In Italy loyalty is incredibly important. The importance of loyalty can be seen in every level of society, but it is important to note that it takes place largely on a sort of unit-like microscopic level. The same perosn who hates someone simply because that person roots for another soccer team may treat you like gold because you have become such good friends that you are "like family". (I can totally relate, btw, since I'm a Bostonian and a Red Sox fan.)
Invitations for dinner and outings flow freely, and it is a good idea to reciprocate, but only out of genuine affection. No one likes to feel that you are doing something just because you feel obligated to.
Another level of the family unit extends to where you go for coffeee and brioches in the morning. Or where you go to get your shoes repaired and clothing mended. Or which stalls you stop by in the markets. It matters to someone if they see your face again. In fact, it is a most fabulous compliment, and once you become a regular you attain a sort of pseudo VIP status.
This was revealed most clearly the first time I got a heart in my cappuccino at the nearby cafe one morning. I went with some friends to the cafe for the second morning in a row, and the light of recognition lit up the eyes of the cashier and the bartender. I got the usual fresh pastry and the coffee that was already good enought to keep me coming back had the special plus of a heart in it. Yaaaaay. By the end of the week the bartender had already learned our preferences and named our oders before we did.
It was a cute moment, and I am reminded that we create small communities around us wherever we go. It's all the more reason to put a smile on my face and support the community around me, because I can see that those smiles spread and people are brought closer together.
Another awesome moment was when I was offered a free glass of wine while waiting for some seafood pasta at a restaurant nearby. I order from there probably quite a bit more than I should. I suppose it paid off though ;).