If you’ve always dreamed of going to Italy for a semester (or for much longer), then you should follow your heart and go. Italy is a beautiful country with an enviable landscape, wonderful food, and a fascinating history. You can experience all of this and so much more. And it’s the “so much more” that I wasn’t quite prepared for. So, before you head over to the big boot, try to remove any misconceptions you might have before you get here. It will make your transition that much easier.
To get you started, here are 5 areas of Italian culture that threw me for a loop.
When my Italian boyfriend asked me to join him in Italy, I said, “Sure! Of course!” I’d already spent a year in Germany completing my bachelor’s degree, so I figured: Germany? Italy? I’ve got this.
Boy, was I wrong. Germany and Italy have one thing in common: Europe. After that, you’re in two different worlds. Germany is incredibly organized, methodical, and punctual — all of which I really value, and none of which I’ve found (to date) here in Italy. So, if you’re looking for timeliness, structure, and systematization, stop! Instead, learn to enjoy the chaos and the humor that comes with it.
For example, I had to ship a package and I ended up visiting three separate post offices. Each one gave me a different price. Obviously, I went with the lowest price.
In general, the public offices aren’t efficient. If you have an appointment at 11 AM, so do 40 other people, and there is no recourse but to wait. I’ve learned to schedule lots of time for what should be a 20-minute gig and pack a good book — I’ll probably be able to finish it.
If I had to choose the worst expat experiences yet, it would be at the Italian consulates in the United States. And unfortunately, the arbitrary and utter mayhem that defines “consulate” exists in both countries. Incorrect forms and information, tardy replies (if any), unreachable employees, or insolent employees when you do reach them. Truly a nightmare from start to finish. Please prepare yourself for what will be the most mind-boggling display of human behavior that you may ever witness.
2. Customer Service
Essentially, there is none. Now, if you visit a privately owned shop or talk with a real artisan or chef, they’ll be more than happy to share their stories, laughs, and little secrets with you. But if you contact your phone company because they overcharged you for a service you haven’t had in two months, you’ll get nowhere except crazy town.