As I near the end of my second month in Rome, it’s interesting to step back and examine the differences between American and Italian culture. The first difference I have noticed is the varied approaches to customer service in a retail setting. Whereas in America there is a large focus on providing excellent customer service, in Italy it can be hard to get help when shopping. For example, navigating an Italian supermarket can be hard if you don’t know that you are supposed to use gloves to handle the produce and you have to weigh your selections and print a label before you check out. Also, the customer service desk is often unstaffed and I have often left when no one came by to help, even though some employees noticed me waiting patiently. Also, in some small privately owned stores, it seems that the owner or employee really doesn’t care if you buy anything or not, and many times they won’t even acknowledge you when you walk in. However, I have experienced some great customer service in some family owned restaurants.
One common idea about Italian culture is that Italians enjoy life at a much slower pace. Although largely true when it comes to eating a meal or relaxing in a piazza, it is often times difficult to imagine this as true. Motorcycles weaving in and out of traffic at intersections and cars honking at others to move the second the light turns green are examples of Italian impatience.
Average Americans (myself included) are notorious for eating extremely fast meals and often times not enjoying meal time with friends and family. Although Italians eat a lot of pizza and panini while walking, an actual meal can take upwards of two or three hours. It’s been nice to slow down and enjoy a multi-course meal with new friends who have grown so close, it feels like we’ve known each other for years. A study abroad experience is great for not only pushing you outside of your comfort zone, but also bonding with your peers as you try to navigate a largely unfamiliar culture and country.
Obviously, studying abroad is a major adjustment from your normal life. However, this drastic change serves as a great chance to test yourself and grow. I am completely comfortable navigating unfamiliar cities after trips to Naples, Milan, and my first few weeks in Rome. I have learned enough Italian to get my point across. I’ve made great friends from all over the United States and Europe, and even befriended the man who runs the (my favorite) restaurant right underneath my apartment. I keep trying to forget that eventually I will have to leave this beautiful city and country.
Andrew is a current student at the University of Alabama studying at John Cabot University in Italy during the Spring 2015 term.