It All Starts with the Piazza

Many people in America and around the world love Italy because of the Italian lifestyle. And the foundation of the Italian lifestyle is the piazza.

The piazza functions as a powerful catalyst for community life. It has the ability to encourage social interaction, provoke a sense of well-being among its citizens, ensure a strong community, encourage civic engagement and provide a learning environment for young people.

Arriving at the piazza makes you feel like you are at the heart of a community or neighborhood. There is the anticipation of: encountering friends or acquaintances, engaging in festivities, exchanging information (and gossip) and so on. No matter how large or small the piazza, you can be sure there will always be a crowd of people walking, talking and interacting with one another.

Due to this abundance of social interaction, the piazza provides a sense of well-being to its citizens. People find pleasure in simply running into someone they know and having a face-to-face conversation. And it is often in the setting of the piazza that children learn how to interact in a wide range of social situations. The key to the Italian piazza and the community life it engenders is the feeling of inclusion; a feeling of belonging in the community.

Fortunately for those of us who do not live in Italy, there are piazza-like places in most towns and cities where one can go for a walk, meet friends, have a coffee, have lunch, read a newspaper or just watch the passing scene. American piazzas are a little harder to find than their Italian counterparts, but they do exist.

For people of all ages, the piazza reinforces a sense of belonging. And a visit to your local piazza allows you to enjoy the Italian lifestyle anywhere you go.

3 Comments

  1. Jim Spenser
    Nov 17, 2012

    this is great content!!

  2. Joanna M. Leone
    Nov 28, 2012

    I enjoyed reading your article about the piazza. Since I have traveled to Italy many times, I was able to connect with the article on many levels. Each time I think about the piazza in many towns and cities in Italy, I remember the times that my friends and family always made room for me at their table right there in the piazza. I would often hear the Italian version of my name, which is Giovanna. My name would echo from the piazza down the street as they wanted to buy me a marmelade filled crescent pastry, espresso, or a drink called “Bitter”. On a hot day, that white or red bitter went down my throat quickly as I would feel the cool shade under the umbrellas that were attached to the table. I loved watching the people pass by the piazza. They would smile and say “Buon giorno” or “Buona mattina”. I always loved to see which fruits and vegetables or biscotti my friends or family bought. That’s another benefit of the piazza, which is “people watching” and checking out the fresh and delicious things they bought. Sometimes I would pick the green figs off the trees at my grandmother’s house ( nonna’s) and I would carry them in plastic bags to the piazza so I could give them to my family and friends. It is always fun to catch up on the news of the day while sitting in the piazza, such as updates about the soccer games, upcoming feasts and firework displays and the hot gossip in town. All you need to do is sit right there in the piazza. The great thing about the piazza is that no matter how crowded it is, there is always room for you at someone’s table or they will buy you a coffee or drink while standing up at the counter inside the bar. If you travel to Italy during off season when there are less tourists, someone always talks to you or offers you a coffee or beverage. Sometimes I would watch the religious processions while sitting in the piazza, or I would be able to look up at the church nearby the piazza and see the bride and groom go into the church and their procession after the wedding. The piazza is the central location for news, gossip, important events and it is the place where someone always invites you to visit them in their home or to do something fun together.. While chatting in the piazza, a friend or relative usually says, “Come to eat at 8pm” or “We are going to Rome tomorrrow, so why don’t you come with us?” It is the place where you meet people that you might not have seen in a while, yet they remember you and embrace you with open arms. The funny thing about the piazza is that if someone does not know you, they may look at you, smile and say, “Who is your family ?”( their last name or nickname) The person who starts out as a stranger in the piazza usually knows someone in your family or may even know your great-grandparents or great aunts and uncles. Suddenly, the stranger becomes your friend, right there in the piazza.- Joanna M. Leone

    • admin
      Nov 28, 2012

      Thank you SO much Joanna for sharing your memories of the Italian piazza! It’s not always easy to explain the role of the piazza in Italian society to someone who has never seen it or been a part of it. And your description is absolutely wonderful.

      My eternal hope is people here in the U.S. will begin to understand how important it is to have this type of community interaction, and one day soon “American piazzas” will develop and grow in towns and cities of all sizes. I have tried to encourage this process with The Italian Way app (which you can see a demo of here: http://buff.ly/URFspD) but I realize we have a long long way to go. And I am so glad there are Italian-Americans who have already been a part of and understand the feeling of community that is made possible by the piazza. Thanks again Joanna!

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