Tuesday, November 16, 2010

To Be a Paesana

What does it take to be considered a paesana in a small Italian town?  I've been a formal resident of Lucanella for two months now and have learned through various whisperings and conversations that I am considered a Lucanellese, una vera paesana.  My neighbor recently told me that she was thrilled to hear others say what she had already noticed, that I've "inserted" myself into village life in a very short time and become a "local".

The fact of my residency status was confirmed about a week ago when we attended a festa in a nearby village.  As we pressed through the crowded streets to see the various vendors and displays, we were joyously surprised to run into about ten people we knew- from Lucanella as well as from my ancestral village.  Our names were called out from across the piazza...'Eh!  Valerie....Bryan!  Ciao!'  We were invited to join one group as they made their way through the food stalls.  We stopped for aperitivi with a friend and her husband.  We chatted with a local carabiniero of our acquaintance.

After we had sampled many delicacies, sipped some good local vino, and enjoyed a performance in the piazza, we made our way to the car.  We looked up and saw the outline of the Milky Way painted across the sky.  A shooting star dipped toward Lucanella, across the valley.  We smiled all the way home, elated at the cameraderie we had enjoyed after such a short period of residency.  We felt that we had been truly accepted and a part of the local landscape.

So how did I do it? 

My Five Tips For Becoming a Paesana

1) Smile and greet everyone you pass.  Even the curmudgeons will start to return your buongiornos.

2) Never decline a caffe'.  I've been terribly overcaffeinated, but if someone asks me to prendere un caffe', I don't say no.  The short chat while we drink them in compagnia has let them get to know me.

3) Shop locally.  I buy as much as possible at the local stores.  They see I'm dedicated to the village and its well-being.  Instead of automatically heading to the big grocery stores in Potenza, I buy my provisions, my fruits and veggies, my bread and hardware right here in Lucanella.  (Besides, our baker is one of the best in the province.)

4) Take time to talk.  It can sometimes be hard when I have things I need to get done, but when neighbors stop me and want to chat, I give them my time.  Sometimes they're lonely and want someone to talk to; other times, they just want to get to know me better or discuss the weather and the bad grape harvest.  Either way, a few minutes goes a long way to becoming a paesana.

5) Get involved.  I jumped at the opportunity to organize English lessons.  The notices posted around town told people not only that I was an intelligent human being (contrary to my accent and stumbling for Italian words that they may have noticed), but that I want to be a part of the community.  I don't know how many people have told me how happy they were to see that I was participating in village life.  We also drove to another town nearby to hear the local choir perform (three of my students sing).  They were thrilled to see me, and news of our attendence was passed around town the next day.

Now that I think about it, these are things I've always done...they're just more noticed in a small village setting, and they've given me the benefit of acceptance.  It's nice to be a paesana.


♥The Sweet Life♥ (Alessandra) said...

Ciao! What a great experience!!

Frangipan said...

I would love to move to Italy when I am older, I will keep these tips in mind for when I do.

carol said...

ciao Valerie, Che bella consiglio....e' proprio vero!!
Avete deciso di remastare per sempre?

Evey said...


The Fashionable Traveler said...

Ahh! Paesana...I'm glad to know that there is a word for it. Nothing thrills me more than for someone to ask me directions when I'm traveling away from home. I'm convinced that the best way to experience anything is as a local. Thanks for the tips, great advice for everyday. Really touching post, thanks for sharing

Matteo said...

Good advices IF YOU LIVE IN A SMALL ITALIAN VILLAGE. Doing the same as a tourist will only get you eyed as a freakshow.

Valerie said...

Alessandra - every day is a great experience in some way!

Frangipan - we thought that too - then decided to do it *before* we were old! ;)

Carol - Si, rimaniamo. Per sempre? Chissa', ma speriamo!

Evey - Certo. Quando trasferisci tu?

Catherine - Pasesana/paesano means villager, derives from "paese", the word used for a small town. I was thrilled the first time someone introduced me to another villager as "una paesana nostra" - one of our residents.

Matteo - Yes, advice was meant for those who want to integrate into life in a small town, since by definition "paesana/paesano" implies residency (as noted above). But being friendly and shopping local is very good advice for tourists, too. :)

Dana said...

I think that you are right on with this advice. I've also discovered that baked goods go a long way with the people of my village.

Lou said...

Che bel racconto! Che bella notizia! Evviva la Paesana! Lou

LindyLouMac said...

It makes such a difference when you are prepared to become part of the community you have chosen as your home, all great tips. I also find our neighbours and acquaintances love to be introduced to any visitors we have to stay.

Anonymous said...



Anonymous said...


We used to smile at people when we passed them on the street and could not understand why they did not smile back, then found out why. We were walking with an Italian friend one day and I smiled at someone, she asked if I knew that person, I said no and she asked why I would acknowledge someone I did not know. She explained most people think it is strange or suspious for a stranger to smile at them(especially for men to do it). Of course, it is always okay to smile at babies. We live in a small city in the Abruzzo, have been here a few years, are Italian citizens, and have been accepted as paesana by the locals but will always be the Americans.

janie said...

How wonderful-I'm so happy for you and Bryan.

location villa ibiza said...

Again you did a great job..I like reading your blogs and I will keep your tips in mind..

Anonymous said...

What I'd like to do is be in a small village with Mama Jo (JJ) and kick-up our heels a bit around the restaurants and a few familia parties.............then some local arts, people and culinary soiree's...............a bit of music........lots of sitting around tables conversing< Now tht is what I'm talking about. Don't care about shopping.....other for food. Would love to have you map us out places to see in casual clothes as that's all I'm bringing. My only wish is to be within the village and don't care about Rome,etc........people are my forte'. Much x 7 o's to you Valerie
elaine ((~.~))**

Snowwwbelle2msn.com said...


I don't know how to get on this list !!!!!!!!!!

nyc/caribbean ragazza said...

Glad to hear things are going so well.

I think your advice is great and works even in a big city like Rome.

I'm still taken aback when my butcher or one of the fruit vendors sees me on the street and yells, "Ciao Cara!!"

Valerie said...

Dana - If I had a real oven baked goods would be well received around here. Next year when we do the kitchen!

Lou - Grazie! Quando vieni alla tua madreterra?

LindyLou - Our first visitors are arriving next weekend; I'm sure everyone will be stopping us on the street to meet them.

Anonymous - Interesting, because here everyone started greeting us right away despite not knowing us. If we don't greet people they are surprised and think we're snubbing them!

Janie - Hi!

Elaine - You book the tickets and we'll make it all happen! :)
Sign up for the email list on the main page.

Ragazza - Ciao bella! Thanks. Being accepted as part of the neighborhood is so nice, huh? Brava.

Damiano said...

Excellent article, couldn't agree more. On the point about getting involved, especially on tourism, it has proved a great way of sharing knowledge of the web and technology with locals who we admire for their customs and traditions, but ironically whose traditions hamstring them sometimes from moving on or thinking laterallly