I know I’m not the first expat nor will I be the last to wax poetic about a little Italian peril called the colpo d’aria, which literally means “a hit of air. Now, Italians take the colpo d’aria very seriously as they find it to be most often the cause of all the maladies for which you need to visit an Italian pharmacy (cold, cough, etc). You can pretty much trace back any sickness 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 we Americans ever really gave 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 goes way beyond style…the scarves protect their necks from a colpo d’aria. This is kind of in the same vein as to why Italians in general are opposed to air conditioning, especially when they’re sweating. The air conditioning 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 fine 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, or a bad neck ache. Italians value preventing that, 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 sometimes I sleep in one. I even wear a scarf while biking in Milan during the summer as well as when strolling by the sea at night. 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 I’m a believer now.