1. The healthcare. I can only speak for the region (and perhaps really only the province) in which I am living but I have been truly impressed by some aspects of the healthcare here. Some things I find downright amazing, for instance, if you call a doctor's office, the doctor picks up the phone! And will actually talk to you! I have avoided trucking myself and baby down to the office and waiting in the waiting room with a few quick conversations. Public health policy here seems really advanced. The other day I got a letter in the mail saying that as part of a new campaign, an appointment had automatically been made for me to have a pap smear and all I had to do was show up.
2. My pediatrician: Baby's appointments have been fabulous experiences. They start with the doctor putting baby on the table, looking into her eyes and saying "She's wonderful." Pause. "She's really, really wonderful". What mom doesn't love to hear that? From an expert no less. The appointment typically lasts 30 minutes or more and includes things such as breast feeding coaching and advice on how and when to give solids. Really detailed advice. I brought baby in one time with a throat infection and slight difficulty breathing. The doctor assessed her, made some suggestions, told me not to worry and sent me on my way. I was completely stunned to get a phone call from her at 9 am the next morning just to see how baby was doing... and then again the following day! Ok... so maybe I was just lucky to randomly score a rock start pediatrician (the other moms here tell me this is not really the norm) but my pediatrician remains in the list of top 10 things I love about living here.
3. The love affair with babies: The stereotype is absolutely true. Italians love babies. I mean they REALLY.... LOVE... BABIES. It is not uncommon for me to be stopped 2-3 times during a quick trip to the supermarket so that Random Person On the Street can admire baby. In fact one of the first sentences I learned in Italian was: "Quanto tempo ha?" (how old is she?). I also quickly learned the words: carina! amora! stella! oh deo! I sometimes feel like I am walking around with a famous movie star i.e. baby is the movie star, I am the anonymous best friend. The love affair is not limited to women over a certain age. Baby has been admired by old & young, men & women, toddlers & teens. The only demographic group that seems somewhat immune to baby love is adolescent males.
4. The countryside: oh, it's glorious. Just glorious. And this, I think, is certainly not limited to the region/province where we live. Italy is sea carved coasts and sun drenched granite and wind-carved evergreens and pastoral mosaics. Last week-end we discovered a whole canyon just minutes by car from where we live. There is was, hiding out, just waiting to be discovered. Walking into this canyon felt like slipping down the rabbithole into Wonderland only without the weirdo psychodelic stuff. No. Scratch that. It felt like walking into Narnia.
5. Demographic mixture. My perception is that people here tend to associate with a mixture of ages. Walking around in the evening, one sees groups of people that range in age from babies to the elderly. The only other place I have had this experience has been in any running community which I feel also tend to promote demographic mixture (minus of course the babies).
6. Warm & Welcoming nature of the people. Prior to moving here, one of our acquaintances who is from this city expressed the opinion that its habitants have the tendency to be stand-offish to outsiders and it is difficult to "break in" to the community so to speak. This was very unwelcome news to a girl who thrives on having social networks. I feel very fortunate to be able to say that i have found the exact opposite to be true. The two spheres in which I tend to move i.e. mommies & runners have been so warm, generous and welcoming to me. The runners have invited me to races, training runs, helped me navigate the bureaucracy of racing here and been so encouraging and generally supportive. The mommies I have met (through a local health/community type center) have gone out of their way to include me in various informal activities. I am lucky to know these kind, funny, patient women and thrilled to know their babies.
7. Reduced environmental impact. That is my perception anyhow. I feel that there are many practices here that result in a more environmentally friendly way of life. These practices are very matter-of-fact i.e. there is no hooplah about saving the planet - they are just quietly done. Examples: it is very rare for people here to have clothes dryers - they use wind & sun, parking is ridiculously hard to come by (that's what happens when the city was settled before the car was invented!) so people use public transport and walk, public spaces are often not heated or air conditioned and while this is admittedly uncomfortable on occasion it is an earth friendly practice, there is often no hot water in public restrooms (again uncomfortable but earth friendly), recycling here is light years ahead of my home town (but alas no public composting).
8. The cheese. Oh this deserves an entire blog entry in and of itself. Let me start by saying it is, of course, delicious. And cheap (at least compared to where I come from). And varied. And, best of all, NOT bright orange! We have so many left to try, I don't know if 5 months will be enough time. As a sidenote: I was completely shocked to find both philadelphia cream cheese and processed cheese singles in plastic wrap in our local grocery store the the day. Supply implies demand. Who is demanding these products when there are fresh mozarellas, ricottas, smoked everythings... it boggles my mind!
9. The serving sizes. One of my greatest failings is that I tend to eat a whole package of whatever once the package is opened. The snack food here comes in reasonable serving sizes which I greatly appreciate.
10. The non-proliferation of diet foods. Diet foods make people fatter. Far better to eat a small quantity of the real, full-fat version than to eat massive quantities of the skinnied down version. As a sidebar - Diet Coke costs an arm and a leg here whereas sparkling water is dirt cheap. This has rapidly cured me of my very unhealthy diet coke addiction. Thanks Italian food culture!
11. Separation of payment from service provision. In many instances here, one pays for a good or service completely separately from receiving the good or service. Sounds like a strange thing to enjoy but let me give you my favorite example. People here do not pay the bus driver. The bus driver does not care one whit whether you have a ticket. All the bus driver does is drive the bus. Inspectors will randomly get on the buses and ask to see your ticket. If you don't have one you pay a 15 euro fine. Why is this great? It means that bus drivers just focus on driving the bus unlike in Montreal where they must process each person who gets on the bus. Is this tranfer valid? Did that person put enough money in the fare box? Does that picture on the bus pass REALLY look like that person? When something is amiss, the entire bus load of people sits fuming while the bus driver argues with the inevitably hostile passenger who is trying to pass off a day old transfer as still valid. Or else the driver starts driving while still arguing with said passenger thus endangering the lives of everyone on the bus. Personally I think a BUS DRIVER should only have to DRIVE A BUS. In general this separation of service from payment means that people are focussing on their epxertise i.e. providing service X while someone else worries about the financials. It's efficient. It makes for better service. It reduces the possibility of corruption.
12. The little mysteries. Ok, this is generally true of living in any foreign country... the little mysteries of hte nuances of life that take awhile to figure out. Today, for example, I went to the bakery to buy bread. The bakery was open and had many delicious deserts that had been baked that day available for sale but... no bread that I could see. I asked the woman behind the counter for bread and she looked at me incredulously and said "It's Sunday! No bread on Sunday!". I felt like I was asking why objects fall when dropped and she was replying: "Gravity! It pulls things to the earth!". So, I have no idea if this is a city-wide phenomenon, a peculiarity of this bakery, some aspect o Catholicism I have long forgotten... but I am enjoying the mystery.