Just as there are some differences between the states of Wisconsin and New York there are tons of differences between countries like Florence and the United States. Whether I love the differences or can barely stand them I have to embrace every second of it because there is no changing culture and to rebel would be rude, look silly, and would be a waste of time. Florence is my new home so I have to adjust and learn the local life. Living and observing here for a little over a month now, I have put a list together of the ten biggest difference. If your goal is to become a local, being aware of these rules and following them can get you a few steps closer.
BOLD DRIVERS. The very first thing you will notice once you get out of the airport, especially if you are jet lagged, are the bold drivers. The drivers follow really close to each other and they fly down the streets. I have never seen a speed limit sign posted in the city of Florence (so maybe it is just known?) nor have I seen anyone pulled over. There are few stoplights that are very short but people do obey them. When stoplights are not in sight, driving, like I mentioned in my last blog post, is like a “secret language” whoever has the first edge gets to go. All these statements do not just apply to cars, bikes and vespas are just at fault. One really needs to watch out while walking the streets. The streets are very slim, in particular the side streets, and the sidewalks even slimmer! There is hardly enough room to fit one person on many of the sidewalks. Because there is not much room, when someone are walking in the opposite direction, it is like playing chicken. There is a mini battle to see how long you and the other person will fight it out to see who will step off the ledge first. If you want to be a true Florentine you must hold your ground until the last possible second and then turn your shoulder so neither of you have to leave the sidewalk.
VOLTAGE. Secondly, appliances charge crazy fast because of the voltage difference. A tip for anyone traveling, besides getting an adaptor and a voltage converter because the plugs are different, do not leave your phone or computer plugged in overnight. Most people in the States are used to plugging their phone in before they go to bed. If you do that here continuously you will probably fry your battery. It takes maybe an hour to charge your phone or computer if you have a dead battery. It is great but very hard to become accustom to because you have to remember to charge them before you leave.
FASHION. Third off, when you get here, take a look to your left, now your right, yes, that is right everyone looks like a model out of a magazine! Fashion on the daily is never taken lightly. Everyone, even the little kids, are dressed in their stylish coats with their oversized scarfs tied in the most fashionable of ways (in the winter). On sunny days if you do not have a pair of sunglasses on you might as well not live in Florence. Everyone wears them. The shoes many of the people here wear have huge soles –probably because they walk so much. Sweatpants and yoga pants are not a thing for everyday wear. Those and athletic wear are only worn at the gym. If you are even walking back from the gym in your workout apparel you will get weird looks –or at least I do. The clothing store windows have very life like manikins dressed in the most expensive clothing. One day, I thought I walked into a used clothing store (I am almost positive it was because of the wear on the clothing and the smell of the store). All the clothing I looked at averaged 100e each.
DOORS. You will quickly learn, after running into a door that does not open with you as you walk out it, that you have to pull to open it. Not all the doors are pull to open but I would say the majority are so watch out or you will look like a dumbo.
FOOD. Italian cuisine is the best. I love it all especially the pizza because it is 100 times better and fresher than it is in America. Almost all the food tastes better here because it is fresher but it spoils faster. You have to go grocery shopping often because you cannot buy things in quantity, however, the groceries cost less than they do in The States. My very favorite foods so far are the sweets and breakfast foods because you cannot go wrong with anything you order. For breakfast, they eat sweets and drink straight espresso. The coffee here is way stronger but no worries, you can order Café Americano if you prefer but I would not recommend it. The Florentine way of drinking coffee, which I do not follow, is no milk after 10am (they also use military time here so am and pm are not a thing) because it is thought that it interferes with digestion. The traditional meal consists of many courses but even ordering one course takes a long time. The way of eating here is not rushed. It is a time taken seriously and conversation is the focal point, besides the food. When you are done eating you need to as for the check or else you will be waiting at your table for eternity. The stores are “specialized” here. They basically only sell one type of thing, for instance, butchers, bakery, pastry shop, pharmacy, clothing store, glove store, wooden picture frame store, boot store ect… They do not usually overlap so you have to go to several stores to get what you need rather than one store like Walmart of Target. Fast food here means a panini or kabab to go and they still will ask you if it is for here. There are a couple of McDonald’s and I saw one Subway. They are near the train station. I have not eaten at McDonald’s here but they sell a few different food options and there is a café and bakery section that looks scrumptious.
LEGAL AGE. The legal age for smoking and drinking is 18 years old. Smoking is not allowed inside public places just like in Wisconsin. It seems like smoking is very popular here. It was so bazar. One day we had a five minute break during class and my professor asked one of my classmates for a lighter and they smoked together. Alcohol is much cheaper here than it is in the United Sates. It is cheaper than food! I got a huge margarita for 4e. You can pick up a bottle of wine for 3e if you wanted to. That being said though, it is not the culture here to drink to get drunk, like it is back home. They do not even sell alcohol at soccer matches (which is their main sporting even).
NIGHT LIFE. The night life is so different than back home. Things in The States usually get going at around midnight and end at 2am. Here people do not even start eating supper until 7:30pm at the earliest. So you can imagine how late people are out. No one is really in the bars until midnight and that is kind of early yet. It is so rowdy outside my window on the 6th floor at night and the small streets echo.
WATER. In The United States we take for granted free water, free refills, and free restrooms. Here there are very few public restrooms in Florence and in Italy in general. Most of them you have to pay .50e to use even the ones in fast food joints. The restrooms in the restaurants and shops you cannot use unless you buy something. They do not have free tap water at restaurants. They will not even serve you tap water. It is all bottled. It is not that the tap water is undrinkable; it is just the way it is done here.
TRAVELING. Traveling is very easy here. There are a lot of airlines that compete against each other so the prices are not too bad. Bus tickets are 1.2e for 90 minutes and hostels and trains are pretty cheap if you book in advance. Not to mention, all the countries are pretty close together so traveling is very do able. Do not take a taxi unless you have a lot of luggage that you cannot carry or it is a safety issue. It is very expensive. If you do take a taxi, you either need to call and reserve one or go to a taxi stand and ask them to take you somewhere. Taxis in Florence cannot be hailed.
CONVERSATION. Lastly, Americans talk extremely loud. I never noticed until I got here. Florentines quietly converse to each other when they are on the street. Compared to them we are shouting at each other and it does not help that the streets are echoy, especially at night! I get the impression that the Florentines and other people of Italy hate this aspect of Americans. When you are in Italy, be courteous of the volume at which you are speaking.
If you are aware and follow these cultural differences on the daily you will have no trouble becoming a local.
Sheena is a current student at Carroll University studying with SAI at Florence University of the Arts (FUA) in Italy during the Spring 2016 term.