Caleb Crum is an SAI Ambassador who studied at Florence University of the Arts (FUA) during the Spring 2014 semester. He now promotes SAI and studying abroad at his home university, Missouri State University in Springfield, MO.
When you decide to stay in a country other than your own, you can expect to run into some lifestyle changes that you will have to get accustomed to. While in Italy, I quickly realized that I had some changes to make if I was going to get used to the Italian way of life. Here are some lifestyle changes that you will have to get used to when/if you decide to live in Italy:
1. Walking Everywhere.
This is one that Americans may take a while to get used to. Americans are so used to driving everywhere, even if it is only a short distance away, that the concept of walking from your apartment to the grocery store and back seems crazy. But in time, you will appreciate the long walks that you get to take around the ancient cities of Italy. A good walk never hurt anybody, unless you wear heels on the cobblestone streets. (P.S. bring comfy shoes).
2. Limited Utilities.
This is one that some people don’t even think about. The amount of electricity, gas, and water that Americans use versus what Italians use differs significantly. Italians are very conservative with energy, so if you are the type of person who has multiple electronic devices that constantly need to be charging or you like to take an hour long shower, you might want to reconsider your energy consumption before getting hit with extra utility charges. My advice is to bring devices that have long battery lives, turn lights off when you are not in a room, utilize natural light through the windows of your apartment, and learn the ancient art of the “7-minute shower”.
3. FRESH Food.
As a foodie, this was my favorite lifestyle change. The fact that I got to eat FRESH food without all of the added chemicals and preservatives added in was absolutely fantastic! Even the simplest thing, such as going to a store and buying a loaf of bread that was made just that morning, was better than I imagined it would be. The richness of food may take some time for your stomach to get used to, but after you’ve adjusted, you will never want to go back. (Side note: I got sick from my first meal back in America. Be wary of this happening when you return home.)
4. The Euro.
Get ready to deal with a TON of coins and paper money that looks like colorful monopoly money. Euro coins come in 1, 2, 5, 10, 20, and 50 cent pieces and also 1 and 2 euros. With the lowest paper currency for euros at 5, this means you can plan on constantly dealing with coins. Paper comes in 5, 10, 20, 50, 100, 200, and even 500 euros. When using this money, it is common for Americans to not take into account that the euro is stronger than the dollar, so you are spending more than you think you are. (Advice: To get the most euros for your dollar, don’t go to a currency exchange store. They have higher exchange rates than the bank ATMs.)
5. Daily Grocery Shopping.
The American way of shopping for groceries = buying things in bulk. This is not the case for Italians. Since most things in the grocery store are fresh, you are going to end up having to visit the grocery store every single day or every other day. Luckily, most items at an Italian grocery store are quite cheap, so what you end up paying in the long run is the same as if you were buying in bulk.
6. Acqua Frizzante vs. Acqua Naturale.
If you don’t do research before going to Italy, you may be surprised when you sit down at a restaurant and drink a glass of water that is carbonated. That’s right, most places serve sparkling water (Acqua Frizzante). Usually you will be asked if you would like sparkling water or flat water (Acqua Naturale). Most people need time to get used to it, but after a while, you may start to prefer the carbonation over flat water. (Side note: In nearly every restaurant, there is no such thing as a free refill. So try to avoid going to a restaurant if you are dying of thirst.)
Just as Americans have stereotypes of people from other countries, people from other countries have stereotypes of Americans. Italians have quite a few stereotypes that they associate with Americans. They think that most Americans are obese people who eat nothing but fast food, that we are loud when we talk, that we are anti-social towards non-Americans, and that we know nothing of what goes on outside our own country. Whether or not these are true, my goal, and my advice to you, was to try to show them that we are not all the “stereotypical American”.
8. Your Wardrobe.
Before you start filling up your suitcase with your entire collection of school shirts, bro tanks, and sweat pants, you might want to consider how the natives dress. Italians generally dress a lot more fashionable than what the typical American college student does on a daily basis. Consider packing a few different outfits that look nice, but also leave plenty of room in your suitcase for the amount of clothes that you are going to buy. Also, accessories and different outerwear will help when you have to wear an outfit for the 2nd or 3rd time in a week. (Side note: bring at least one school shirt so you can take awesome selfies and send them to your study abroad office! They love featuring students in different countries wearing school paraphernalia.)
9. Meal Times.
What are the usual American meal times? 8-10ish for breakfast, noon for lunch, and around 5 for dinner. What are the usual Italian meal times? 8-10ish for coffee (Italians aren’t really big on breakfast), around 2 for lunch (and expect people to sit around for hours just to enjoy lunch, which is the main meal of the day), and around 8 at night for dinner. (Side note: Personally, I now go by these meal times instead of the American meal times. They just make more sense.
10. Language Barriers.
This is the big one that most people are nervous about. They think that as soon as they get off the plane that they are going to need a translator. Luckily, most Italians that live in the larger cities (Rome, Florence, Milan, Venice, etc.) speak multiple languages. You may run into a few people that don’t speak English in the big cities, but you should only have a major language barrier in the smaller towns around Italy. They don’t get much tourist traffic, so they really don’t have a need to learn English. (Side story: So I went to Padova (a small city near Venice) for a concert. As soon as I got off the train, I quickly realized that no one spoke English. Luckily, I was far enough along in my Italian language class that I could ask for directions. When the concert was over, I was going from person to person asking if they could call a taxi for me, since I had a train that I had to catch an hour after the concert was over. Finally, I found someone who spoke a little bit of English. He then told me that taxis would periodically come by to pick up people from the concert venue. Moral of the story-taking an Italian class will help you TREMENDOUSLY.)