Gyms in Italy: Working Out…Or Hanging Out?

Written by Julie Hooper (Bowdoin College)

Julie Hooper

The gym in Catania is different than gyms back home. Our first gym experience in Catania can most closely be compared to hanging out in a university cafeteria. As my Italian teacher puts it, the gym is mondano, a social place.

Italian women arrive in their street clothes. They change into what some would refer to as their casalinga attire (sweats and a nice shirt). They leave their hair down, long and swinging behind them in the air conditioner-generated breeze, like a Garnier Fructis commercial. It seems as though the women spend a total of twenty minutes walking on the tread mill, and as if not a drop of sweat rolls down their made-up faces. They take breaks to hug, kiss, and greet other gym-goers. A smile always lights their faces.
The weight room is a different story. Here, Catanian men are in their natural habitat. They parade like peacocks, muscles out, hair gelled into place, cologne on. At the gym, men are social creatures, always ready to jump in to help spot one another. Angela, another CET student, and I observe all this from the cardio section. Although we have taken to socializing on the treadmill, we remain identifiably American in our running shorts and workout tops. We have seen men swarm CET student, Sam. His curly blonde hair – blonde by Sicilian standards, that is – sets him apart from his gelled colleagues. Here, Sam is the queen bee. In a single day at the gym, he is invited by Francesco to the disco and swaps stories with Simone. No one can get enough of the American.
Gym in Catania, Students at the sym in Sicily
Post-workout, we head back to the dressing room where we do not shower, dry our hair, or do our makeup, as the Italians do. We opt instead to throw a jacket and pants over our sweaty workout attire.
Exiting the gym we pass the hip-hop and the baby dance classes. We call “Ciao” to our new friends at the front desk. “A domani!” Another day, another workout, another social hour.