Living in a different country is hard, especially if you have never been out of your home country before. I had never left the United States, the closest I got was seeing the Canadian side at Niagara Falls. Which obviously doesn’t count, since it looked pretty much the same as the New York side. Before I left to live in Italy for 5 months, I took a Florence Orientation class which was supposed to prepare us to living in a different country but it was a waste of time since everything we talked about wasn’t important.
Maybe it’s because the class was full of fashion students but the teacher talked about Italian fashion until your ears fell off. Talked about how much better Italian fashion was compared to American fashion, how well dressed the average Italian person is, how they will judge you if you do not look amazing like they do, how they tell you to NOT dress like an American, to ignore the baggage fees and bring the biggest bag you have with wheels despite the cobblestone streets. How you are in Italy so you will never have a cheeseburger or chicken nugget ever again till you come back home, and probably the biggest one I heard: Italians are SUPER RUDE.
None of these was helpful. First of all, while I’ll admit that Italians value style over comfort (which is the other way around to Americans) the overall style in Italy is very relaxed. My class made the impression that Italians practically walk around in ballgowns or something when I saw plenty of them wear leggings and a nice shirt. They wore jeans and tennis shoes and those weird puffy jackets. I had wasted all my extra room in my suitcase by bringing slacks and fancy shoes that I only ever suffer through for job interviews thinking that I would have to wear this around Italy instead of bringing clothes I would’ve actually liked to have worn. Those clothes sat in the back of my closet in my Italian apartment and I had to buy all new clothes.
Wearing what I wanted never held me back and I fooled a lot of Italians thinking I was also from here until I tried speaking terrible broken Italian with my American accent. People can wear they want in Italy just like in the United States. They have Forever 21, Zara, and H&M all along the streets so the street styles weren’t that much different. While you probably couldn’t get into one of the famous cathedrals in shorts and flip flops, I went into all of them with jeans and worn out combat boots and no one blinked an eye.
As for the luggage, I brought a large suitcase with wheels, a duffel bag, a shoulder bag for school, and a nice cross body purse. The suitcase was obviously for most of my storage, the duffel bag was for weekend trips I traveled to on my days off. This worked out better than paying extra for giant suitcases the teachers recommended. “Oh, you won’t want to carry your luggage everywhere, just pay extra.” Well that’s nice for them if they got that money but unless they are offering to pay for your luggage, just bring a duffel bag. Mine fit on top of my wheeled suitcase so it never bothered me.
The food surprised me, not because I never ate another chicken nugget but because of the way its prepared. They have McDonald’s, Burger King, and Subway in Italy. In France, they even had a Chipotle that the other girls went to. Don’t worry, if you miss American food there are places to get them. But the ways the cuisine surprised me was the fact that Italian food is very simple. Maybe it is because of the certain way I cook my own pasta at home or maybe I went to Olive Garden one too many times, but I was surprised on how little ingredients went into the food. Italian food is all about quality over quantity. They would rather eat a simple sandwich that had 4 things on it with NO sauce if all the ingredients were fresh. Fresh bread, fresh mozzarella cheese, fresh basil leaves, fresh slice of turkey, and maybe a freshly sliced tomato. Spaghetti is noodles and sauce. Lasagna is noodles and sauce. Pizza is dough, sauce, and some sparsely sliced cheese. Salad was lettuce, olives, and olive oil. No dressing. That’s it.
It was good because you could taste the difference in how fresh everything was, but I always thought it was lacking somehow. I missed vegetables on my sandwiches with lots of sauce, I missed cheesy mushroom onion pasta, and meat lover pizza. The food was a little plain for my taste, but I thought it was all good none the less. I lived next to an Indian market and a Chinese restaurant so I got to eat Indian food and egg rolls whenever pasta got to be too much.
Most importantly, Italians are not rude people. If you don’t walk around at night drunk off your ass, or refuse to speak in Italian, or not bother learning about the culture, Italians will treat you nice. Yes, believe it or not, Italians don’t like rude loud people puking by their businesses because they can’t drink responsibly without bothering to speak in the language of the land. Younger Italians are mostly fluent in English anyways and the older Italians who maybe aren’t fluent in English were nice enough to try to speak Italian slow for me to understand.
Of course, you will pass by the occasional asshole who cat calls or is rude to you but hello there are ass hats in the United States too. *cough POTUS cough* Speaking of which, I believe every single person I talked to didn’t really like Trump so regardless of your political beliefs, I would leave political shirts at home.
And by the way, Europe has the worst street signs ever. I got lost almost every day despite having a map because locating street signs may be on the top of a building or not posted at all. If you run out of contact solution you will have to go to a pharmacy instead because obviously, there are no Walmart’s in Europe. You won’t need a prescription but you will need to figure out the old solution because it’s the old-fashioned bottle that you have to rub for 5 minutes or so before you can stick it into your eye.
- Water is not free
- There are no water fountains in Europe
- They don’t put ice in their drinks
- You will not get a free refill on any drink
- Cappuccinos are only drunk in the morning
- Getting something “to go” is not heard of so if you didn’t finish something, oh well.
- They have “cover charges” at restaurants which means you have to pay 7 euros to enter on top of your bill instead of tipping
- Do not sit down to drink your coffee or you will get hit with a “cover charge”. Italians just stand and drink it instead.
- They give you a basket of bread on the table but it is not free like it is in America. They will charge you for it unless you say something to them.
- Also, the phrase “top it up” means to add money to your card. I didn’t know that and some British guy yelled at me for it.
Living in a different country is tough, everything is in a different language everything is unfamiliar. But the best parts are exploring the non-touristy places and living like a real local. Because this isn’t a vacation where you go to a different country for few days, this is you actually living here experiencing the country. Enjoy it, explore, and eat a lot of good food. You’ll never want to go home when you are there and look for every opportunity to go back once you are home.