Customs and Lifestyle in Sicily

The Sicilian culture is quite unique - largely thanks to the array of occupying foreign powers who came through over the centuries, and who each contributed something to the development of customs and lifestyle on the island.

Also given Sicily's geographic separation from mainland Italy, the people here developed quite differently and somewhat independently from the rest of the nation. For most visitors they form an indelible part of the experience of visiting Sicily and are quite simply the island's greatest asset.

Sicily is largely more conservative than mainland Italy and the family unit is a strong and central part of life here. All family events are attended by large extended groups and are considered very important, particularly weddings, funerals and first communions. Within the family the Mother of course takes centre stage and has strong bonds with her children well into their adulthood.

In fact children will usually stay at their parent's home and in Mamma's care until they are married and even then return on an almost daily basis to talk, get their washing done or have a meal prepared. While this closeness is a wonderful quality, you may find it a little over protective and demanding if you stay with a Sicilian family and are not used to accounting for all your goings on!

Sicilians love a good celebration or excuse to enjoy themselves so all festivities in Sicily are enthusiastically celebrated, particularly those of a religious nature. While the number of churchgoers is decreasing here, church attendance is higher than in mainland Italy and events at Easter and Christmas are very popular. Medieval festivals, food events and music are also enjoyed throughout the island, same as simply to head out for the evening with family of friends to dinner, a club or a disco.

The other thing you will notice is that Sicilians don't really stick to schedules and timetables - surely because they are used to unreliable local transports. Notices listing opening hours of shops, churches and offices are largely taken with a grain of salt and you're best not to get too hung up about them and be flexible. Generally stores in Sicily open 8am or 9am until midday and then again after 4pm or 5pm until about 8pm. In the late afternoon those that aren't working gather to stroll and socialize in the streets or have their evening aperitif. It's a great time to be out and about.

Sicilian society remains quite highly socialist and officials may not treat you with the utmost respect, so be prepared to assert yourself when required in places like post offices and with ticket inspectors. You may also need to be assertive when it comes to waiting in line. Sicilians do not queue up to well and are always edging to get in front in shopping centres, at bars, ticket booths and anywhere else they should wait in line. Older people are also great at producing sob stories to anyone that will hear them (and won't), so be prepared to stand your ground if need be or you could be pushed to the back of the line.

A factor that concerns some women about visiting Sicily, particularly single ones, is the treatment of women. Legally Sicilian women have the same rights as men but socially many also conform to traditional roles in society. As in any country some women may get unwanted attention, so the best way to guard against this is to dress sensibly, not to wander alone at night in big towns (in Taormina it's no problem), and be assertive where necessary to fend off unwelcome attraction.

Female travellers should never forget that Sicilian men (yes, all of them - except our lovely gay friends of course) are God's gift to women!

Above all Sicilian people love and enjoy life, their families and are a welcoming and hospitable people. Some of their behaviour can be frustrating but it's also very endearing, and if you get to know any of the locals during your visit here, they will no doubt form some of the best memories you have of the place. They are indeed what makes Sicily such a wonderful place.