BY DESIREE CARPENTER, CREATIVE MEDIA’18, CHAMPLAIN COLLEGE
1. Accept that, for the first couple of weeks, you’ll be too confused and fascinated by everything around you to actually blend in. You’re in an incredible place for the next few months. Give yourself the first couple of weeks to be touristy and take everything in.
2. Dress in clothes that you feel are at least moderately stylish. This is probably equivalent to the bare minimum of acceptable in Italy. When in doubt, wear as much black as possible. You can always spot study abroad students in the city when it’s warm by looking for the people decked out in T-shirts, basketball shorts, and tennis shoes.
3. Watch out for bicycles and mopeds. There were several streets I assumed were only for pedestrians until a Vespa came barreling down at high speed, missing people by mere inches. Honestly, though, the bicycles are scarier. They expect you to move out of their way and won’t go around, so always listen for the sound of those little bike bells nearby.
4. When going into any place of business, if an employee greets you, greet them back before you begin talking/ordering/trying to make a purchase. If you don’t say hi, you might be seen as rude and possibly even get worse service. It’s also much more polite if you can ask (in Italian) if someone speaks English, rather than immediately assuming that they do. (For those curious, the standard way to ask is, “Ciao, parli inglese?”)
5. Don’t order a cappuccino after noon, and especially not after lunch. Italians consider a cappuccino to be a heavy, dense drink, so it’s essentially a breakfast replacement. If you want a real Italian breakfast, go to a coffee bar, order a cappuccino and a cornetto (the Italian version of a croissant, often with different kinds of fruit or cream fillings), and eat it standing at the bar.
6. Buy groceries to last you a few days at a time, rather than a few weeks. There’s a very high chance of having a fresh market and/or a grocery store within walking distance of wherever you live, so it won’t be out of the way. Grocery shopping for weeks at a time isn’t “normal” practice in Italy, so you’ll probably get some strange looks if you do. However, if you’re taking a bus outside the city to get cheaper groceries, it’s worth ignoring the odd looks and stocking up to save money.
7. When at a restaurant, don’t order tap water. The tap water in Florence is clean and totally drinkable, but ordering water at a restaurant will get you potentially expensive bottled water. Ordering tap water would be free, but it will get you dirty looks if not outright refusal. Most places let you bring your own water, though, so just carry a bottle with you and you’ll likely be good to go.
8. If you walk through the outdoor markets, people will yell at you to try and get your attention. Most of it will probably consist of strange compliments or comparisons to random celebrities–I got called Lady Gaga, someone I look nothing like, quite frequently–and it’ll be in English. Don’t feel obligated to stop, respond to them, or even make eye contact, unless you’re actually interested in what they’re selling.
When buying souvenirs from outdoor markets, don’t be afraid to barter. Most everyone selling goods has their products at a much higher price than they need to be at to make a profit, and the people want to make a sale more than anything else. If you can’t talk them down to an acceptable price, just walk away. They’ll either drop the price or you’ll find someone who will. (I was able to get a €30 scarf for €10, and an €80 wallet for only €45!)
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