The first time I went to the EmmePiu was one of the scariest days of my life. During orientation one of the USAC advisors warned us that grocery stores here are different and started talking about plastic gloves for produce and strange rules for buying meat. It sounded daunting. Truth be told I’m not that good at planning, so I’m someone who makes daily trips to the store to buy whatever I feel like eating that day; I’ve been to the store probably hundreds of times in the last six weeks. Walking inside that first time I had visions of guards yelling at me for buying apples incorrectly or not being able to find anything I needed, but I realized quickly that my fears were only half true.
After struggling through the first few trips I started learning the basic grocery guidelines of Italy: most people go pretty often so dinners are fresh, the store may or may not have what you expect them to, and vegetables and fruits generally come from the stands that dot the streets. Since then, I’ve mastered it. I memorized the hours for the EmmePiu, The Ipercoop, the Coop, and the Punto Simply. I have my favorite vegetable stand, Frutta e Verdura on via Garibaldi, and I know what days to go to which stores for what foods–I even found peanut butter.
My favorite part of the Italian stores is that, overall, they’re the same as the American ones. Grocery culture is one of both necessity and desire and in Italy it’s no different. The lines are long, checkers are generally cranky, and the displays by the front always manage to pull you in with candy and chapstick. Here in Viterbo maybe it’s more chaotic and hit or miss because we’re in a small town, but the primary difference is that the freezer section is much smaller than any given American one. There’s still frozen pizzas and the whole array of convenient snacks, but the lack of microwave meals speaks volumes to Italy’s commitment to fresh food. Even the prepackaged containers of Tiramisu (which my roommate bought accidentally a few weeks ago) surpass anything prepackaged for American consumption. Italy is a lot of things, but lazy is not one of them, and the grocery stores reflect that just as much as any restaurant or wine bar.
My name is Hannah Williams, and I’m an American student from California and Colorado. Viterbo is a big city compared to my hometowns, and I love the language, food, and culture of the ancient community. I speak Spanish and am here to learn to speak Italian, as well as write, read, and understand the beauty of my favorite Romance language. I have worked for multiple magazines and newspapers through my home university, Humboldt State University, and I spend my days managing a band, studying words, and eating all the time.