Ciao from Cortina: The learning curve

Sophie Dingle/For the Steamboat Today

— When we first moved to Italy in 2011, I planned on learning as much about Italy as possible. I was going to learn to cook traditional Italian dishes, learn about Italian wines and study Italian art. I was going to learn the language and figure out the train system.

And all of those things happened, at least in some capacity. But the most important thing I learned over the years was how to live like an Italian.

Yes, this meant eating pasta for lunch, walking everywhere, driving like a crazy person and having five espressos a day. But it also meant adjusting to everyday tasks that were now so different.

For example, going to the grocery store took upwards of an hour because I had to decipher labels (did those olives have pits or no pits?) and figure out which, of the 20 varieties of mozzarella sitting on the shelf, was the one I needed.

In the U.S., grocery stores open before the sun comes up and close long after it goes down again. In Italy, they open at 8:30 a.m. and close at 7:30 p.m., plus they are closed every afternoon from 12:30 to 3:30 p.m. and all day on Sundays. Then there are the holidays that only Italians know about, and it’s closed on those days too.

Last week, I walked to the store for bananas and when I reached the front of the automatic doors, they remained closed. I waved my hands in front of them for a while before noticing a sign on the door that said “Chiuso 6 Gennaio.” Closed on Jan. 6.

Oh yes, I remembered, it’s Epiphany, that holiday where everything in the U.S. remains open and the children still go to school.

Doing laundry was another story. You know those charming pictures you see of old buildings in Venice? The ones that look out over a quiet canal and have a clothesline of laundry strung across the balcony, blowing in the breeze? That’s because no one in Italy has a dryer.

Gone are the days of doing a quick load in 30 minutes; laundry in Italy is an all-day affair, and the day must be sunny and slightly breezy so that the clothes dry properly.

Now that we are in our fourth year here, we have only just learned the correct way to recycle. In the U.S., our trash is tossed in one bin and all our recycling lands in another.

In Italy there is the trash bin. Then there is the bin for food waste, which must be disposed of in a special biodegradable bag. There is a bin for cans and glass. There is a bin for paper. And you have to put all of your plastics in a specific type of blue plastic bag that you can only buy at one place, which is slightly out of town.

We learned all of this the hard way last year, when we had an elderly neighbor who used to pick through our recycling as I watched her from my kitchen window.

At first, I thought she was disappointed by my choice of wine or that I was buying pre-made focaccia bread from a plastic container instead of making it from scratch. Then I realized that she wasn’t shaking her head at my food choices, but at the way we were recycling, throwing our plastics in with our glass. She was sorting everything out for us, and she came daily to check that everything was in order.

In the end, while we did learn how to read an Italian train schedule, the most important thing we learned was how to navigate through the everyday adventures of household chores, Italian-style.

Sophie Dingle is a freelance writer living in Cortina, Italy, where her husband and Steamboat native, Ryan, plays professional ice hockey. While in Italy, she loves to eat, cook, explore and drink red wine. You can follow her adventures online at

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