In Italy, You Don’t Need to Exchange Words to Dive Into the Culture




Laying out on the jagged harbor rocks in Riomaggiore, Italy, I let the warm sun tan my skin. It was so peaceful in this town of old-warm charm and fishing boats. Families swimming in the small alcove while the more adventurous types dove from high-cliffs into the water. I close my eyes and let the sounds of the Italian Riviera sing me to sleep.

That is, until I feel drips of cold water splashing down onto my face. Startled, I jump up and gasp, almost colliding with a skinny European boy with shaggy brown hair. He is laughing at me and I notice his crooked teeth.

I wave up at him. “Hi…Who are you?”

He smiles and shakes his head to signal that he does not comprehend what I am saying. “Ciao, mi chiamo Giovanni.”

Although I do not speak Italian, I guess that he is telling me his name. I point to myself and respond, “Jessie”.

He nods, signaling he understands. Pressing his palms together, Giovanni whistles as he makes a diving motion with his hands. He then points to me and then to the water.
I shake my head. There was no way in hell I was diving off these jagged cliffs into the dark water where I couldn’t even see the bottom.

Giovanni then demonstrates a perfect swan dive as he effortlessly glides off the rocks and lands, barely making a splash, into the Gulf of Genoa. His head quickly pops out of the water as he beckons me to follow in after him. Although he made it look effortless and actually kind of fun, I am not sure I have the courage.

Giovanni climbs back up the rocks to wear I am perched and sits next to me, dripping onto my towel. The drops feel cool and refreshing on my skin. “Discoteca stasera?” he asks.

I am not sure what he is trying to ask me, so I shrug my shoulders and give him a bewildered expression.

Giovanni begins dancing wildly on the rocks, despite perplexed onlookers. He then points to the top of the hill in Riomaggiore as a game of charades ensues. Through his fist pumping, singing, pointing, and facial expressions, I decipher that he is asking me if I am going clubbing tonight.

I nod my head excitedly, happy that I am successfully communicating with someone who I do not speak the same language as. From there, we use a mix of acting, face making, and broken Spanish (a language we both know a very little of) to learn about each other. We “talk” about where we are from, what we do for fun, and our favorite music. By the end of our “conversation”, I begin to feel as though Giovanni is a good friend of mine.

I am having so much fun with him that the next time he signals to me to dive off the cliff after him, I run in front of him and jump right in.

Image via sebiv122s

Jessica Festa
Jessica Festa is the editor of the travel sites Jessie on a Journey ( and Epicure & Culture ( Along with blogging at We Blog The World, her byline has appeared in publications like Huffington Post, Gadling, Fodor's, Travel + Escape, Matador, Viator, The Culture-Ist and many others. After getting her BA/MA in Communication from the State University of New York at Albany, she realized she wasn't really to stop backpacking and made travel her full time job. Some of her most memorable experiences include studying abroad in Sydney, teaching English in Thailand, doing orphanage work in Ghana, hiking her way through South America and traveling solo through Europe. She has a passion for backpacking, adventure, hiking, wine and getting off the beaten path.
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