Throughout the first weeks of this semester in Italy, I have noticed a few major differences in cultures coming from America.
One culture change that is a challenge for everyone to adapt to is the language barrier. You might think no one speaks English in Italy, but I have realized many Italians do speak some English. I thought I would struggle with the language barrier, but I adapted to their culture by learning the basics of Italian- just enough to get by in certain circumstances. I highly recommend taking Italian for Travelers because you will come across times you wish you knew certain words. For example, we arrived to the train station in Bassano this past Friday and found out the trains were on strike until 9pm at night. So, my friends and I began asking around to find out what towns were not on strike. After asking about 10 Italians, we had no answer for our problem. Finally, we went inside the bar area and asked the cashier for bus tickets. Luckily, she knew a little English and happened to have bus tickets for us to the nearest town, Padova, which happened to have a running train to Florence. Again, learning a little Italian won’t hurt!
When I arrived in Venice and walked through the airport to the bus stop, I noticed that I did not come across as many overweight people as I tend to see in America. It appears that Italians do a lot of walking and also also eat differently than Americans. There are a lot of pastas, sauces, hard breads, meats, fruit and wine. Having pasta, a lighter meat, and a fruit/vegetable for every meal isn’t something you experience back home in America. Italians eat very little in a way of sweets. I have had one or two chocolate bars from the local markets, but that is about the only place I have seen selling chocolate. So if you have a sweet tooth I suggest cutting back before you come to Italy because it will be hard to go without.
In addition to a slimmer look, Italians always dress to impress. I don’t mean they wear flashy clothing, but they are not sloppy in anyway when it comes to how they dress. Very few times do I see Italians wearing clothing with logos. Instead I see them wearing simple plain shirts/pants with the edition of scarves, hats, jackets, watches, and necklaces. The accessories make their outfit look more fashionable. As I can see from my travels, fashion is a major hit not only in Italy but throughout all of Europe. For those of you wondering how to pack to match the culture in Italy, I suggest packing neutral clothing such as khakis, cords, a pair of jeans, casual dress shirts, a few dressier shirts, some sweaters to wear alone or with dress shirts, and shoes to match your outfits. Wearing the same clothing over here is not an issue; one outfit can have many different styles! Below is a picture from this past weekend of my friends and I in our fashionable outfits:
Finally, another major difference is the amount of socializing young people do. I noticed the first night when we went to the local bar right off of campus that people from ages 15 (or even younger) visit these bars to sit down and socialize without out ordering any alcoholic beverages. Back in America, a bar is focused mainly on a place where adults 21 years of age and older can go drink alcoholic beverages, leading to a more social environment. Here in Italy, people are more mature about drinking than the young people in America. No more “lets party” or “let’s get drunk” mentality, which for some of us it can be refreshing not hearing those references.
I hope this makes adapting to the culture here in Italy a little less nerve wrecking!