Don’t forget to read Part 1
“You’ve been accepted to a school in Italy. Congratulations! That was the easy part; going to a new country for longer than a week can be a bit of a challenge. Speaking from experience, culture shock is a frightening situation that can happen even to the best of us. The best way to combat culture shock is to remove the ‘shock’ from the situation by learning as much about the Italian way of life as you can so you know what to expect when you get here.
Here’s a list of some of some things to know as well as tips on packing, exploring, and making the most of your time here in Italy.”
Shop Til You Drop (Or Until Mom Calls You For Dinner)
Italians have a different set of values than we do. Americans get super gung-ho about job creation and boosting the economy. Italians take a slightly different approach; while they do still care about contributing to the economy and making a living wage, they place family and personal happiness above everything else. Italians value family time and the sanctity of not working during God’s holy day. As such, most stores will close for two to three hours during lunch time so shop owners can go home and eat with their families and many stores will be closed on Sundays.
Fill up on your venti, mocha frappuccinos, because Italians don’t drink coffee; they call it ‘brown water.’ In Italy, you find men and women of every shape and size standing at the cafe counter like it’s the local pub on football night, waiting as their order of espresso is poured lovingly into a ceramic, shot glass. Yes, you read that correctly: shot glass. Three sips, hit it, and they’re out the door. To-go cups, or ‘take-away’, are as foreign here as peanut butter. Italians value their espresso, but don’t believe that it should be enjoyed on the go. Same with food: smaller portions served fresh when you order, not to be reheated in the microwave at one in the morning while you binge Criminal Minds. It’s even commonplace to see Italians sitting in the outdoor patios during January to enjoy their caffeine shot and Nutella-filled “cornetto” (croissant).
These Boots Are Made For Walking
When planning to go to a foreign country, it is always a good idea to research the place first so you know the “do’s and don’ts”. One very noticeable thing that every travel agency and wanderlust, Instagram account will tell you about Florence is that you should bring shoes that are easy to walk in. Another very noticeable thing about Florence is you can easily spot who the tourists are because they are the only ones wearing hiking boots. As someone who has worked at a Boy Scout camp for four years and knows all about appropriate, outdoor footwear, I can tell you that the streets of Florence are not nearly as bad as everyone makes them out to be. You’d have a higher risk of twisting your ankle in a pothole back in the States than you would stubbing your toe on these cobblestone streets.
Another interesting observation is that Italians don’t care where they are walking or how far they are walking; they will wear whatever looks good. Unlike Americans who will break out the rubber boots for a light, April sprinkle, Italians will rock their black boots and chunky heels in any weather. Now, that’s not to say that you can bring any type of shoes. Stilettos are a definite no unless you’re creating a modern version of the “Shoe In The Stone”. Flip-flops are also a bad idea. Flimsy, open-toe shoes on uneven ground is not only a great way to sprain an ankle but it’s also not the Italian way. They consider flip-flops to be nothing more than shower shoes, so unless you wanna look like you just stepped out of the tub, best to leave them at home.
PRO TIP: ditch the sweats and bring on the slacks. Italians are all about looking nice. Need to update your wardrobe? Try department stores like OVS and Floreiza or Promod. Local stores always have huge, New Year sales in January, so it’s the perfect time to pick up some new pieces.
It’s Getting Hot in Here, So Throw On Your Parka
Another hot tip for keeping up with the Italians is to dress for the season, not the weather. It could be 60 degrees and sunny in the middle of January, but everyone will be dressed in puffy, winter jackets and scarves wrapped up to their ears. That’s just the Italian way. As counterintuitive as that sounds, you’ll find that the longer you stay here, the more acclimated you are to the change in dress code.
I’m from Buffalo, New York, where a negative two-degree wind chill won’t stop us from wearing shorts and sandals to the Bills football game. I left single-digit temperatures in the States and arrived in Florence to a beautiful 55 and sunny. Three days in and I was back to wearing my winter jacket and shivering just like everyone around me. No matter how stubborn you may be, the power of suggestion and need to fit in will overpower the desire to wear that cute sundress you bought just for your trip to Italy (trust me).
PRO TIP: you’ll find that while Americans adore their infinity scarves, Italians prefer wider scarves thrown haphazardly across their shoulders like a makeshift blanket. Embrace the change; enjoy the warmth.
Danielle Dirks is studying Visual and Communication Design at @smol_stuf and blogs at elmwoodandmaple.blogspot.com.