‘Cows raided my garden’: Readers share their craziest stories about life in Italy

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Whether you’ve been to Italy once on holiday or have lived there most of your life, you’re bound to have a story or two to tell about your time in the Bel Paese.

Over the years, the Local’s members have shared with us all sorts of accounts of their experiences of Italy – from capers at the Post Office to striking up a friendship with a 97-year-old stranger – and we recently put out a call for more of your Italy anecdotes so we could gather them together in one place.

We asked for some of your best ‘Only in Italy’ stories, from the unexpected to the special to the bizarre, and you didn’t disappoint. Here’s what you had to say.

Surprise connections and hair-raising traffic

With the Italian diaspora scattered all over the world, it’s not uncommon for second, third, or even fourth generation descendants of Italian emigrants to pay a visit to their ancestors’ home town and bump into someone who remembers their family.

That’s exactly what happened to American Gloria Di Pietro when she went on holiday to Italy: “I was in an alimentari in Civitaretenga & started talking to a woman there about my grandfather who was born in Civita. She invited me to her home to meet her mother and grandmother.”

“When I told her mother who my grandfather was she ran into another room and came out with a photo album. It turns out that her great uncle married my grandfather’s sister, my great aunt & the album was full of photos of my family in Massachusetts!”

READ ALSO: 13 essential articles you’ll need when moving to Italy

As you might expect, some readers’ strongest impressions of Italy centre on the country’s distinctive driving culture.

Peter MacDonald, ‘a Scot in Garfagnana’, says he once observed “someone reversing round a roundabout because they missed the exit”.

And Judy Tong, who hails from Hong Kong and lives in Palermo, says she’s shocked to regularly see entire families crammed on to a single Vespa:

“A child standing between the handlebar and the saddle, papa sits at the front part of the saddle driving, while mamma sits at the rear end, in between them like the ham of a sandwich is another child or baby… none wears a helmet.”

Vespa scooters aren’t just style statements: they can transport entire families.

Bovine antics and musical ambushes

If Italy’s roads can make your jaw drop, don’t make the mistake of thinking that sticking to the countryside will keep you from witnessing – or even getting roped into – some comic escapades, as one reader recounts:

“Staying at the in-laws’ house, we popped back on our last evening to check if the rubbish and furniture had been collected by the council and found our elderly neighbour (Jackie) flapping her arms, pointing and shouting “mucca, mucca!’

“Apparently our lovingly-tended space had had three enormous cows in it all afternoon.

“Now long-gone, they had swaggered down the road, found our newly opened garden gate and wandered in, upending the table and chairs as they went, snapping off branches, knocking over my newly planted flower pot and merrily eating all the apples! There were hoof marks in the grass, cow pats everywhere and most of our fruit had been eaten… Anyone need any manure for their roses??”

READ ALSO: ‘Five ways a decade of living in Italy has changed me’

Meanwhile, in a reminder that Italy’s underpopulated hill towns are often less moribund than they might first appear, one Canadian in Abruzzo recalls having a nap in a sleepy, remote mountain hamlet “when suddenly, seemingly out of nowhere, a 20-person band passed by playing music, right under my second-floor window.”

Italy’s hilltowns may be more lively than they seem. Photo: Marcello PATERNOSTRO/AFP

On a different note, at least one foreign resident has noticed the special relationship many Italians have with their pets.

“Only in Italy do dogs eat linguine con vongole and eggplant parmigiana for lunch,” says an American whose partner’s Pugliese parents insist it would be unkind not to feeds their dogs the same meals as the human members of the family. The vongole (clam) shells are “painstakingly removed dalla nonna“, he clarifies.

Slip-ups, scams, and saints

Italy’s bureaucracy is infamous, so it’s unsurprising that at least one person’s ‘only in Italy’ moment concerns a brush with the tax authorities.

Eric Hompe, an American who lives in Piedmont, says he recently went to his local tax office to have his property taxes assessed, which involved “the obligatory chit-chat about acquaintances in our small town.”

“No sooner had I left the bank when my phone rang. It was the tax office: they had tracked my cell number down through the mutual acquaintance we had chit-chatted about earlier, and were calling to inform me that they had made a mistake – I actually didn’t owe any property tax at all for that year!

“I quickly returned to the bank and waited anxiously for my number to be called, hoping I was in time to cancel the transfer I had previously made. Fortunately, I was! This misadventure cost me an entire morning, and when I think about it I still shake my head in disbelief.”

You can expect to spend plenty of time on (sometimes unnecessary) bureaucracy at the town hall if you move to Italy. Photo by ANDREAS SOLARO / AFP

READ ALSO: ‘Nanna’s gone for a quickie’: Readers reveal their funniest Italian language gaffes

Some anecdotes illustrate a darker side to life in Italy.

Writes one Rome-based respondent: “When we first moved in to our apartment, the real estate agent – who worked for one of the largest, most well-known agencies in Italy! – told us to pay our deposit and first month’s rent into his wife’s personal bank account because that’s what he had agreed with the landlord.”

“This seemed unlikely, so we called the landlord, who had no idea what we were talking about; when we called the agent back to say what we had learned, he simply said ‘OK’, and hung up the phone.

“He remained our real estate agent for the next seven years that we lived in the flat and no one ever acknowledged the attempted fraud.”

“Here’s one – my ex-landlord messaged me today saying there’s an outstanding bill from Fastweb for €30 sent to the apartment in my name,” writes another Rome resident who recently moved away from Italy. “I never signed a contract with Fastweb…”

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But if you need to be on your guard against the odd Italian truffa, there’s also the warm, generous side to the country, as Mia Nielsen in Paris fondly recalls: “A doctor working in Chiusi backed up on the motorway to rescue me, my husband and little baby when our rental car broke down on our way to Rome airport one summer about 10 years ago. He was on his way to Napoli where his family lived.”

“Instead of dropping us at the nearest petrol station, he drove us to the airport just in time for us to catch our flight back to Paris. We did not get his name and he refused to take any money for helping us. We will never forget his kindness.”

Have you had any ‘only in Italy’ experiences of your own? Let us know here.