Things to know about Italy and the Italians before you go

A list of things I have learned so far and I think would be helpful to know if you are planning any sort of trip to Italy. È la bella vita qui, davvero…enjoy!

  1. First and foremost, the roads are almost entirely made of cobblestone. You should bear this in mind with both your footwear and your luggage choice. I had what I thought was (and pretty much is) really amazing luggage. It was super lightweight, bright blue and had four wheels, (all of which had 360 degree rotation.) In America, the suitcases glided easily over the concrete. When I arrived in Rome, one wheel of each luggage piece (I had three) automatically fell into a rut and I was stuck scrambling in the middle of the cobblestone walkway hoping not to get hit by a bus. Same thing when I went to Florence. The cobblestones are not even, bumpy and are often far apart, making it difficult to push anything along them. I ended up giving one of my suitcases to a friend, and dragged two behind me on two wheels. Same goes for footwear-the Italian women walk in 4-inch heels on the cobblestone, but even when wearing my Converses, I have managed to trip fall and generally make a complete fool of myself, so be advised. I wouldn’t necessarily bring really high heels and I certainly wouldn’t wear them the first couple of days. You’ll need some time, at least, to get your footing.

 2. The Italian men and women will put you to shame, clothing-wise. I generally consider myself to be pretty fashionable. I am up on most of the trends, and would never be caught dead going to class in a sweatshirt and sweatpants, as many of my fellow University students do in America. Here, even with my skinny jeans and over-sized tank tops, I feel like a slob in comparison to the Italian women, who are always decked out in skirts, heels and scarves. (The men always wear nice, dark-wash jeans, dress shoes and a collared shirt, usually with a sweater.) They would not be caught dead in shorts, unless they are very dressy ones, and sneaker-wearing seems to be taboo. Even when the women ride bicycles, they pedal in high heels, and manage to wear dresses while zooming around on Vespas (motor-scooters,) without flashing the entire universe, (which I could easily see myself doing should I ever attempt such a thing…which is why I probably won’t.) You don’t have to dress super fancy, just be aware that the Italians generally dress up for outings, (such as going out to eat,) much more than Americans do, and you will be automatically pegged as a tourist if you don’t.

 3. Either there are no traffic laws in Italy, or they are very rarely enforced. One of my tour guides in Rome said “The Italian people drive very similar to their personalities: they think they are right, all the time,” and she was completely correct. The streets, as I said, are cobblestone and incredibly tiny, most are clearly not made for anything but walking. Yet, bicycles, Vespas, cars and even delivery trucks all try to squeeze through the streets, even the incredibly tiny side streets. There are not many sidewalks, and even where there are some, they are tiny and cannot fit more than one, maybe two people across, and so hordes of people just walk in the middle of the street as Vespas weave through the pedestrian traffic. Cars and trucks honk routinely to try and get people out of the way, but they don’t stop. So seriously, when they honk at you, move. If you are crossing the road, ALWAYS look both ways, and if there is a motor-vehicle of any sort coming, wait for it to pass, even if the little green dude, which signifies “walk” is lit up. They don’t stop for you, so be prepared to stop and to move around for them, I don’t think they’d really hesitate to hit you as you fumble helplessly through your purse for your map.

 4. Italian people are very straightforward and tell you exactly what they are thinking. Men will whistle at you and catcall “bella” to girls as they walk by, and really they mean just that, you are beautiful. By the same token, though, they won’t hesitate to tell you if they think you are stupid or ugly too. This can be both incredibly refreshing and incredibly insulting. The best way to deal with this is to just smile and shrug everything off, whether it is a compliment or an insult.

 5. PDA is much more widespread and way more socially acceptable. Be prepared. ‘Nuff said. ;)

 6. The police are hit or miss. Some can be incredibly sweet and very helpful and others can be very rude and just brush you off. If you find the latter first, don’t get upset, just move on to the next one. Chances are, you’ll find someone in a better mood further away from the tourist-y areas, but don’t give up, there are officers out there willing to help you.

 7. Air conditioning is practically unheard of, and the Italians wear pants and long sleeved even in the summer. If you’re really suffering, many drug stores (“farmacias”) sell fans.

 8. Elevators are also not very widespread, and when they are present, they are tiny. Better to just take the stairs and get some exercise.

 9. At the open air markets, they will try to deliberately rip you off. Always haggle, barter and ask for as many discounts as humanly possible. You’d be surprised how many of the vendors will sell you things for more than 50% off the original price.  

 10. It is unspeakably beautiful here and I can guarentee you will absolutely love it. :)

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5 Responses to Things to know about Italy and the Italians before you go

  1. Terri says:

    Love your blog! Hope your having fun. Keep the posts & pics coming!!!!!

  2. Rob says:

    Very Jealous… Sounds incredible.

  3. Doc says:

    I’m really enjoying your blog, and it sounds like you’re having a great time so far. I’m anxious to hear how they teach journalism in Italy!

  4. Federico says:

    But when you’ve been in Italy? In 1900?
    I am Italian and I can assure you that some things you said are false.
    For example, the air conditioning is in every supermarket and shop or in my case at home! The traffic laws exist! But in big cities like Rome are not always respected, in fact we use the term “drive like a Roman” to describe a person who drives badly and does not respect the traffic signs.

    • caitigirl says:

      Hey Federico,

      Thanks for your comment. I think you brought up some valid points. I wrote this post when I had only been in Italy for around a week, and had mostly only experienced Rome, which, as you say, has crazy traffic. I did learn in Florence that the driving style is not as crazy, however, I still feel in comparison to the U.S., driving is a lot less organized, for lack of a better term. I think this difference is compounded by the fact that in Italy, especially in Florence, many of the roads are a lot smaller and made of stone, not pavement, and therefore would be more difficult to drive on in an organized manner-although, driving on the Long Island Expressway can sometimes be just as hazardous to one’s health and well-being.

      The air-conditioning point, I found, was also not as true once I became settled in Florence, however, the hotel we stayed at in Rome, I believe, and my apartment in Florence, did not have air conditioning, which would be unusual in the States. However, most places, grocery stores etc. did have air conditioning in Florence, although not the smaller shops.

      Thanks again for your comment and I hope my response cleared up any misleading statements in my original post.

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