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Things I didn’t do before coming to Italy

Driving on the Ponte Vecchio, nope wouldn't try that!

Driving on the Ponte Vecchio, nope wouldn’t try that!

It’s impossible to live in a country without getting influenced by local habits. While I consider myself a pretty adaptable gal {can I list that as a skill on my linkedin?} – invariably it’s hard to shake off habits that carry with you from your native country. That being said, with every year that I reside in my beloved Italy, my habits reflect more and more my newly adopted country. I do things that perhaps before would have seemed a little odd. A fun topic for a grey saturday in January, I’d like to go through a rundown of things I didn’t do before living in Italy.

Of course this is a whole lot more fun with a variety of perspectives which is why I asked a group of seasoned expats on one of my favorite FB groups Italian Reflections to contribute, and contribute they did! Enjoy! 

*UPDATE: This week and hopefully many more to come, a group of us stranieri pazzi expatriate bloggers here in Italy have decided to join forces and tackle a common subject, think of a blogger roundtable and I am super excited to be a part of if. This week we chat about Italian Habits We Used to Think Were Strange, since I have already written this post, I am adding their links below so you can enjoy their awesome posts as well and contribute your own!

In addressing this hilarious subject, I am joined by these bloggers

Minitaly‘M’ is a 30-something (something low) American Texpat, living and working in her husband’s tiny hometown in the province of Reggio Emilia. Her blog, Married to Italy, is home to her rants and raves and serves as her therapeutic search for hilarity amongst the chaos. (Read her article here,“Becoming Bold and Italic.”)

 

 

M. Elizabeth Evans of 'Surviving Italy'

M. Elizabeth Evan of ‘Surviving Italy‘ – an American expat trapped between two worlds with her badass husband, his chest hair, and their poodle. She is a writer and partner of House Of Ossimori. Her award-winning blog Surviving In Italy, aims to honestly portray her life in Italy, the sober times, the drunken times, the yelling, food, family, and on occasion her obsession with the majestic Capybara. She’s also terrible at writing Bios. Someone do it for her next time, okay?

Rick Zullo - Ricks RomeRick Zullo of ‘Rick’s Rome – an American expat living in Rome. Born in Chicago and raised in Florida, he came to the Caput Mundi in 2010 and forgot to go back. When he’s not exploring his adoptive hometown or writing for his blog, he spends his time teaching the world English, one Roman at a time. Rick is also the author of the silly little eBook, “Live Like an Italian,” available on Amazon. You can check out his post here

 

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1. Wear pajamas. 

I know you might be thinking – what do you mean you don’t wear pajamas? Before moving to the land of matching jammies, I used to throw on anything I had lying around. A boy’s t-shirt, small shorts, a tank top, the idea of actual pajamas seemed like something for kids or retirees. Plus being from a hot climate originally, wearing less is more and sleeping al fresco’ as I like to call it, can be fun too. In Italy, however, you wear pajamas (and yes I know this is not exclusive to Italia).

I laughed when I read Jill Pennington’s book ‘Diary of a Single parent abroad’ in Italy when she mentioned what a turn off grown adults wearing pajamas were. Thin ones in the summer, thick ones in the winter, not even ‘funny’ pajamas – just regular matching jammies. I used to have a pair that I was pretty sure were given to me as a form of birth control, they had a teddy bear on the front and the most pink, confusing bottoms – that Italian mama knew what she was doing.

And yes, I for the most part have embraced the trend and dutifully set mine out before bed like any good Italiana.

2. Eat at the same time every day

Before I moved to Italy, eating was not as important an activity. I might have downed a bowl of cereal for dinner or eat at 5pm- plus restaurants are often open anytime during the day – no siesta break. Depending on where you are in Italy, likely people eat lunch and dinner at more or less the same time every day, and you stick to it. Breakfast isn’t considered a huge meal so forget about red fruit quinoa and green juices, think more like a coffee and a croissant or at home some simple bread and jam.

8pm is dinner (and likely later if you are at a restaurant) and it’s amazing to me how much I have stuck to those times even without being with an Italian. Snacking is much less a trend here mostly due to snack foods being slim pickings. I actually get anxious if I don’t stick to these times of eating, but the anxiety only makes me feel more Italian ;-). Plus lets get real here – the food here is incredible, I go to the market and get a heaping amount of veggies and fruit for 10 euros and that proves inspiration enough to create amazing meals and avoid snacking. Buon Appetito. 

3. Stop playing the ‘lets compare lives game’

Ok I can’t totally admit that I never do this still, of course that evil traits comes back to haunt me from time to time. But in the states it was much worse. You are taught to go to university, resign yourself to a ton of debt without even complete job security but that’s just how it is. And it’s always about what someone else is doing, how much they’re making etc. At least that’s how I personally felt. While some might claim that doesn’t matter, it kinda does – this being because in America ‘if you just work hard’ as hard as this person, or that person – you might just be a billionaire jetting off to Singapore for a weekend, right? I get that its changing due to the economic crises but I left in 2007. Lets be honest for a second, that is never going to happen in Italy. You either are lucky enough to have money and/or work remotely from this amazing country and you don’t compare as much because – what’s there to compare? We are all more or less in the same boat. Unless you are Berlusconi, then you can steal and cheat and for some crazy reason, enough people still love you. 

sigh

4. Use specific furniture and/or cleaning products

I asked a few friends of mine from Italian Reflections on Facebook about what they would add and got some great responses. Sara (who is a phenomenal blogger), stated “I never used to be so obsessed with buying a specific cleaning product for every single type of surface that you could possibly need to clean – I would make do with one “all-purpose” cleaner that could clean the toilet seat just as well as the kitchen sink. After all, a disinfectant is a disinfectant, right? Now (based on the pointed comments from Italian friends and my boyfriend) I have acquired an army of individual cleaning products, including two different types of sgrassatore (because clearly the grease that lands on the stove top needs to be treated differently than the grease that lands on the floor…) and at least three different disinfecting superfici sprays, specifically targeted towards specific rooms. Canadian Sara would be shocked at Italianized Sara’s cleaning product drawer.” Another popular item was the very Italian scarpiera – a special furniture dedicated to housing your shoes. While I thought it horrifying ugly at first, I now see the point and actually miss it.

The omnipresent scarpiera

5. Dress up when leaving the house

Wake up in the morning and realize, oh no you’re out of milk? Strap on a pair of tennies over your pajamas (if you are wearing them) or track suit and head to 7-11? In Italy this is a big no-no and something I would never ever do. That is, not get dressed up in normal clothes to do mundane errands like go to the post office or grocery store. There is no ‘people of walmart’ in this country {thank god} pretty much everyone cares about how they look when they leave their house. To be perfectly honest, I don’t have a problem with that, unless of course this means we all must sport stiletto heels on cobblestone streets. It doesn’t take very much time at all to throw on a normal pair of pants, shoes and shirt – does it?

Plus you really never know who you might run into in a town as small as Florence, I always run into exactly the person I’d like to avoid. My friend Katey said: I never used to worry about looking nice even for a quick trip to the grocery store – I’m so afraid of people thinking I’m an American student.

6. Have special items just for ‘guests’ in your house at all times

Daniela says it best! “I never used to serve thing on a tray. I actually have a shelf in the kitchen with ‘special’ coffee cups, ‘special’ biscuits and an array of ‘special’ bowls or plates for when I have guests” – I buy fancy biscuits, and then the hubby eats them so I have to buy some more. The special cupboard can never be without biscuits just incase someone pops in. They never do though! But they would think of me as a terrible wife if i didn’t put the cup on a tray with fancy biscuits. I can attest to this because I have started using special cups and plates for when I have company. I’m also pretty sure this was a tradition also linked to past generations and not exclusive to Italy

7. Carry toilet paper in your wallet

Well this pretty much is self-obvious isn’t it. You never know when nature might call, and even if you’re in a nice restaurant, toilet paper can be scarce at best. Bathrooms actually scare me here sometimes, even fancy stores like La Rinascente and Coin have bathrooms that would make you shudder. Soap is only a figment of your imagination. Every no-nonsense gal I know carries fazzoletto di carta aka tissues in their purse. And when I don’t, I am sorely sorry.

8. Create an intimate relationship with your local post office. 

Anyone living in Italy knows all about the local poste italiane (post office). Because quite frankly, how could you not? It’s an omnipresent force, a little bit like the sun – where only certain tasks can be completed. Valerie from Italian reflections states that something she never did before Italy “line up at the post office for things that didn’t involve post.” 

You arrive to pay a bill, open an account, apply for your visa appointment and end up waiting for over an hour behind an Italian nonna spends god knows how much time chatting away about her lazy grandsons and her latest backache. I doubt she even needed to go to the post office. You arrive at the window and get the Russian roulette of Italian customer service, anticipation builds… is he/she going to be nice and helpful? Or will they bite your face off like Mike Tyson? It’s anyones guess and the general consensus is that everyone hates the post office.

Here are some fun posts about it by Sunshine and Tomatoes, An American in Rome, and Tuscan Traveler. My advice is to mimic a guy I spied at poste italiane sneak the lady behind the counter a few ‘pocket coffee’s and compliment her necklace. Smooth move ciccio!  

This is your new home in Italy: Photo credit: http://meredici-abroadinitaly.com/

9. Wear the same clothes more than once

First thing to remember here is that most people don’t have dryers. Many long-term expats in Italy (especially those married or in a relationship to an Italian) are careful about how much electricity they use because it is expensive here. This means you probably don’t wash your laundry as much as you did in your home country. Many expats I asked said they often wore clothes more than a few times before washing. Gross? Depends on the person but just remember - just because you smell cologne doesn’t mean someones clean. Just ride bus 14A if you don’t believe me. 

Italian reflections group member and blogger: Jennifer Avventura I never used to go asparagus hunting, now I can’t wait for the season to start. I would never be caught dead in the same clothing twice in a row, now I find myself in the same clothing sometimes for days. Hey, if it doesn’t stink…

10. Reuse items like ziplock bags 

Laura says: wash zip-lock baggies for re-use. As an example. I was so wasteful in the US compared to here. And it’s hard to go back to visit bc my friends/family are still as clueless (and wasteful) as I was. I am so happy to Live with Less. The major way Americans are less wasteful than Italians is doggie bags for leftovers (though it could be argued that the portions are too big – but at least they don’t dump food in the trash). I find this a weird disconnect. *In Italy asking for a ‘doggie bag’ to take your food to go is a big no-no. 

Some runner ups include: attending holiday meals lasting over 12 hours – I myself can vouch for that one. Normally you are ready to kill the whole family by the time these dinners are over, or at the very least take a piccola siesta in the middle in order to give your body a break.

Nico (of course I asked him too- he knew he had no choice) : Before Italy I never used to eat pasta every day, drive like a pazzo (crazy person), and work – my first job was in Italy.

Leah : 1. I never used to drink so much, and 2. I never used to drive my car down the center of two lanes and totally think it’s ok  3. I never used to put my four-way lights on while quasi parked on a busy street just to run into the pharmacy 4. I never used to walk anywhere unless I was actually wanting some exercise! 5. I never used to be able to eat an entire pizza to myself but now I can. I never used to iron anything but without a dryer I now iron EVERYTHING! Including the tee-towels 

Claire: I apparently never cook pasta the right way but now i do lol down to the min & everything!  I only started running living here to 

Elisabeth: Being afraid the entire the time of being ” fregato”or “truffato” (taken advantage of)…Happened to me a lot here..Never had to worry about that before…was I happy!!!

Siobhan: Having complete control of my whole physical self in a queue knowing how to stand, angle my feet, knees and elbows should anyone dare jump me regardless of their age…no getting past me these days!

Siobhan: I am going to sum it up for me…never before have I been able to knock a coffee back standing up and within 5 mins..without a scone or a bun! Never before have I stared so much at all the other staring people in the bars mostly men now I actually just ..stare! never have I not been able to exchange something in a shop and not get my money back instead have to accept a credit note or shop to make up for that amount! And lastly I have never before loved liver soooo much cooked on a fire overdosed in black pepper and cooked with a bay leaf! pure heaven!

Amanda: I had never been presented with a plate of fried food including little crisp frogs and brains before, there is a first time for everything!

Irene: Mountain climbing. With the Dolomites and the Alps so close to Padua, I started doing everything from alpinism to rock climbing and snowshoeing. I also started wearing house slippers and house clothes that were different from the clothes I would go to town in.

Paula: I never picked olives! or had a calf suckle my hand, or fought with a mayor, or had a porcupine on my patio, or was misunderstood so much,or had my dog blessed , or polished my shoes so often…..that’s for starters!!

Kimberly: Things I never did prior to moving to Italy: Take the bus/train (I rode one bus, once – in London, where I rode the train during my stay. In the US I took one bus, to get me to the train I was taking to New Jersey). Live within walking distance of any/every kind of shop. Consider myself “soft-spoken”. Earn a living wage. Wear slippers. Wear socks to bed. Ride a bike to work/play/shopping/lunch/etc. Dust the furniture more than once a week. Want to cook. Shrink a sweater.

Carrie: Never, EVER go barefoot.

A huge thanks to Italian reflections for their awesome contributions, I honestly could not stop laughing yesterday. Last but not least – what is missing from this list or did we get it totally wrong? I would love to read your comments :).

 

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    • Melissa BikePretty

      “Install Solar” ha ha, that’s a good one!

      Imagine trying to get all the residents of your apartment building to agree to add solar panels to the roof. Then if they do agree, which is a process that is sure to take years, imagine trying to divvy up the cost.

      We haven’t even gotten to the hassle of hiring the necessary installation experts, delivery people, electricians, etc.

      And then where are you supposed to install this mythical “dryer” when your washing machine is wedged between your stove and your kitchen sink.

    • Belgravia85

      Well, if you live in Italy ( at least in Central and Southern Italy) a dryer is useless anyway, as people are used to drying their laundry outdoors. Much more eco friendly and IMHO, also easier to iron afterwards. And I know the difference, I have used the dryer ever since I expatriated from Italy.

  1. cindy

    I totally agree with this post, even though I never had the experience of living abroad. Eating here is an afterthought, that’s why you can be in any state and eat the exact same thing. Dressing well isn’t expected up north(I think Southerners dress better) and can be viewed as showy in the midwest. I had to buy clothes before going to Italy because I didn’t have anything to wear that wasn’t at least 5 years old. And it’s ALL about comparing yourself to everyone around you. I’m glad you hit that point, because to me, that is the American WAY and I’m sick of it. I’ve tried telling my foreign friends about this, and they look at me like I’m nuts. It’s easy to fall into the mindset of living to work and get ahead, while life passes us by.

    • ggnitaly84

      Ciao Cindy! I remember going to Target at 10pm in sweatpants and a tank top but now I honestly shudder at the thought. As for the comparison part, I know some people might not agree with that but its just something that I felt when I lived in the states and honestly its such a shame. Everyone is different and should be cultivated and encouraged to live their own path. Life is all about living in the moment and sharing those moments with people you love :) (so cheesy but hey, its what I feel)

  2. Jade Farley

    Howard, in Florence you cannot just install Solar in Florence. You cannot put in new windows. You can only paint your house in colours permitted by the council. In Tuscany, you cannot put up a fence in your own yard (unless it’s a thin one to hold vines), etc. It’s the price you pay for living in a beautiful, well-preserved Medieval/Renaissance land. I’ve never even seen a clothes dryer in Italy. I once asked an Italian what the Italian word for dryer was. He said, ‘Il sole?’ (The sun?). Anyway, sun-dried laundry is the best!

  3. Bonnie Marie

    Fabulous post! A few of the things you mention are more a part of growing up rather than living in Italy (like having special items just for guests in your home) ;-) My personal addition: I never double-parked before I came to Italy. I still don’t but if I wanted to I could and it would be socially acceptable :-)

    • ggnitaly84

      I agree with you Bonnie, some of its a generation thing for sure, but honestly I love it! Double-parking is so common here, i don’t even blink an eye anymore, as is parking on sidewalks. Hence why I walk in the street!

  4. Cassandra

    I got a kick out of this post! So many of the things mentioned are also similar to what I would have said about living in Spain that I couldn’t help but laugh (dressing up to run a short errand, the staring, and not going barefoot, for starters).

    Can you really apply for your visa appointment at the post office?? That seems pazzo!

    • ggnitaly84

      Ciao Cassandra! The spaniards and Italians have a lot in in common, thats for sure! as for the visa, you get a special ‘permesso kit’ at the post office and upon filling it out and paying a ridiculous amount of money, you submit it at the post office as well and they give you an appointment for the questura (which handles all of the visas).

    • ggnitaly84

      I feel like life in the mountains are always a little different, I was just in the French mountains for xmas and people didn’t walk around super fancy at all, more like in skiing gear at any time of the day. Per me va bene!

  5. D

    These are so funny and true! But I’ve found a strange reverse-trend, lately. I have seen so many schlumpy Italian women out and about doing errands (never in the evening, thus far!). The tuta, the huge gym sneakers, or…any sneakers with leggings, greasy hair…. I once saw a woman in her house coat , but I think she was actually a bit…..’different’ in general. Am I alone here or just seeing things? (and I know they are def. Italian, lol)

      • D

        No no…nothing like THAT yet. ;-) I also realized I forgot to mention, at least for me, I notice anywhere in the center, people usually dress well. I see people dressed down ( a lot) in the outskirts of town. But, um, no…Walmart style no!

  6. carol sansone

    Growing up with Italian immigrant grandparents in New York, I always found my grandmother’s behavior and habits strange and “quirky”…..it wasn’t till I lived in Italy that I realized that she was totally normal ……for an italian woman :-) Great post!!!

    • ggnitaly84

      I have friends who have had similar experiences, la nonna e sempre la nonna, my mom is Mexican and actually shares a lot of these same traits as Italian women (ironing everything, special items for guests, never barefoot in the house). Thanks for reading!

  7. haypop

    Fun list! I haven’t been in Italy long enough (nine months so far) to really change any habits – but sometimes changes are inevitable. Our landlord rifled through boxes stored in his garage to find us a sugar bowl after we offed them a teaspoon and the entire sugar packet for sweetening their coffee!

  8. Anna

    I disagree with point 9. I’m sorry, but Italian use to Wash their clothes everyday, and everyone uses the washing machine very often!!

  9. Diana

    Now Georgette! You are reading my mind! I was just gonna write a post about cleaning, because the other day the sun came out and I realized how repulsive my house was! I started pulling out my 1000 cleaning products, but when I was in Texas…the lone cleaning product was the multi-purpose Windex. Also…..mealtime….you are spot on. I actually exploit lunchtime to run errands knowing no one else will be out. And the post office. Well…for me? It is like an episode from “The Three Stooges” EVERY time I go there! And I mean every time! They all look scared when they see me walking in with my packages for my sis in Dubai. Getting dressed up? errr…I wrote a little post on that too…well…ok….the four inch heels I wear when I go grocery shopping. GREAT POST….a really enjoyable read! THANKS! E BUONA DOMENICA!

  10. M.E. Evans

    This posted before I was finished. I was going to add that the BATHROOM SITUATION IS TERRIFYING in Florence. I never used to be bathroom phobic and now I’ll give myself a UTI just to avoid going to the toilet. It seems, honest to God, like chimpanzees use the bathrooms. I’ll see a classy babe walk into the stall, go in after her, and I swear she stood on the seat and attempted line-dancing while she peed. It is VILE. Get it together lady monkeys.

    • ggnitaly84

      I have thought the same thing, you have no idea. Like where in the world did it become normal to pee on the floor, all over the seat and leave used tissues everywhere like a crime scene. I sometimes refuse to drink water if I know I won’t be anywhere near a clean bathroom. Thankfully I live in the center…

      • M.E. Evans

        ha! EXACTLY! Eventually I took to peeing in the streets. Everyone right now is thinking, “eeew, grooosss” but those people have not experienced the nasty bathrooms there. I worry about my exposed lady bits in those germ havens. At least outside I won’t slip in someones piss, and land in a puddle of hepatitis.

      • D

        hahaha, I’ve often wondered about this too, but hadn’t thought about it in a while. The public bathroom near the Duomo isn’t soooo bad. Well, it would be, but the cleaning person always seems to be on guard, waiting for people to exit before scurrying to clean. Because otherwise….yeah….see above. pee and tissue party. :-/

        • ggnitaly84

          The public bathrooms that you pay for is always better than the free ones in department stores. I have a public bathroom right in front of my building and they stay busy. It’s a great source of entertainment. :)

  11. Amy M

    Haha, great post. I would add eat pizza with a fork, bundle my child up because it is winter not because it is cold, and make dental appointments after 7 pm.

    • ggnitaly84

      Good ones Amy! Pizza with a fork is so true,it threw me for a loop the first time I saw that. Plus bundling the kids up because its winter is a great one, I used to be a nanny and I remember being bewildered to why I had to place the child in so many layers even if it was balmy outside. Thanks for adding your suggestions!

  12. Lucy Porter

    Yes, oh my goodness this is so true! I can particularly relate to the stop comparing lives game – since I’ve been here, I’ve been so much more relaxed about my life and my weight (although this does mean that the latter had crept up a tad). And yes, toilets are a major worry here, I still can’t use the hole-in-the-ground variety without completely undressing my lower half :(
    Lucy x
    La Lingua : Food + Life in Milano

  13. June Finnigan

    I think the two biggest changes for me in coming to Italy are: I never used to go out for early morning coffee and greet the locals before, and I would never enjoy staying at home in the early evening and taking an aperitivo on the terrace, it was always down to the pub for an early evening drink!

  14. Laurie Eagleson

    Don’t forget multiple trips to the market each week, and never buying more than you can carry up stairs or store in the kitchen.
    Monthly hauls from Costco/Sams are a thing of the past, haha.

  15. Italian habits I used to think were strange

    […] Georgette is an American social media strategist, copywriter, blogger and a certifiable ‘Tuscan Texan’ living and breathing all things Florence. Social inside and out, she lives in the moment and eats way too much pasta. She blogs about life in Italy, travel around Europe {and the world}.  Check out her blog, Girl in Florence […]

  16. Valentina Wurth

    Taking Windex for granted (sigh…) I totally hear you on that cleaning products line! I moved back to Florence about a month ago after spending a year here studying abroad from August 2012-May 2013. The first time around, I lived in dorms and cleaners came once a week. Now that I’ve moved in with my boyfriend and am doing all my own cleaning (he helps), I have to say, I miss my windex. I asked my boyfriend (he’s Italian) the other day and he had no idea what it was. He bought some window cleaner, he said it was the most expensive one (like that makes it the best), he was very proud and I still miss my windex terribly. It left some gunk.

    When my brother comes to visit I might ask him for one.

  17. elisabetta

    Are you so shocked to know we have a special drawer for shoes!??? (scarpiera as you say), this is absolute normal for us, since shoes generally don’t smell like spring flowers!!! we wear pjiamas at night and not a simple t shirt because we know what elegance means, even at night, even if nobody see you, you can wear a silky pijiama. and when we go out we are much more elegant than YOU Americans, who will never know how to dress properly, this is so normal for us. we eat at the same time every day but we don’t spend 5 hours at lunch time, nor we eat pasta or pizza every single day. What you have written is just your impression, so partial, so “american”, it made me laugh!! and least but not last we travel abroad, don’t worry we travel too, despite the financial crises, most of italians travel and abroad we use to spend money to buy souvenirs.

    • GirlinFlorence

      LOl Elisabetta I think you don’t really get the point of the post, many of us have chosen to live in Italy because we love it, for all of the reasons you mention above, including the cool shoe drawer, the post itself is about things that are different between the cultures that we noticed that we also changed by ourselves, is there something negative here that I just didn’t get? To be fair: I actually live in Italy, have lived with an Italian non-english speaking family, since 8 years so I think its fair to have an opinion even if for someone like yourself, if may never be enough, maybe I will be always be just ‘American’ but I think I can live with that. But on the other hand, thank you for reading the post, I appreciate any and all opinions, and for taking the time to comment. Ps. I apologize if you took this [fun] post personally ;-).

  18. Simona

    Great post ! So true and funny all of my American girlfriends have talked to me about these .. Cleaning products, pajamas , etc. I had an American roommate for years I started to wear some of her baseball t shirts to bed. I think we can all appreciate this… Yes even you Elisabetta … Don’t be typical hostile Italian girl who has it in for the americane who loves our country !


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