A little girl with a big passion for food.

12 Things I’ve Learned About Living In Italy

Well, friends, Tony and I have officially lived in Italy for a year as of today, February 12th, 2015!

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I wish I could say I wake up every day and count my lucky stars that I’ve been given this wonderful opportunity to live abroad, explore new cities, visit art museums, and eat pasta and gelato every day, but the reality is, that’s just not true at all… In fact, most days I wake up to 30+ missed text messages from my three sisters while I was sleeping and I just think about how badly I wish I were near friends and family, or just people who spoke the same language as me… But that isn’t to say this past year hasn’t been one of the best in my life. It’s just different. Everything is different.

When people ask me what’s it like to live in Italy, my response is always the same, “There aren’t any huge differences, but everything is a bit different.” And all those little differences eventually begin to add up and cause you to explode at times!

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A few months ago, Tony and I were driving home and in typical Italian fashion, there were cars parked illegally with their hazards on all along the right lane of a busy three-lane road. This infuriates me. Many Italians think they’re entitled to just stop in the middle of a busy road, throw on their hazards, and run a few errands—despite the traffic jam they’re causing or the legally parked cars they’re blocking. Tony and I just laugh and say, “So Italian,” and then we do the same thing the following day. But I wanted to write down all these instances of Italians being Italian just so I could take it home with me and remember it forever! I have an ongoing list of 100+ things, but for the sake of time and retaining your attention, I’ll limit it to 12… One thing for every month I’ve lived here!

**Please note that these are just my personal observations on what is DIFFERENT and what I have LEARNED about living in Italy in the past year. These are not OPINIONS on what I would change or dislike… except for maybe the bad driving, long queues, smelly sewage, and toothbrushes.

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1. Walking on the sidewalks of Italy is kind of like a big game of “Chicken.” The sidewalks here are TINY and when you’re walking past another person, someone typically has to step aside to allow the other person to pass without one of you ending up on the street. If you’re truly Italian, you’ll just walk in groups of 2-3 and make zero effort to walk in single file line when walking past others. Speaking of lines, they are a comical concept here. If there’s a long line somewhere, most Italians will just cut in front of you if you look remotely like a tourist. I always like to scream “No cutsies!” in Italian and surprise them with my language abilities (or lack thereof).

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2. Despite age, PDA is prevalent and excessive. I don’t know what it is about making out on a public bench or in the middle of the sidewalk, but it gets pretty intense around these parts. I can’t help but judge the adults I see getting after it in front of building doors. Just go upstairs already!!! Also, I never realized this until moving to Italy, but I get pretty uncomfortable hugging and kissing my friends hello and goodbye every time I see them… I see you guys every day, why must I kiss and hug you as if it’s been ages? But when in Italy, I say “Ciao!” and I kiss both cheeks– right side first. I’ve made the mistake of going left more times than I can count resulting in some pretty awkward kissing exchanges.

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3. Italy might have the best coffee in the world, but catching up with friends over a cup of coffee ((let’s be real, a “latte”) in a cozy coffee shop does not exist here. In fact, sitting down is an extra surcharge and drinking anything with milk after 12 o’clock is frowned upon in Italy. For a long time, I tried to blend in and adapt the Italian coffee culture by standing at the counter and gagging down shots of espresso, but what kind of life is that if you don’t enjoy it?! Thankfully, Tony and I befriended the owner of the coffee shop down the road so he doesn’t give us weird looks and charge us extra when we sit down to drink our coffee and talk for 30 minutes versus standing at the counter and taking shots within a 2-minute time period.

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4. When dining in Italy, prepare yourself for at least a 2-3 hour meal. You can either get upset at the relaxed service and slower pace of food, or you can use that time to actually savor each course and engage in conversation with your dinner date. The food is truly amazing and for the most part everything is sourced locally so you have access to organic produce, meat, and poultry without the price tag. But be aware of the giant mounds of gelato, this is not the real stuff! A 2-foot mound of gelato might look tempting, but walk away!

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5. Driving is a big ticker for me, which is kind of ironic because I don’t drive 95% of the time. When people say Italian drivers are crazy, they are absolutely correct. General rules of driving, staying in your lane, and blinkers DO NOT exist here. Also, caravanning in Italy is nearly impossible. Without fail, every time we embark on a driving expedition with friends, we are all lost, separated, and calling each other within five minutes of entering the autostrada. Our Italian friend has confirmed that this is always the case when caravanning with Italians. Lastly… enough with the roundabouts, Italy! Italians and roundabouts just DO NOT work. As Tony and I like to say, “it’s a total clusterf*ck.” (Photo Below: Our first “caravan” experience to the Apuan Alps.)

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6. Florence does not have a centralized sewage system and when it rains, it fricken stinks…. Typically each building has their own septic tank and I’m not sure what exactly the connection is, but Tony and I cannot turn on the heaters in our apartment without the place smelling of sewage. Bella Italia!

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7. American students studying abroad have zero cultural awareness and they make me ashamed to be an American girl sometimes. American students have a pretty bad reputation among Italians— loud, sloppy, and stupid… I understand, you’re in college, and that’s what college is about! But when you’re studying abroad, observe your surroundings and notice that women aren’t scantily clad, screaming their conversations, and getting white-girl wasted on a Thursday night. Take note, ladies and gentlemen. Cover up and pipe down. (I didn’t have any photographic evidence of this, so I just posted a picture of me; scantily clad and drunk on a boat instead.)

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8. Italians are significantly more attractive, more stylish, and in better shape than Americans. Italians would never be caught dead wearing work-out gear, flip-flops, or anything that may also be worn to bed in public. Every single Italian, regardless of their economic status, takes pride in themselves and is always perfectly put together and the women always seem to be toting around some designer purse, typically Louis Vuitton, Salvatore Ferragamo, Prada, or Gucci. Not only are the women stylish and chic, but they’re also naturally beautiful and they never seem to wear that much makeup. I don’t understand it… and how can everyone afford designer brands?? (Just trying to blend in.)

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9. This a huge pet peeve of mine…. Italy does not sell soft toothbrushes– only medium or hard. This absolutely irks me to me core. My parents have invested way too much money in my dental and orthodontic care to result in receding gum-lines because of abrasive toothbrushes!!! That is all.

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10. Italians love dogs! Italians love to whistle at your dog from across the street or come up to you and just start petting your dog without asking permission. You can literally bring them EVERYWHERE too. And believe me, I do…. Grocery stores, pharmacies, IKEA, dressing rooms, restaurants, bars, gondolas… everywhere! But with all those dogs walking about, just be aware of the dog poop on the sidewalks. Apparently, it is very un-chic and un-Italian to pick up after your dog.

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10251540_884801938212271_494082973_n 11. Inefficiency. Everything. Everything is inefficient. I can’t even begin to describe to what magnitude because it’s just… exhausting. Off the top of my head, the garbage trucks… If you just picked up trash at 5-6AM instead of 9AM, you would avoid a 20-minute traffic jam. Or the number of people working the cash register at a grocery store on a busy day… Why is there only one cashier open when there are five people just chilling? It took Tony and I FIVE days and three separate visits from the technician to get functioning Internet in our apartment. Also, NO ONE uses debit or credit cards here. Everyone pays in cash. And if you’re total is €4.85, they expect you to pay the exact amount. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve handed over a bill and the cashier asks me if I have the exact change and waits for me to count out .85 centesimi.

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12. That being said… Italians ENJOY life… In Italy, life is much more relaxed and unhurried and this laid-back mentality is prevalent in EVERYTHING they do… Time is flexible and there is nothing that important that can’t wait until tomorrow. So drink that glass of wine, enjoy that pasta, gesticulate your stories, show up late, kiss your friends and family, and dress to impress… perché no?! Unless you are a brutta figura, then go back to where you came from.

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26 comments on “12 Things I’ve Learned About Living In Italy

  1. This is the problem with Americans
    We expect everywhere we go in the world to run exactly as it does at home and we expect those who come to the US to fit in immediately
    In order to experience another country completely, you must try to live as the those native to the country do.i
    If you continue to view the country you have made your home for the past year as an outsider, I can assure you that you will always feel like an outsider

  2. I agree with Debby. I would love the opportunity to live in Italy and embrace their culture . While we love the convenience and freedom we have in the states along with the ease of commute, etc. it doesn’t mean everyone does things like the U.S. Italians do many things better than we do – some you have mentioned. I have visited Italy many times and find so many things to love about the country. Can they be frustrating?, yes! Go to any big city in America though and you can find the same frustrations and people aren’t usually nice. I’ve met so many nice people in Italy who will go out of their way to help you. Bigger cities like Florence see so many tourists you are just another person on the street. I’m sure you have become known in your neighborhood – which is where you form connections. Beautiful photos!! Enjoy it!

    • Hi Becky and thank you for commenting! I wanted to clarify that this is just a post on my personal observations about what is different and what I’ve learned in the past year, not a post about what I would change about Italy. As I mentioned in my post, living in Italy for the past year has been one of the best years of my life so I am very grateful for the opportunity! :)

    • I appreciate the post you made today (13th). I understand your reflections from yesterday – maybe they came off a little negative – or I just read them that way, but I love the positive spin you put on the things you Love about Italy. And there are many! The food, coffee, wine and culture are among my top hits too! Aren’t the pastry and chocolate shop windows always decorated beautifully and seasonally? They always made me so hungry and are a work of art! I love all the history! We are such a young country in comparison. Have you been to the Tuesday market over by the river? Or the great restaurant Trattoria Sostanza in Santa Maria Novella? Bar Giorgio is one of the best coffee bars I’ve ever been in – but it’s a ways from the city center, but SO worth the effort! http://www.pasticceriagiorgio.it. My mouth waters thinking of their many choices of brioche, which are so different from the brioche we have here. As in better! I know it’s hard being away from family and can be lonely :(. Hang in there. Many great memories to be made and the people are lovely, even more so in the smaller towns. When we visited a church in Sicily a few years ago I think everyone there kissed us and we had the most amazing lunch in someone’s home that we didn’t know. Very hospitable folks! I totally agree with your thoughts on American’s in foreign countries, some do stick out like a sore thumb and make everyone look bad!

  3. I totally feel you!! I’m sure you’re enjoying your time in Europe, but it is a culture shock! Especially the Mediterranean. I’m halfway through a year on Mallorca, in Spain, and I can relate to every single one of your points, except that my city is a big tourist destination, so there are luckily lots of places to get coffee and sit. Your #1 point might be mine as well. No one ever keeps to the right, and it is the most frustrating. The total lack of organization drives me crazy. On the other hand, I was able to stop by my local bakery on the way home from work today and pick up a fresh loaf of bread and some chocolate pastry for later, so, its got that going for it :)

    • Thank you so much for your comment and understanding about the culture shock of living abroad versus visiting as a tourist! It’s not that it’s bad, it’s just that it’s different and a huge learning experience! Mallorca looks beautiful from what I’ve seen and if I ever get the opportunity to visit, I will definitely ask you for suggestions! I dread the day I move back to the U.S. and I don’t have daily access to all the amazing food here!

  4. Lesson #12 is the best lesson you have learned so far! It must be so nice to be around a culture that doesn’t embrace “keeping busy” and trying to compete for who has the most on their plate.

  5. Hi Claire! I had so much fun reading this post! I was laughing out loud! I don’t have a dog, but I often think about how un-chic it is to clean up poop! I would fit right in! haha! It would be so annoying to have to dodge it everywhere though with those narrow sidewalks! I also love going on coffee dates with my husband and to catch up with friends so I would be frustrated having to pay extra to sit! I loved all of your pictures! I hope my family gets to travel to Italy one day! Thank you for sharing!

    • Hi Leslie, thank you so much for commenting and I’m glad you found it entertaining! There really is no poised way to pick up poop! If you and your family ever visit Italy, you’ll have to let me know and I will be more than willing to give you suggestions on restaurants/places to visit! Have a great Valentine’s Day Weekend!

  6. I spent 3 years in Europe and a lot of time in Italy. You hit the nail on the head! Make the most of it and enjoy all the good things! When I returned to the U.S., it took a while to get used to the way you are rushed through your meals in restaurants! Ha!

    • Hi Sally, I’m glad you could relate and I completely agree about getting rushed in the U.S., the service is almost too much! Just slow down and leave me alone for a few seconds so I can figure out what to order!!

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  8. When I read your article yesterday I was worried about the backlash. You are so sweet and thoughtful and that comes across on your wonderful blog. However, lots of people get upset when anything critical is written about living abroad. Many wrongly think those who make any complaints are totally off base. Well, you are not off base–but those who feel so are entitled to their opinions. You certainly have shown via your writings how much you love and enjoy the experience of living in Italy. YET, it can be frustrating. And, yes, Florence does smell sometimes and the traffic is a mess when drivers stop and block the flow. However, acknowledging such things doesn’t lessen your love for the place. You were simply venting. I understand. You aren’t a complainer. You are a pleasant young woman who listed some very accurate realities. I love Italy. You love Italy. And please, if being an ‘outsider’ is one who picks up after her pet, well, I’ll wear the Scarlet O anytime, anywhere.

    • Pamela, I cannot describe how much this comment means to me, you are far too kind and sweet! If you ever find yourself in Italy, please reach out and we can enjoy what Florence has to offer! Thank you so much for always supporting The Bite-Sized Baker and I hope you have a wonderful Valentine’s Day Weekend!

  9. Keep you head up, Claire! It seems like you are taking the difficulties head-on and I admire you for picking up your life and moving to a foreign country. While I would LOVE to move to Italy for an extended period of time, I know that it would come with it’s challenges.

    I’m sure some may think that you are being critical, but I agree with many, if not all, of the points you made above. There is nothing wrong with being a bit annoyed with smelling sewage, PDA, and rough toothbrushes. Also, while I respect Italians for taking their appearances seriously, I would definitely find it hard to keep up every day! I am sure you have embraced them with a good sense of humor!

    • Thank you so much, Kaela! You are too sweet and thank you for voicing your opinion! I think you and Tim need an Italian Honeymoon Reunion and we can all go out for a celebratory meal!!

  10. Great post Claire! I was in Spain for 10 days and immediately started keeping a list of things in my head of differences from their culture to ours. Usually things that I disliked (late eating, not flushing TP). My sister and I, while in Spain, decided to google what Spainards think of good ‘ol America when they visit us. They are utterly repulsed by doggy bags, our portion sizes, and the fact that we go to the bathroom in “stalls” vs. closed rooms. Ha! But how can you not point out “weird” differences, home is home…and you are used to what you are used to. (Also, who doesn’t also do this when they just go to a diff city in the US? NY- theres rats everywhere, a drink costs $293847923487 and people are rude (just my observations ;-).) Its just natural for people to point out differences… That being said… my sister and I still text each other “I miss Spain” randomly because as with any place, there were a ton of great things!

    You are one lucky girl, young girl for that matter, so enjoy your time abroad! And a year is a year, two years is two years… thats nothing in the grand scheme of your life! You will be back here in a year saying…I miss Italy…

    That being said, I can’t wait for you to be back so I can come eat yo food. But you better actually cook/bake when you officially come back.

    • Also, in regards to your actual post… who wants to get ready everyday? I barely find the energy to wash my hair twice a week and since the invention of yoga pants… I just can’t go back.

    • Hahaha I seriously laughed out loud at this. So true! Annnnnd I’m coming home tomorrow for a week! I promise I will bake this week, specifically a new Levain Bakery Copycat Chocolate Chip Cookie recipe. I’m not sure if you were able to try them when you were in NY, but they are seriously the best cookies in the world– and I’ve only had day-old cookies before! See you soon and thank you for your input!

  11. This is a good recap, Claire, and very nicely put.

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  13. I loved reading this post! It is very well written and made me thankful that I am not the only one who suffers from a bit of a culture shock! I have been meaning to write a post like this for a while and you have inspired me to get on and do it! Xx

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