I can’t believe I’ve been in Italy for 5 months... Here are my top 10 observations:
10. Italians don’t wear flip-flops, or at least, the Milanese don’t. Gucci sandals, of course, but no Old Navy flip-flops. I suppose that is supposed to be expected in the fashion capital of Italy. Just be prepared to have a few Italians looking at you strangely when you walk on the metro.
9. Italians are always waiting in line, especially when it comes to dealing with the government bureaucracy. And chances are, after waiting in line for a painfully long amount of time, you will be directed to another line, and after reaching the front of that line, you will be told that the government is not offering that service today. Waiting in line doesn’t appear to bother the Italians though, probably because they are so used to it. And in some situations, such as the cafeteria line, they just jump to the front anyway, thus avoiding the wait. It’s not the American style of “butting” in line, where you see a friend and conveniently strike up a conversation. This is just someone walking in front of you and squeezing their way in. Eventually you get used to it, but in the beginning it can be very frustrating.
8. Classes never start on time. A 9:30 class may start at 9:45, but will probably start closer to 10. There is no rule about how long you wait for a professor before leaving. You wait until he or she shows up. This is actually quite nice, especially when the class only meets for an hour.
7. The public transportation system strikes regularly. Strikes happen about once a month, almost always on a Friday. Service stays pretty regular during rush hour, but in the middle of the day, or later in the evening, you may find yourself waiting 20 minutes for a bus that usually arrives once every 5 minutes. If the bus arrives at all, in which case you may find yourself walking…
6. You risk your life as a pedestrian. Drivers don’t like to stop for pedestrians, so even when you have the right-of-way, you really don’t. Drivers in general are crazy. Taxi drivers run red lights, Vespas weave in and out of traffic, and buses make abrupt stops, throwing you out of your seat. As long as you look before you step off the curb, you should be fine.
5. Spaghetti and meatballs doesn’t exist. Spaghetti with a meat sauce, yes. Balls of ground meat, usually served in a soup, sure. But meatballs in your pasta are an Americanized version of Italian cuisine. And the same holds true for chicken parmigiana (though eggplant parmigiana is abundant). “Italian dressing” is also fake—for salads, Italians stick with oil and vinegar with salt and pepper.
4. Open-air markets are the best place to buy produce. Fruits and vegetables you’ve never seen before abound, and coupled with all the cheeses, it is irresistible. The prices are unbeatable compared to even the most economical grocery stores. When the vendors are yelling “Fresco! Fresco!,” they aren’t kidding. The only problem is that you have to eat everything within a few days, because it is that fresh.
3. This isn’t Domino’s. Pizza here is better than anything you’ll find in the States. Typically, pizza by the slice comes with a thick crust, and is usually ordered at a take-out place. When you order pizza in a restaurant, it is typically a thin crust. The pizza will be as big as the plate, and while you’ll think you won’t be able to eat it all, you will come to the last bite before you know it. Eventually though you’ll get sick of pizza, and you’ll really want some good ol’ American food…
2. McDonald’s is an Italian favorite. For the life of me I can’t understand why Italians, surrounded by such delicious food, would choose to go to McDonald’s, but they do. Even the McDonald’s over here has an Italian flair though. In addition to your typical hamburger and fries, Italy serves fried shrimp, brioches, and beer.
1. Italy is beyond anything you could imagine. The history is incredible, from the ruins of Ancient Rome to medieval castles to Renaissance masterpieces—it will all blow your mind. The canals of Venice are more enchanting than any picture or movie can capture. The tilt of the tower of Pisa is fascinating. The cathedrals in every town are awe-inspiring. Nothing can match living in Italy; you have to see it for yourself.
(Anne is a Roanoke College student studying in Milan for the year.)