HOW TO TALK ‘NONES’ – Making Friends (Part 3)

This post is one of the four-part HOW TO TALK ‘NONES’ series, including: 

As I mentioned in It’s A ‘Nones’ Life, the Nonesi can be a little hard to get to know — any real entry into Val di Non culture can be a bit of a challenge. As one of our [non-Val di Non] Italian friends living in in the valley explained to us: the Nonesi are as friendly as they need to be, with the expectation that you’ll soon be on your way, returning to wherever you came from.

This is precisely why I’ve put together a cheat sheet, of sorts: lists of things to prepare you for life (or extended travel) in Val di Non. Hopefully you’ll be better prepared than we were when arriving in 2012…as unsuspecting as fish in a stock pond.

What to do (and NOT do) when you meet a Noneso:


Overall, the Nonesi are less demonstrative: by my very rough estimates, they utilize roughly 1/3 the hand gestures and facial expressions typical of other Italians.


Emotionally, they are more restrained, showing anger or excitement on only the rarest of occasions. They do have great sense of humor, though, and enjoy cracking jokes and laughing whenever possible. Just not very loudly. (The key is to remain subdued. By contrast, when we visit with Jason’s family in Milan — who are part Milanese, part southern Italian — the decibel level in the room quadruples.)

Maria & Elvino at Maria's birthday party (Cavareno, Val di Non, Italy).
Maria & Elvino at Maria’s birthday party in Cavareno (Val di Non, Italy).


The Italian spoken in Val di Non has a flatter cadence than in other areas of Italy. It has no sing-songy rhythm, maintaining a steady drilling beat more similar to English (making it easier for us Anglophones to carry out).


Hard work. Saving money. Growing/cultivating food. Family. Outdoor activities. (In that order.)


Smoked meats & sausages. Strudel. Sauerkraut. Polenta. Canederli. Potatoes. (In that order.)

apple strudel
Strudel, author: Petr Novák, Wikipedia, licensed under CC BY-SA 2.5

Compulsory Activities Of The Nonesi:

  • Collecting wood
  • Stacking wood
  • Drying wood
  • Chopping wood
  • Clearing snow
  • Managing snow piles
  • Planting food in a garden
  • Tending the garden
  • Gathering mushrooms/berries/elderflowers in the woods
  • Making strudel (or living with/knowing someone who does)
  • Working with the apples (usually on a family-owned parcel of land)
  • Performing other farm/land work, as necessary
  • Tolerating farm smells
Our neighbor directing someone on a front loader, managing snow piles (Cavareno)
Our neighbor directing someone on a front loader, managing snow piles (Cavareno)

Leisure Activities To Learn (Or Learn To Like):

  • Walking in the woods
  • Downhill and Cross Country Skiing
  • Snowshoeing
  • Mountain biking
  • Road biking
  • Gardening
  • Trekking
  • Motorcycle/Motorcross Riding
  • Choir Singing
  • Chopping/stacking wood
Typical 'Nones' garden (Tassulo, Val di Non)
Typical ‘Nones’ garden (Tassulo, Val di Non)
Jason in our landlord's garden (Cavareno)
Jason in our landlord’s garden (Cavareno)

12 Suggestions for how to win over the Nonesi:

  1. Learn to make Strudel (preferably apple). Show up with it at party or any social gathering you’ve been invited to (even on hikes, no kidding).
  2. Take up at least one outdoor sport. Best if it has to do with snow, or is something you do in the forest.
  3. Become comfortable with German Shepherds that bark loudly. Develop your calm/ collected manner when on walks, in spite of their terrorizing.
  4. Learn about foods that you can forage in the woods. Then offer them to your neighbors, “Look! I have way too many red currants…take some!”
  5. Develop a taste for sauerkraut (krauti in Nones). Learn its many uses. You will be especially impressive to the Nonesi if you are able to make your own.
  6. Plant a garden. It will help you to cultivate an image of self reliance and hard work. Essential qualities if you are to be well-received.
  7. Memorize the difference (visually and taste-wise) between various smoked meats: cottachino, mortandella (not mortadella), luganica, and speck. This will save you having to ask at any social gathering, “And which meat it this?” It will also keep you in the good graces of your host(ess).
  8. Learn how to wield an ax. It will make you very popular (seriously—you will impress the Nonesi if you are capable of chopping wood by hand, even though many now have wood chopping machines).
  9. Study wood stacking techniques. Your wood pile will inevitably be judged, unless you hide it in a garage. Here’s a link to help you out.
  10. Develop a taste for cow tongue, as it’s likely to be served at Christmas.
  11. Best if you at least know how to drive a tractor, in the event of a tractor-essential emergency.
  12. Finally, if someone should do something nice for you (like bring you a bottle of homemade sambuca*, or compliment you on your cooking), don’t act overly gracious and ‘thank them’ a million times. Just give a quick nod (once), saying this and this only: “Che gentile.” (How nice.)
Speck from Revò (Val di Non)
Speck from Revò (Val di Non)

All right, you should be on your way to making inroads into Nones culture. As I think of more tips, I’ll add them later on. I hope it’s clear that I’m not being tongue-in-cheek about any of the above — these really are the things on the radar screens of the “typical” Nones person (though younger generations are changing).

Now, it’s your turn, reader: what are some particularities about the culture you live in? A special food, an activity you know that’s unique to your home place? What things gain you acceptance to your local culture? And, where you live, what things would make you stand out like a cactus in a corn field?

Share to your hearts content, and I’ll post your responses in a follow-up post, “On Fitting In And Standing Out”.

*The Sambuca of Val di Non is a sugary, non-alcoholic drink made from lemons and elderflowers (it does not contain alcohol like other types of ‘sambuca’).

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