I’m beginning my third month here in beautiful Siena, and I’m finally seeing a possible dip in the large amount of tourists that cover this city every day. Coming here, I didn’t realize that Siena was such a popular destination for tourists, and the realization was both entertaining and frustrating. For my first few weeks here, I felt very much on the same page as the groups trudging along my path to school with their headphones in listening to the guide at the front of the pack. I was still getting lost occasionally and didn’t know where to find the best bakery or what the word for “post card stamp” was in Italian. A lot of my first month was just fumbling around, getting from class to home with a dash of gelato and people watching in the Piazza del Campo.
When October came, I finally felt comfortable enough to stop considering myself as much a tourist, and to claim my portion of living in Siena like a local. I feel a lot of this happened when the cool weather started coming. When the first gust of chilly wind hit the city, every single local jumped into winter mode, and brought out the puffy winter coats or chic black leather jackets. And then there was me, in my brightly colored American clothing, who didn’t have enough room to pack my leather jacket from Target and so was using pretty flimsy layers of cardigans instead. This changed the first Wednesday of the month: market day. I set my alarm early and charged off to the market to get some good deals on fall/winter gear that made me feel less like a sore thumb and more like a part of the community. I came away with a sweater and a nicely priced “leather” jacket that made me feel very cool in my dorky skin. It wasn’t that I was trying to lose myself in the mix of Italian culture; I was just adjusting to the norm. I still had my colorful scarves and bright jewelry that brought out my personality, but I felt more confident in my place as a Sienese woman.
My new confidence in my Italian skin was confirmed upon coming back from fall break two weeks ago. In a hurry to get home from the airport in Pisa to Siena, I walked quickly through the steps home: plane, bus to train station, two trains home. I had studied what I needed to do earlier so that I wouldn’t miss my train while looking at the schedule, so I knew exactly what was going on around me and where I needed to be in that equation. On the bus to the train station in Pisa, I was approached by two British tourists who asked me in broken Italian for directions. I smiled and affirmed that I spoke English and helped them as best as I could to find their way. They were very thankful and found their train a couple minutes later. The fact that they couldn’t tell that I was American really made me feel like I belonged, and showed how all of my efforts have been worth it. I may never truly be a local here in Italy, but my time as a tourist in Siena has definitely passed.
Clara is a current student at College of William and Mary studying at Siena Italian Studies in Italy during the Fall 2015 term.