I know I’m not the first expat–nor will I be the last–to wax poetic about a perilous little phenomenon called the colpo d’aria, Literally meaning “a hit of air”, the colpo d’aria is taken very seriously by the Italians. In fact, it’s most often believed to be the cause of all the maladies for which you need to visit an Italian pharmacy (cold, cough, etc). You can pretty much trace any ailment back to it, and Italians take every care to prevent this “hit of air” from landing on their necks. While colpo d’aria does indeed have a literal English translation, it’s not something to which we Americans ever really give a second thought.
On all the episodes of House Hunters International I watched prior to my Italy relocation, I always noticed the scarves draped around Italian women’s necks. It wasn’t until I moved here that I realized the purpose isn’t just sartorial…the scarves are functional, providing protection from colpo d’aria. This also ties into Italians’s aversion (in general) to air conditioning, especially when sweating. The cool draft on one’s hot sweaty skin can lead one to catch the colpo d’aria.
By the sea (particularly in Cinque Terre as it’s filled with Americans), I can tell the Italians from the foreigners once the sun has set: Italians bundle up with scarves, cardigans and even jackets while Americans wear tank tops and flip flops.
I have to say I’ve started to follow suit and when I’m at the sea. Even though I’m comfortable when strolling in a tank top at night, I make sure my neck and shoulders (at least) are covered. As for my flip flops? I only ever wear those at the beach. Not only that, but the colpo d’aria can also bring about something else I never heard of: la cervicale, a dreadful neck ache. Italians value preventing la cervicale, too.
I have to say, though, that I’ve picked up a lot of these habits. At home, I never, ever walk around barefoot…not even in the privacy of my own home. I wear a scarf all day both at home and at work during winter (even when I’m wearing a turtleneck), and on the coldest of nights, I sleep wearing in one. I even wear a scarf while biking in Milan during the summer too. I’ve adjusted as well I can to life without air conditioning (don’t underestimate the power of fans!), though there’s nothing I’ll ever be able to do about the sweating. This winter, I already had my change-of-the-seasons cold, and I think the colpo d’aria hit me on that day when it went from relatively warm to really cold super fast.
Honestly, when I first heard of a colpo d’aria, I thought it was just an Italian thing or an Old Wive’s Tale, but now I’m a believer!