If you have ever wondered just what daily life in Italy is like in summer, this post may interest you. Once the warm weather hitsItaly, the routine in the north, where I live, does change a little.
First of all, most of the schools in Italy close for summer at the end of June, which means many children suddenly find themselves with not much to do, often while their parents are still working.
Families With Children
What Italians generally do when the schools close, especially those whose wives don’t work, is take the kids to the sea or the mountains, while the husband stays in the city or town to work. Lonely husbands have been known to seek company during the summer season and affairs do occur in the heat of the summer.
When both parents have jobs, Italian children are sent to their grandparents, who either have or have rented houses or apartments down on the coast or up in the cool of the mountains. The 30°C+ heat in Italian cities can become oppressive and potentially dangerous for very young children. This, of course, assumes grandparents are physically fit enough to handle children. If they are not, as is sometimes the case, then alternatives have to be found. There are summer camps, summer schools and other activities to keep the kids occupied why mum and dad work. Obviously, these summer activities are not free and costs can range from €100 to €500 and more per week.
For families without the money to pay for around three months of summer camps and the like, there’s the oratory which is run by the Roman Catholic church. This may be free, or come at a very low cost. The oratory we use in Milan is cheap, well run and good fun too, or so my nine year old informed me.
Those who do not have grand parents or relations, and who have the financial resources, will have a ‘colf’, which is basically a nanny who is often employed full time to look after younger children. Sometimes, the colf will take the children out of Milan, and at weekends parents will join the children down at the summer house on the coast.
For many of the more wealthy Milanese, the coast generally means the Liguria region, the area on both sides of the city of Genova. This area of Italy is around 2 hours by car from Milan.
The Southerners Up North
Other Milanese, those with family down in the south of Italy, may well send their children down to grandparents or relations down in southern areas of Italy.
Teenagers Packed of to Learn English
Older children, teenagers, may well be sent off to the UK or Ireland to do a summer English course, although some English courses for children are held around Italy. I knew someone who held such courses up near Varenna on Lake Como.
No US Style Summer Camps
American style ‘summer camps’ do not really exist here, although I do know of one parent who sends his 10 year old son off to Switzerland to a summer camp.
Other alternatives for keeping children occupied before parents start their own summer holidays involve organisations such as the scouts. Some scout groups are run by the Catholic church, but others are deliberately non-religious.
Those without the financial resources to rent summer houses or employ a colf, will try to get by with the services of a baby sitter, but this is quite expensive with a cost of between €5 – €10 per hour.
In Italy, working single parents without grandparents can find summer something of a financial struggle.
Infant schools setting up as summer centres are a relatively recent summer solution. Some schools stay open, more or less, until the end of July, and, sometimes, open in early September. Attendance levels at these summer schools are well down from the end of June onwards, which is why only a small number of the summer centres tend to be open.
Stop reading, start speaking
Stop translating in your head and start speaking Italian for real with the only audio course that prompt you to speak.
Not being that well-heeled, we tend to use a mix of summer schools, camps and the oratory to keep our son occupied. Our grandparents, or rather, grandparent, is simply not up to looking after our son.
Italians Without Children
Those who have jobs, and are yet to start families, generally head off for the seaside at weekends from around late May to July at weekends before the holidays start.
Others who dislike the chaos of the seaside areas in summer will head for the tranquility of mountain areas, especially those with parents coming from mountain zones.
University students in Italy often use the summer months to go on tours, either within Italy or around the world. It is quite rare for those of an age to work to take on summer jobs. However, youngsters whose parents work in the tourist sector will often help out in the day to day running of family businesses during the summer months. These individuals may not be paid technically, but they will often receive extra pocket money or other donations from their parents.
Those few students who do decide to work through at least part of summer, will often take jobs at Italian holiday villages. Some may find similar jobs in overseas holiday locations which are popular with Italians.
Many shops and companies in Italy, those which are not involved in the tourist industry, will shut down for much of August or maintain a skeleton staff, just to keep things ticking over. This is changing slowly, and more and more Italians without families are opting to work at least part of August and take vacations at other times of the year. Businesses too are allowing some to work through August. This means that more and more businesses are staying open throughout the August break, especially those which work with overseas markets.
During the Week in the City
Summer evenings are lively in the run up to August, and many Italians, especially the under 40s will pass their evenings in with friends in one of Milan’s many bars. These are, in the main, chic places, and everyone puts on his or her most trendy summer wear. These bars close at around 2am in the morning.
In Milan, and other cities, like Florence and Rome, the municipal authorities will often put on a series of summer events.
Weekend Traffic Chaos
With parents working and children not a school, summer life in Italy up here in the north more often than not means major cities can be relatively empty at weekends. Parking your car, usually a major hassle throughout the rest of the year, tends to become much easier during summer weekends and especially in cities during August.
With people shuttling to and from coast and mountains most weekends, traffic on Friday and Sunday evening can be significant, often adding hours to journey times.
Good Quality of Life
Especially in the south of Italy, many flock to the coast during the summer.
During the summer months, the majority of Italians tend to head for seaside areas, rather than to Italy’s many mountainous or hilly areas.
All in all, summer life in Italy in general is not at all bad, and the predictably hot weather means that planning ahead is possible.
Note: this post was written in 2008. Since then, the crisis has hit Italy and in 2013 around 8 million Italians won’t be heading off for a month long August break. Instead, they will stay closer to home, perhaps going out for day trips or for a week away, and only in Italy. Italy has a population of around 60 million.