Italy is one of the most beautiful countries in the world. Rich in history, delicious food and having--for the most part--fair weather, Italy is a dream destination for many. However, some expats find that they have difficulty adjusting to the local lifestyle, and have come up with a wealth of tips and tricks for fitting in and making your transition to Italy go as smoothly as possible.
Get Italian Citizenship has compiled a list of top 10 little tips and tricks that we think help for adjusting to life in Italy. Here they are:
1. Learn Italian coffee culture!
Italy is big on coffee. Bars and cafes dot even the smallest towns, and it seems that everyone knows how to ask for exactly what they want. Bars can be overwhelming for the uninitiated, but don't worry! Go up to the register, order your coffee, get your receipt and bring it up the bar. Take your coffee while standing up, and enjoy the people watching around you. When you've just moved to Italy, the bar can be your lifeline: besides getting a well-needed jolt in the morning, you can hear the latest news, meet friends, watch the (soccer) game or just chat about life. It's wonderful!
To that end, M.E. of Surviving Italy says:
"There is a drinking method for Italian coffee. Un caffe' (a shot of espresso) is okay for all day. Usually, a cappuccino is only drank in the morning. At a bar (cafe'), you can order whatever you want."
2. Don't be offended if the locals offend your sensibilities
In the U.S., we are used to the saying "the customer is always right." In Italy, though customer service isn't outright rude, it can sometime seem less than helpful to an American. But don't take it personally: many Europeans find our overt friendliness to be jarring.
It is simply a case of a different culture. Learn how to be polite to people in shops (say hello with a polite "salve" and politely decline help if you're just browsing with a "no, grazie." But watch out! Italian shopkeepers are there to help you if you want to look at something up close: don't just grab at their wares. The people working there will be happy to show you an item or pull clothing off the rack for you. The same goes for the fruit and vegetable stand: tell them what you're looking for, and they'll pick out the best stuff for you. Trust them; they're pros!
3. Buy a bicycle
Unlike most towns that sprawl out for miles and miles in the U.S., many cities in Europe are easily walkable and ciclable. This is especially true for Italy, and even more so the further north you go. One of the most beautiful ways to see any Italian town is to take a leisurely ride on your bicycle, and most used bikes can be purchased for 100 euros.
For our money, we think that the bike is the best transportation you'll ever have in Italy. Not only is it fast, it's also a great way to stay health. And it's also practical: in Italy, sometimes train and buses go on strike. It's just a fact of life. But if you have a bicycle you can go pretty much wherever your legs can take you.
Make sure to buy a very good lock, and get out and go!
4. Don't expect to be able to find "ethnic" food
Italy is immensely proud of its rich culinary traditions--and rightly so! Sometimes to the detriment of other cuisines, though.
We advise you to learn how to cook your favorite "ethnic" meals from back home and look for the ingredients in Italian markets or, failing that, in Asian grocery stores that are popping up in some towns. And if all else fails, you can always find your favorite ingredients on the internet. The reality is that while the culinary scene in Italy is slowly becoming more inclusive of other cultures (many cities have options for sushi, Chinese, Indian, kebabs and the like), it has a ways to go. As such it might be very difficult to find tacos al pastor when the craving hits you.
Personally, we find Italian food delicious in all of its iterations and love exploring the regional differences that make it so special. The saying "When in Rome, do as the Romans do" is very true, especially when it comes to food: concentrate less on trying to find what you're craving, and focus more on enjoying the delicious Italian food that local restaurants are so proud to serve. You'll love it!
5. Go for aperitivi!
We think that aperitivi are Italy's best kept secrets. Basically, aperitivi are little free snacks that come with your drink order. It's like the equivalent of American Happy Hour, but the food is free (and delicious and local!).
In the summer there is nothing more beautiful than sitting in an outdoor cafe' or bar and enjoying your aperitivi with your drink. It's also really great people watching!
If you're lonely as a newcomer to Italy, it's one of the best occasions to make friends and wind down.
6. Learn Italian
The majority of Italians don't speak English fluently, but that doesn't mean that you need to be isolated or that you should expect everyone to speak your language. Going the extra mile and learning Italian is not just common courtesy, it's also a great way to break the ice, make friends and become independent in your new home. Most Italians are very warm people and they will appreciate your efforts.
7. Get your pizza toppings right!
This one is a silly little rule, but we've seen so many Americans make this innocent mistake. Remember this when you're ordering pizza: peperone (kinda sounds like "pepperoni") is a bell pepper, and salame piccante (also called salamino) is what we call "pepperoni" in the U.S. We're actually wrong, but it's just one of those things you have to keep in mind.
Italians have their own mistakes, too, like calling cellophane tape "scotch". Not scotch tape, just "scotch." It's always funny when Italians are abroad and they ask for a bit of "scotch" while they're at work. Everyone looks at them like they're alcoholics and then they realize they mean tape. It's all in good fun!
8. Let go of your preconceived notions
The Italy of 2015 is not the Italy that our grandparents left in the late 1800s through the 1950s. Things have changed and Italy has become a thoroughly modernized country with modern people, problems, careers and successes. Keep that in mind: the traditions you might have grown up with can look very different today in Italy and sometimes they might not even exist at all anymore. Part of being reacquainted with your culture and traditions means growing to leave space in your heart for new things you learn, too. They're worth it!
9. Take advantage of the affordable travel
Italy is a wonderful starting off point to visit the rest of Europe. Nowadays budget airline companies like Ryanair and EasyJet make it so easy to jet off to Amsterdam, Paris or London for a weekend.
Or, you could hop on a train and see another Italian city every weekend of the year. One week you can be in Rome, and the other in Florence, Venice or Milan. It's fantastic!
10. Be open-minded
Italy has been around for a long time and it's probably not going to change just to make things easier for you. And that's okay!. While it can sometimes be a frustrating place, we think its positives far outweigh the negatives. All the more reason to approach your home with an open mind. Forget how things are done in the States and just appreciate Italy for what it is: a beautiful country that, like all others, has some flaws. We guarantee that if you learn to roll with the punches (and there will be punches!) you'll get the most out of your time in Italy.
Audra de Falco is a certified freelance Italian, Spanish and French translator and interpreter. She loves writing about the profession and dual Italian citizenship. Her free time is spent mostly learning Dutch, reading and exploring New York. Contact.