Both Native and Foreigner

 One of the first things told to me by the people of Catania was that if I were to spend a year there, no one could spot the difference between a native and myself. Although this was a comment unique to me (and Javier the Spaniard) as I am a fluent speaker of Italian and have a Mediterranean appearance, it helped me better understand the culture and outlook of the city to diversity. I would describe Catania as a city that is mildly culturally diverse, and exceptionally diverse in regards to economic status. Due to the proximity to Africa there are many people from Tunisia and Algeria, and various oher African countries. In addition to the African population there are also some people from other European nations such as France, the Italian mainland, Germany, and Greece. Despite those from these other countries, the majority of the population is Sicilian, and according to those in my age range ‘middle age and older people are antiquated in their thoughts on society and life.’ I could not tell you which percentage of the population holds university degrees, but I do know for the common Sicilian higher education is out of reach financially (around 2000 euros a year in tuition). For any student from America this fee seems like a dream, but the average income in Sicily is much lower than what we are used to in America. One of the first things you notice in this city is the easy access to fresh produce at many local markets. After their main import of fish, the markets host a variety of produce grown locally, cheeses, meats, and various other amenities like coffee or toilet paper. I am a strong proponent of these markets as they fuel local economies and encourage healthy eating habits to Sicilians (who make food as much a part of life as breathing)

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A common sight on a walk through the city


I have had closer proximity to the healthcare system in Catania than I would have liked, but it taught me a lot about how it works in their society and how effective and efficient it is. For starters, we were told as interns in our briefing meeting to ‘not get injured or sick’ because even to the natives, going to the hospital is a less than a satisfactory experience. To personally account for the quality of hospitals in comparison to those in the U.S., I found that the standards of sanitation, privacy, and response time were lacking. Fortunately for me my only injury was a broken toe (which would eventually become infected), but for people with serious injuries and illnesses, they were not even admitted for several hours and were all together in one small dirty waiting room for hours on end (regardless of the severity of their sickness, as they had not been evaluated). Even after they were admitted they were all placed in one large room and hooked up to different IVs. I do not know how contagious their illnesses were, or what kind of pain they suffered through without medication but the hospital was clearly understaffed, and too small to provide for the needs of the large flow of patients. I found this to be the case not only at the third hospital I went to, but also at the first and the second where I was denied service because they said they could not do anything for me because they did not have any sanitary equipment. At one point, the person in the emergency room who saw the infection insisted that it would require an operation and a doctor would not be in until the following Monday. That a doctor was not staffed to deal with a minor infection appalled me. Pharmacies also play a big role in dealing with illnesses, and I had many positive experiences buying cheap but good medicine from local pharmacists. As for health insurance, I was not even charged for the x-ray that was taken for my broken toe because they did not want to file the paperwork or go through the intricacies of dealing with an American patient’s insurance or assicurazione.

Another issue with the city of Catania is the dependability of public transportation. Most inhabitants of the city drive cars (although I do not personally know how because of the insanity of the traffic and the absence of order,) and others bike, walk, or take buses. The buses however, are often on strike and rarely show up on time if on time at all. There are also many holidays celebrated in Italy and Sicily, and buses do not run on those days. Although those who ride the bus are meant to buy a one-euro ticket, they often do not as there are not many monitors who board the bus and check to see if everyone is riding legally.

So with all of this information provided, I can genuinely say that the diversity of the area, the beauty of the city, and the contribution locals make to fresh produce would bring me to Catania again. However, the disorder of the society, difficulty in procuring transportation, and deficient standards of the health system would prevent me from staying permanently.

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Cattedrale di Sant’Agata (The main church of the city dedicated to their patron, Saint Agatha)


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