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!
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!
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.
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).
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.
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.
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!
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.)
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!
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.)
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.)
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.
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.
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.
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.