By Laura Hough
Despite Italy being a Western European country, there are some differences that seem pretty strange when you first arrive. A few examples:
- Energy (electricity) in Italy is much more expensive, so they don’t use as much here. That means only keeping the heat in your apartment on for about seven hours a day. This makes your apartment pretty chilly.
- Most Italians also don’t have dryers, because of the energy cost. My jeans took a week to dry in the chilly damp weather. That was a little bit of a setback for me.
- Pizza is everywhere here. It’s acceptable to grab some “al taglio” (by the slice) or “da porta via” (literally, ‘to take to the street’) at lunch, dinner or anytime in between. Pizza is usually eaten with a fork and knife though, especially at dinner.
- Italians eat late, by American standards. Most places don’t open for dinner until 7:30 p.m., and don’t get busy ’til 8:30 p.m.
- Italians have excellent coffee — I mean way better than Starbucks coffee. But be careful when you’re ordering — “un café” will get you a shot of espresso, not a cup of coffee. “Un caffe americano” is a little closer — it’s basically watered down espresso, which is more like a cup of joe from Starbucks. But don’t order “un latte” unless you enjoy drinking warm milk!
Most of the differences are small, but they start to add up, especially when you add the language barrier. I’m really glad I knew some Italian coming in, because otherwise it might have been too overwhelming, instead of a (mostly) interesting challenge. It’s handy to know some food words, like when you’re at the grocery store or ordering at a restaurant. And just about the time you think you’re getting the language, someone speaks really quickly and you don’t catch any of it.
It gets a little frustrating. The best way to look at it, I’ve decided, is to concentrate on why I decided to come — to experience a new culture and learn the language. If everything here was the same as it was back home, then studying abroad wouldn’t really have a point, would it? Staying positive is difficult when you just want to microwave the tea, instead of boiling the water on the stove and waiting and waiting for it to get hot enough, or you just want some French onion dip to go with your chips. It’s even more difficult when people around you insist on being negative about the differences.
It’s definitely up to you, though. I have had to make a conscous decision and effort to embrace the differences, and take them as adventures, not awful experiences. Those are the reasons I came, after all. I think this attitude will get me a lot further and give me better experiences than being angry. I’ll let you know how it turns out. Ciao, ciao from Perugia!