I guess I feel I know enough of North American culture, having lived in 4 provinces, 1 state and visited over 30 states for work, to make a comparison between North America and the small piece of Italy in which we happen to live. I don't know how well the generalizations I have made about la vie quotidienne here port to other parts of Italy let alone other parts of Europe.
I find the pace of life here very slow. Whether this is a function of being in a small town (250,000), being a stay at home mom or a function of being in Italy or Europe, who knows? I don't have the frazzled sense that I had in Montreal, which FYI I miss!, nor do I have the sense that I need to be efficient and quick when dealing with people because otherwise I am wasting their precious time. How can one be efficient and quick when most interactions start with 3-5 minutes of baby admiration, followed by half a dozen questions about the baby before actually turning to the business at hand? The rhythm of the days has been hard to get used to with the 3-4 hour siesta in the middle of the day and on Sundays (and often Mondays) things just don't happen. Period.
Work-life balance actually seems to exist here. People do not define themselves by what they do. The perennial North American question "what do you do for a living?" rarely comes up here. Family time is precious. Precious to the point that people are rarely invited to the family home, it is a bit of a sacred place. People seem to socialize in restaurants, piazzas, bars, but invitations to dinner at home are rare and extended mostly to the extended family and very close friends.
Opportunity, on the whole, seems to be less. I do NOT have the sense that if you work hard enough you can be/do anything you want. I have the sense that if your family is important, and you know the right people and you work very hard you can rise to the level to which you were expected to rise. The economy seems to be much more service-based than in North America so there are simply fewer jobs available in high tech fields or innovation or research and development. I have met far more people here who work in bars, restaurants, hotels, stores, factories than anything else and I think that is simply a function of these jobs being the most numerous, by far.
Doing things right: in seeming contrast to the slower pace of life is the notion of doing things right. Hobbies are not undertaken casually here. There is a society for almost every pursuit no matter how esoteric and the sense that if one undertakes an activity it should be done rigorously. I have certainly seen this in the bureaucracy and ceremony surrounding even the most local of road race around here.
Money is not spent frivolously here and my impression is that consumer debt is low. I have, on numerous occasions, been told by a sales or service person that the option/object/service I am considering is too expensive without even being told the price. On these occasions I did not interpret this as the salesperson thinking I was too shabbily dressed to possibly be able to afford the item in question but rather that no reasonable person of normal income would be irresponsible to enough to spend that shocking amount of money on that item. People do not tend to carry a balance on their credit card and typically loans are taken out only for the purchase of a home.
Leaving the nest: children do not leave the nest until quite late in Italy. The concept of going to a different city/province/region for university is largely unheard of due to the cost of housing and living. This tends to happen only if pursuing the education of one's choice is not possible in one's home town. Perhaps North Americans are so entrained to the idea of taking on debt for education that the additional burden of food and housing is not considered a barrier. Regardless the result is that Italians live at home typically until at least their mid-twenties often moving out when they get married. This, I feel, is quite different from the typical North American dorm/university apartment experience.
The stereotype that Italians love babies is absolutely true. As far as I can tell, the social hierarchy here is: newborns, infants, toddlers, dogs, primary school children, all other children, all other people. I will certainly miss having my baby fawned over. When I walk into a restaurant/bus/other public place, I can see the anticipation on people's faces as they hope the baby will sit near them. In Montreal I see the dread on people's faces as they hope the baby will just go away.
After almost a year here I have grown to love and appreciate many aspects of life here. I have made far more friends than I expected to and feel fortunate that they were all so welcoming to me. I have achieved a higher level of Italian than I expected to (though it is still definitely cringe-worthy). Ultimately though I am a new-worlder at heart. I am sure I will miss our time here and look back on it with great nostalgia. I do wish we had more than 10 weeks left as there are so many beautiful places we have not explored but I will be ready to cross the pond and go home.