One of the first reactions from my friends and family when I told them that I was going to Italy was to be careful. They warned me that the culture is vastly different, some questioned my decision to live with an Italian family, and most advised me to be wary of the food because if not I would definitely double in size. While I understood the anxieties of my loved ones and concerned strangers, I didn’t consider much of it. I tried to view Italy as a dog; it will only bite if it senses my fear. As a result, I’ve successfully completed about 6 weeks in Italy without a scratch on me.
With all of that said, the transition from American culture (more specifically, Texan culture) has not been a walk in the park. The first thing that I noticed was the difference in efficiency. The main indicator of the Italians’ lack of efficiency is the wide acceptance of being tardy. In America, not only is it considered rude for somebody to be late, but it generally causes an inconvenience for others. (I know this first hand because I have a habit of running about 15 minutes late for every occasion, from work to weddings. I don’t discriminate.) However, the total disregard for time is something that I think Americans could benefit from every once in a while. (I’m only saying this to justify my constant tardiness).
Also, smoking and dogs. In Italy, cigarettes and/or dogs can be found in the following puzzling places, unless otherwise stated: restaurants, HIGH SCHOOLS, clothing stores, buses? I’m not sure if we are just overly prude to the idea, but 16 year olds rolling tobacco during their high school class would cause an uproar in America. It certainly caught me off guard while I was leading a discussion in a local class here in Siena. Smoking isn’t even really the issue; we’ve all done it. We’ve all been peer-pressured by the dumpster behind the cafeteria of our high school. It’s the time and the place in which the Italians choose to smoke; i.e. everywhere and always.
And the dogs. Actually, I can’t complain about the dogs. Yes, in America it is socially unacceptable to bring your dog to a restaurant, but for me a fluffy face is only a bonus to a delicious meal.
One thing I will forever fail to understand, though, is the unnecessary lack of sanitation in public restrooms here. The soap dispenser is broken? You can’t always win. Out of toilet paper? Happens. No toilet seat? NO. NOT OKAY. If I’m spending €15 on a plate of pasta and €3 on water, I deserve a freaking throne when I do my business. No good comes with a seat-less toilet. None.
Also, they don’t really have breakfast here. It’s not that they don’t have breakfast, but they don’t have BREAKFAST. They have pastries. Pastries are apart of breakfast, not breakfast in total. I can’t elaborate on this anymore because it will just upset me and make me sound like a brat, but I just thought I should include it so my peers wouldn’t think that I don’t see it as an issue.
The breakfast thing aside, these few faults are next to nothing compared to the good that I have experienced here. This experience for me has become one of those things that you can’t ever really describe to outsiders (probably not the best line to use in a blog). I can talk about how good the food is all day, or how hospitable my family is, or how beautiful the city is, but I can’t actually put into words what this country is doing to me. As empty as that sounds, it’s the exact result I wanted. I encourage you to all enjoy experiences like this one; the ones that you can’t wait to tell everyone about, but when you try to explain, all you can do is smile. It’s….awesome.
Karisa is a current student at Baylor University studying at Siena Italian Studies in Italy during the Fall 2014 term.