday? No problem. Want food but too lazy to leave your couch? You got it. There is ease and abundance in everything here, something that is simply unthinkable in Italy. On the other hand, the Italians have a complicated existence because of their complex history. That is exactly what makes their country, and them as a people, so beautiful and fascinating.

Our time with our Italian in the basement is winding down. We have loved having her, with her sunny spirit and ability to make us see things through her eyes. Sadly she will be leaving soon, unless her passport disappears….hmmmm, that gives me an idea…..


Sarah Murdoch is a tour guide and guidebook writer for Rick Steves Europe. Her blog, Adventures with Sarah, focuses on packing tips, travel stories and advice for planning the best trip possible.

9 thoughts on “The Italian in the Basement

  • Joseph Malone

    Read your post regularly, glad you are enjoying some time off.
    Judy say hello to Fausto and Mariapa at Il Giardino Incantato
    In Monterosso for me
    Joseph and Antoinette from Philly

  • Judie Marks

    Enjoyed your post. Reminds me of our Swedish exchange student who spent 10 months with us. She gave us a new perspective on American culture. She came to love all of our food options. When we visited her in Sweden she asked if we could bring her American Mayonnaise and Green Taco Sauce.

  • Kat Villines

    Thoroughly enjoyed this story. If given the chance, I would live, enjoy and spend the rest of my years in Italy! Thanks and grazie!

  • Janet Lockwood

    We had an exchange student from Brasil live with us for 8 months. She told us that She had heard that Americans eat everything with their hands! When her Mother came for a short visit we grilled burgers and sure enough her mom cut it into bite sized pieces with a knife and fork. When you think about it, there are a lot of things we eat with our hands…burgers, fries, sandwiches, chips pizza, hot dogs and Fried Chicken! Enjoy your time with Guidi. It is so fun to learn about other people and cultures of our world!😊🍪🍦🍕🍗🍔🍟

  • Crystal Hetke

    How absolutely delightful. This young lady is a treasure. We were in Italy a few times and thoroughly enjoyed every minute.
    Thanks for the article.

  • Laurel Barton

    How fun to see the cultural differences through her eyes! Lord knows, we are experiencing many ourselves here in Roma! I love so many “Italian ways” but I have to agree: just doing (most) things is much easier in the U.S. The other night I’d have killed for home delivery of a pizza, which is almost unheard of, yet I can go to the store and order home delivery of my very heavy groceries/water/wine for a few euros.

  • Linda

    Thanks for your story and enjoy the rest of your visit with your Italian in the basement! Please tell her in Noe Cal we have a better selection of Pasta in some of our stores:)

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