Forget our fixation with pasta and pizza, the hand gestures, loud voices and our impeccable sense of style for a moment… 

These are all relatively accurate stereotypes but Italians have a lot more quirky obsessions that make them unique in the world…(and by unique I mean easy to make fun of 😉).

Italians seem to be the most delicate nationality. We’re incredibly self-aware people and our bodies are mysteriously extra sensitive to changes in internal or external temperature, pressure and overall condition. 

Like we’re human thermo-barometers or something. 

A gust of cold wind here…and boom: indigestion! An unwanted draft here, boom…neck pain! Too much sweat? Boom…fever! Walking out with wet hair? Boom…you catch a cold! Spicy food? Boom…stomach cramps! A bad smell? Boom…nausea! Cold air on your nose? Boom…nasal congestion!

The outside world is a very dangerous place to Italians… 

Which is why it’s always easy to spot an Italian traveling anywhere in the world…especially in relatively colder places. It’s not because they’re wearing Armani….it’s because they’re wearing an insulated bomber jacket with a full fledged hoodie made of “extra virgin” goose Armani. Il piumino! Brrr….che freddino! 

And vice versa, Italians will give you a funny look if you’re wearing flip flops and a tank top in late spring or early autumn…when it’s already too “cold” in Italy for Italian standards.

Over the centuries, this extreme sensitivity to cold led Italians to develop some unique and geographically enclosed illnesses that no one else on the planet ever experiences for some mysterious reason. 

So buckle up, as we’re about to enter the mythical world of Italian-specific afflictions.

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1) L'indigestione

We’ll start with the most common Italian disease — l’indigestione — you guessed it right, that’s indigestion. We Italians are obsessed with food (both cooking and eating it) so it’s no surprise that our favorite organs are the stomach and the intestine. All of our emotions go through those. We talk openly and extensively about our digestive process and it’s no surprise that indigestion is incredibly feared. 

Here’s what the Mayo Clinic lists as common causes of indigestion:

  • Overeating or eating too quickly
  • Fatty, greasy or spicy foods
  • Too much caffeine, alcohol, chocolate or carbonated beverages
  • Smoking
  • Anxiety
  • Certain antibiotics, pain relievers and iron supplements

And here’s what Italians think the most common cause of indigestion is: “ho preso freddo”... It was a bit cold hence I got indigestion… 

Il freddo (cold air) does not cause indigestion!

2) La congestione

Which leads me to the nightmare of every Italian’s childhood — la congestione — meaning if you’re at the beach and bathe within 3 hours of eating, blood will stop flowing to your stomach (allegedly due to the sea water being cold…which is never the case in the scorching Italian summer); it will cause it to constrict, and you’ll drown. Speaking of Italians being dramatic… 

OK, I’ll admit there is some medical truth in there, where consuming an icy cold drink after a meal in extreme heat, or throwing yourself off an iceberg in the middle of the Atlantic may literally shock your stomach (plus it’s dangerous, don’t do it!) 

But Italians take it to the extreme and torment their children who need to suffer for 3 hours in baking weather under the parasol on the beach, before they can touch the sea water again…been there, done that. Not fun!

3) Il raffreddore

Ah poi….il raffreddore — OK guys, I think we can ALL agree that the common cold is caused by a virus. (I mean I say we can ALL agree, but then look what happened with that other virus…) 

But no…Italians believe that raffreddore is caused by a raffreddamento of the air (meaning, the air getting colder). 

So allegedly you catch a cold when you walk outside with your hair wet; when you stand outside without a jacket (il piumino, remember?), or when…wait for it…you sweat but are not wearing a vest underneath….that is the maglietta della salute (literally the t-shirt of health)

You heard it correctly, sweating in cold weather will result in a cold…but only in Italy. 

When I was back home last year I caught Covid…and my auntie told me it was probably because when I picked her up she noticed I wasn’t wearing a jacket…while driving. In May!! It must have been that terrible air conditioning (one of Italians’ main enemies).

4) Lo spiffero e il torcicollo

Speaking of enemies and still on the topic of air temperature…  a draft is possibly an Italian’s worst nightmare, Lo spiffero, mamma mia!! More than pineapple on pizza, trust me. It’s pure kryptonite! 

Italians do not tolerate sitting at a restaurant and having a cold draft coming from the door. Brrr! Or being on a bus with an open window blowing air on them. Or driving with the A/C blasting on their neck…

This is because cold air not only causes indigestion, congestion, and the cold…but also — first and foremost — il torcicollo

That’s Italian for stiff neck…but way more dramatic sounding: “torcere” means “to wrench” and “collo” is “neck”. So basically a draft is “neck-wrenching”. 

Despite me having lived abroad for over 15 years, this “condition” is so ingrained in my DNA (well, most likely in my psyche), that I am still unable to sit in a restaurant that has draft. I will ask to be moved to a different table, or else I’d rather leave. The draft won’t give me a torcicollo, but will definitely upset me and make me feel incredibly uncomfortable. We like to consume and enjoy food in a comfortable, welcoming, and warm environment. That’s non-negotiable and I will not argue with that.

Cold air can also cause back pain, apparently. Last summer, I had a friend visiting from Italy for a week and she and her boyfriend slept on a perfectly functional and comfortable inflatable bed in my living room. One morning I woke up and she was standing there wearing a heated pad all around her abdomen, and I’m like “what the hell is that?” And she goes like: “the air inside the air mattress is cold and is giving me back pain”.

And I’m like “Gurl, please, you’re 50 years away from being in your 80s…It’s too early for that!” 

Needless to say we’re no longer friends. What a pain in the neck…and no, not the torcicollo kind!

5) Il colpo della strega

But you know what type of back pain is not caused by cold air? Il colpo della strega — which hilariously translates as the “witch’s blow”. 

That ‘s what Italians call pulling your back out, as if it was some sort of witchery or something. Go figure! 

6) Il malocchio

But it only gets better. Speaking of witchery and the occult, another Italian-only tragedy is il malocchio. That’s when someone — usually a strega, a witch (also intended metaphorically…) jinxes you with a bad spell. 

Malocchio (where “mal” means “evil” and “occhio” is “eye”, so “evil eye”) is a superstitious condition characterized by misfortune, unluckiness, negative energy and sometimes illness. 

Oh yes, Italians can be astonishingly superstitious… 

7) Un accidente

Then there’s the milder and more generic accidente — like "copriti bene che sennò ti prendi un accidente” (“cover yourself up or else you’ll catch something / catch your death / take a chill”). 

Accidente is a catch-all term that means any illness you could possibly get, but usually something mild like a cold or the flu (a note to Italians: the flu, short for influenza — is also caused by a virus, not by cold temperatures).

8) Il calo di zuccheri

And finally, my favorite of all time. That condition only Italians seem to lament. It will make them feel particularly tired, perhaps dizzy, and in the worst possible scenario (which to Italians is ALL the time) faint. 

I’m talking about the infamous, super contagious, and nearly deadly…calo di zuccheri

Ah, il calo di zuccheri. It literally translates as “sugars drop” and it refers to having low blood sugar. You guessed it right: that happens when Italians haven’t eaten enough. Which is why we eat all the time, or else the entire peninsula would be covered in fainted bodies with not enough sugar in their blood streams. 

Mangia, mangia…che sennò ti viene un calo di zuccheri. But don’t eat too much or you’ll get indigestion! Eating in Italy is a fine balance between losing your senses…and purging.

Oh Italians! So strong and opinionated, and yet so exceptionally frail and vulnerable. Vulnerable to cold weather, wind, fog, rain, drafts, low-calorie diets and even air mattresses. 

That’s why if you really want to get to an Italian heart, you won’t give them wine, flowers or other presents. Oh no…!  You’ll gift them a heavy jacket; a woolen scarf; a draft-shielded restaurant dinner…or even a down duvet, if you’re feeling generous. 

Because you know what…we may not know much about modern medicine…but we know we like to keep our bodies warm and our bellies full 😁.

Make sure you subscribe to our YouTube channel for a bunch of Italian-themed videos. 

Grazie for reading and see you soon!

Marco Danesi,
Professional draft-fighter

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