Because you’re traveling to western Europe, you have probably heard more similarities between the United States and Italy than differences. I understand. It can get a little frustrating when you’re trying to prepare yourself for what to expect when you have literally no idea what to expect. Before I studied abroad I barely thought about any of the differences because all of my relatives said there was little to no difference. Although they are right, most of them vacationed here. I am living here. So, with that being said, I was a bit more affected than my family members. I remember my first week here, was a mix of confusion, happiness, and fright. The most daunting task was remember where all of the landmarks actually are. The Trevi fountain is to the left, but continue straight and you’ll hit the Spanish Steps. Also, this Piazza is that way and the other is that way. With all this information being thrown at me during the first week, I was seriously disoriented. On top of it all, I was finding a ton of cultural differences between Italians and Americans. I guess you could say I was a little flustered my first week. I was expecting an easier transition, but that was not really the case.
Over my semester abroad, I have been keeping tabs on the small cultural differences that I have noticed. Most of my notes are small and probably go unnoticed, but I thought it could be helpful.
Here are some little differences to paint a broader picture of what to expect when you come to this side of the world:
- The dogs are smaller
- The roads are smaller
- The roads are made of cobblestone
- Cars are smaller
- The bathrooms don’t have seat protectors, instead there are wipes for the seat
- Textbooks are cheaper
- Alcohol has a higher percentage
- Water and bread in restaurants costs
- You don’t have to tip
- Typically you don’t drink water with your meal, but wine
- There are 20,000 water fountains around Rome that are constantly on and running
- The tram comes constantly and is super fast
- The main grocery store I went to was underneath a clothing store
- Bars are called pubs here
- Italians generally own their own restaurants and pride themselves in it. If you don’t eat most of your food it is insulting.
- If you want to sit down in a coffee shop it costs more, otherwise you stand and drink inside
- To-go boxes don’t exist (sometimes called “take-away”)
- No Starbucks because coffee is taken seriously
- Men and women restrooms are usually in the same room but different stalls are designated for men and women
- Nobody picks up their dog’s poop
- Uber is not a huge concept
- If you are a tea-drinker, bring your own from home (they only have Twinnings & a small selection of it)
- There is no dryer, only a washing machine
- The power will go out in your apartment if you use too much energy (happened to my roommates and me all the time)
- The pipes are small in most housing units, so don’t allow any strands of hair to go down… seriously, don’t.
See, that wasn’t so bad. I think during your first week here, and overall transition, it’s most important to stay calm and hydrated (you’re going to be doing a ton of walking). No one is expecting you to know where everything is after your first week. There are plenty of people on campus and in the program who are willing to help… just ASK! Hopefully this post is helpful to those who wanted a bit more clarification and real-life experiences of someone’s culture shock . Of course these differences are not significant and life-altering, but it’s always nice to be prepared!
Kordai is a spring 2017 SAI Rome student from St. Mary’s College.