Differences in Culture

29 Jun

As you can imagine, the culture here in Italy is very different from that of the U.S. I thought that I’d point out some of the ones that I’ve noticed:

Italians eat dinner very late and are at restaurants until very late at night. When we go out to a restaurant at 8pm the place will practically be empty, but around 9 the place will be filled with no empty tables anywhere. We are then one of the first ones to leave the restaurant after having to ask for the bill as most Italians will stay and talk at the restaurant late into the night. When you get a table at a restaurant it is accepted that you have the table for the whole night and nobody is going to chase you out in order to make room for another group. Dinner is also the biggest meal of the day consisting of appetizers, or antipasti, two courses and dessert. Breakfast is usually just a coffee and a pastry and lunch normally consists of a sandwich or a small pasta dish.

Grocery stores are very different than in the U.S. First of all there are not that many of them. There are a few small grocery stores and larger supermarkets scattered around the city, one right next to my apartment thankfully, but not nearly as many or as big as in the U.S. Most don’t even have parking lots as almost everyone walks to the grocery store and then walks back with their bags. This means that Italians buy less in the store and go more often, possibly even every day. There was a law passed recently in Italy that mandated that all plastic bags must be biodegradable. The grocery store has to charge for these bags so most people use their own bags, I’ve even been using a backpack.

Italians dress the same no matter what the weather is. You will never see an Italian wearing shorts no matter how hot it is outside. Everyone dresses fairly nicely wherever they’re going especially if it’s to work. Not everyone has a car so many people have to ride a bike or the bus into work wearing their nice suits and dresses. I’ve seen a woman biking in high heels and a man biking in a full suit when it was 90 degrees outside-now that’s dedication

Air conditioning is not very common a here and is absent from most buildings. Usually it is advertised on the windows of hotels in order to get American tourists to stay there. While there is no air conditioning, many buildings, including the one where I take classes, are made of stone and hardly ever get super warm. The windows also provide a nice breeze that keeps places cool, until the mosquitos, which are particularly bad in Florence, come and force you to close the windows.

Nutella, which is made in Italy, is everywhere and people put it on everything. There are nutella gelato flavors, nutella filled croissants, nutella sandwiches, nutella dipped waffles and everything else you can imagine. You can also buy giant 1 kilogram jars of it at the grocery stores. For any nutella fan, this is the place to be. Gelato is also as good as everyone says it is. There are gelato places everywhere and while it’s a little pricey, it is very difficult to find a bad gelateria.

There is a lot of English that is spoken here in Florence, as probably you can imagine with Florence being mainly a tourist city, especially in the historic section of the city. Almost all store owners know some amount of English in order to be able to sell their wares and communicate with the tourists that flock to the city by the thousand every day. There are about 10,000 students that study abroad in Florence every summer so there are also a lot of American college kids that fill the bars and clubs every night. There are quite a few other languages that are spoken here as people come from all over the world, but English is almost always the common language that is used to communicate.

In contrast with what your Italian friends have made you believe, Italy is not a very nationalistic country. Italy has a long history of separation, with cities like Milan being a kingdom and Florence being a republic. The unification of Italy, 150 years old now in 2011, is still fresh in the minds of many Italians. Therefore, if you ask an Italian here in Florence where he is from or what nationality he is, he will most likely tell you he’s Florentine before he tells you he’s Italian.

Most Italians live in apartments, especially in the big cities like Florence. There are apartment buildings all over the city with most of them having 4 or 5 stories to them. Living in an apartment for these past weeks and having to walk 30 minutes to class every morning has given me a feel for what it’s like living in an Italian city. We have also met many very nice Italians in the apartment complex that I wouldn’t have had the chance to meet otherwise.

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