colpo d’aria and other peculiar health beliefs abroad

The longer time passes in the States after my three years abroad in Italy, the more I  believe that some of the peculiar Italian health beliefs I encountered there hold some truth.

These are health beliefs my husband and I once would openly laugh at and not even try to hide an exasperated roll of the eyes.

Peculiarities. A partial list includes:

Panic and fear surrounding use of air conditioning.

Obsession with food and digestion, to the point of speaking of digestive matters of the body at the dinner table.

The vibrating body shapers advertised constantly on TV to melt the pounds away.

The requirement of wearing a  “maglia della salute” (shirt of health – or undershirt) to prevent illness.

Dress code enforced based on calendar (not weather). 

A “foot bath” one must walk through before entrance to a pool at the fitness club. To disinfect your feet. Barefoot is bad. Very, very bad.

But one of the most entertaining to us was the infamous colpo d’aria, or “attack – or hit – of the air.”

My husband, who worked  in an Italian medical clinic, came across many of his Italian patients who reported a rather common self-diagnosis of colpo d’aria. When describing their predicament, patients would accompany the diagnosis with expressive and convincing body language to show exactly the angle and form in which the air attack happened. To the neck, the back, the head. Depended.

I remember when I was pregnant and I wore my cute snug American Apparel t-shirts that sometimes rode up my belly. The nurse at my childbirth classes – and others – pulled the shirts down to cover any skin showing. The air was bad, or cold, I guess, for my unborn child. Who was….. in my stomach.

Peculiarities. I’m the child of a European immigrant so I kind of get it. But no better can it be explained than a brilliant, must-read  BBC News article, “How to Avoid Getting Hit by Air in Italy.”  Oh, Dany Mitzman, if you are reading this, can we please have an espresso together and swap stories?

But this morning while dropping my 8 -year-old daughter off at school, and we crunched across the frosted blades of grass, I noticed again dozens of kids in short-sleeved shirts, sweatshirts, and  shorts. They were shivering and red-faced. I thought, did their parents forget to tell them as they ran out the door that they would benefit from  a jacket in 30 degree weather? Or do these California kids ignore them or ditch the jacket in the backpack? A kid blew a wet sneeze in my direction. Another was hunched over, back strained, fighting a hacking cough like, well….. an attack of air. 

Maybe the Italians get the last laugh.

photo credit: emergency physicians monthly


11 responses to “colpo d’aria and other peculiar health beliefs abroad

  1. Thanks for sharing! 🙂 It’s funny what people believe in 🙂 An air attack, seriously! 🙂 Maybe they should check the weather forecast before going out instead of using a calendar 🙂

  2. I recall similar peculiarities when I lived in Germany. They thought that fresh air was healthy, especially for sleeping. I remember freezing to death the first time I slept over at a friend’s house in the middle of winter, and all the windows were kept open all night.

  3. This is so interesting! I really enjoy your blog and the concept of sharing stories from all your travels and relating such interesting cultural perceptions. Thanks so much for the insights! I am part Italian and also remember my grandparents and their obsession with fresh air.

  4. Oh, I love this post! Any ailment I may have, my future mother in law blames a “breeze.” “But perhaps you were near a window? Or when you were out earlier?” And my fiance would sooner stay home then go out without his undershirt. Peculiarities indeed!!

    • yes, I imagine its not just an Italian thing. My German mother says the same, as your Croatian (?) future mother in law. Part of accepting and living in other cultures….. As I mentioned in my post, there is probably some truth to some of it …..and Americans could take a few tips as well!

  5. Oh, this is classic!! You had me laughing over here!! I totally get the “dress code enforced by calendar” here – I was once scolded by one of the school’s teachers for wearing peep-toe shoes in late April, despite the warm weather! Apparently you’re only allowed to show toes beginning in June.
    The “attack” of air is very interesting – I loved the article, thank you!

    • I figured you’d get this post michelle….! I still remember David wore this big ginormous wool sweater when there was an early august or september storm and we were stared at like complete fashion failures. (gilet time not big sweater time!) also when I first arrived in April, I wore my sandals (toes showing also), got the hint quickly.

  6. Pingback: Dammi un colpo d’aria | Diario di una studentessa pigra

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