Pills Of Italian Daily Life: The Discos

Or why you feel tired and poor — from all points of view — only thinking about discos.

Discos in Italy
Photo: Sarthak Navjivan, Unsplash.

Or why you feel tired and poor — from all points of view — only thinking about discos.

Summer means above all holidays, sea, tan, but also discos — especially on the beach — and owners complaining about the strict safety rules. If you happen to be over 30, it doesn’t matter if you liked to go clubbing or not: I am here to remind you that big events were not as cool as you remember.

Discos are key gathering places in Italy. We do all miss them. Indeed, the average Italian loves to dance as a means for socializing. Of course, before discos — a phenomenon exploded worldwide in the ‘70s — there were festivals and annual balls in the villages, mostly in occasion of Carnival and Patron Saint’s days. What has not changed during the ongoing process of modernization of dancing habits, has been the meticulous preparation of the night and the rigid code of conduct.

In the village the separation of the sexes was very strict. Since elementary school, boys were in one class, and girls in another. Social surveillance on sympathies was strictly enforced. The only occasions where boys and girls could see each other were the Sunday mass and the balls.

During the Sunday mass, young people could look at their crush and prepare a list for the annual ball. 

Indeed, the annual ball had to be prepared in advance: the so-called vestito della festa (the good suit) had to be resumed, a bath had to be organized, and a hair grooming session had be planned. Of course, special attention was paid to the value of modesty and the outfit was checked very carefully: even small details could compromise the partecipation to the ball.

Also inside the ballroom freedom was limited: mothers and grandmas were there, sitting on chairs placed all around the walls. This disposition gave them full visibility. If a young man wanted to dance with a young woman, he had to ask for permission, and such permission had to be granted by the mother or grandma.

Dances were codified: only valzer, polka, and mazurka were allowed. This meant that hands had to be placed only in specific body parts, with the ‘police’ ready to intervene when something was not right. The place was noisy, but it resounded with live music without amplification, so it was possible for young people to talk in private while dancing.

Fast forward to nowadays, we all work, we are all busy, and we all look at the weekend as a haven of peace. Though, there are also some ‘weekend professionals’. These have a hell of a schedule on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays. On Friday, the weekend starts with a long aperitivo from 6pm to midnight — a traditional Italian event in which you mostly drink and talk with people. Then, Saturday is the most important day of the weekend. We’ll come back to this later. The three-day marathon ends with a Sunday afternoon aperitivo, usually from 17 to 20. This is the classic winter schedule, but during the summer the weekend hardly ends. You can go to the beach on Friday, sleep on the sand for two days and spend there most of the time, as all parties take place at the seaside.

However, let’s go back to our winter Saturday night.

Preparation usually starts in the morning and consists in going shopping to buy a nice dress — and the unmissable pair of shoes or the accessoire that will make the outfit special. It is very important to visit at least 15 shops, in 3 different locations. Therefore, a good part of the day is gone while looking for a suitable wardrobe. Estimated cost: around 150€, excluding gasoline and breakfast at the bar. After all, who would attend 3 different events with the same dress? Respect has to be earned, and in Italy style is part of that respect.

At 5 pm you start getting ready for the night. Firstly, you take a shower (often complemented by epilation). This beauty routine takes a lot of time, because hair have to be groomed properly: shampoo, balsam, various treatments, masks. Then, it’s skin time: exfoliation, hydration, masks (again). Finally, let’s not forget that you need to fix the hair, which can be straightened or curled. As you can guess, this whole process takes a lot of time. So it’s already 8 pm, time for a quick, light dinner, under the slightly amused gazes of the rest of the family, because the debutante is worried: she still needs to dress up, do her makeup, choose her shoes, and there are only 2.5 hours left before the arrival of the carriage which will bring her to the ball.

After dinner, there are the mandatory makeup session and dressing process. At least 3 outfits are prepared, tried on, and severely examined at the mirror. A pool is taken among family members to identify which is the chosen one. The jury is composed of dad, mum, sisters, brothers, grandparents, with a special regard for grandma’s thoughts. Pictures are also sent to friends, if the domestic democracy gives inconclusive results.

You can understand why, even if preparation started at 5 pm and the disco opens at midnight, our debutante is late. Therefore, she is missing the ‘pre-drinks’ at the local pub.

The debutante finally leaves at 11.30 pm. She needs to reach the group of friends waiting at the local pub to board the rented bus that will take them safely back at their cars when the soirée is over. Estimated cost: 20€.

Of course, the night has to be posh. Discos are notorious to host only very distinguished events, so there is a queue: a very long one. It’s already midnight and you still don’t know whether you’ll have the privilege of getting in. The Minos of this hell is the bouncer, and his selection criterion is the outfit: each person standing in the queue is vetted, judged, and it takes a few seconds to the big guy to indicate you the exit or the entry door. 

If the gates of heaven open for you, 50-80€ are immediately sucked away just for the privilege of setting foot in and have you belongings checked in at the cloakroom. The whole operation requires only one hour of waiting in line in the cold, standing on high heels.

Once you’re in, you have now to line up for the bar. When I think of hell, I think at the queue at the bar: you are there, stuck forever. There’s people behind you, people in front of you, people at your sides. You are overwhelmed. You cannot move, as you can enjoy — maybe — 5 centimeters of personal space. In the meanwhile, the shoes are starting to hurt your feet. You cannot even complain to your friends, because the music is deafening and there is no point in trying to start a conversation.

If you try, the results could be along the best Ionesco:


Friend – “YOU LIKE WHOOO??”







1 hour and 30 minutes later: you hand over 10€ to the barman for a gin tonic, a vodka lemon, or a cuba libre — something that you know in advance will be rich in ice and poor in alcohol. You drink it slowly, clinging to your glass. You do not want to wait in line again, so it will be the only liquid that will sustain you for the whole night, reason why you want to make it last for as long as possible and defend it from any improvident clash.

Finally you get to the dance floor. Just for a few minutes, because the stilts you’re wearing are literally killing your feets. However, you want to play it cool, so you propose to explore the other dancing floors (afro, rock, reggae, etc.), or simply to go out to smoke and get a bit of fresh air. This move will be repeated every 30 minutes with the embarassing, secret aim of resting your feets a bit.

It’s 3.30 am, and all you can feel is the excruciating foot pain and some sort of pressure around your bladder. This signal is always problematic: it means that you have to either head to the bathrooms or go outside behind some car. The decision will depend on what kind of surprise you will find in the posh bathroom of the distinguished disco. What may happen in the posh bathroom of the distinguished disco would open another page which I haven’t guts to describe. What is important here, is to stress that another 30 minutes are gone.

About one hour before closing, you are still dancing. The perspective that everything will be over soon gives you the strength to bear the pain coming from the most sensitive parts of your delicate feets. Pain is all you feel, together with an indefinite sensation of having lost an important appointment: why have you spent most of the day getting ready for the big night? The charming prince didn’t show up, after all.

He was either drunk, busy dancing with someone else, or doing other activities in the bathroom. Or was he the guy who approached you by placing his hand on your butt? Or the other one who showed you an item from his pockets, asking you if it was yours? Or the one who, blind drunk, started yelling at you? Or the one that was doing little tongue tricks with his cigarette in the smoking area? For sure, each of them was charming in his own distinguished way.

Lights on, the disco is closing. You get your things back and head to the minibus. There, you laugh with your friends, have another few drinks, change shoes, and soon it is 5.30 am. 

Once dropped off at the bar where the odyssey started, it is time to take your car and look for a good and hearty cornetto and coffee. The bravest ones opt for something salty and savoury, like the immortal sandwich with onions, sausage, grilled veggies, cheese, bacon, ketchup, mayo, and all the things you can put between two slices of bread. Some dare to water this high-calorie mirage with a huge beer. Another 5€ to keep the economy working.

The sun rises, the morning is fresh. You are dead tired and, with your wallet relieved of 300€, you feel like a weight has been taken off your shoulders. It’s time to go to sleep and dream about next Saturday.

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