First Time On Surviving In Italy?

Your First Time Here? STOP. This is mostly a humor blog. If you’re offended easily or struggle with sarcasm or irony you should skip my website and watch this instead. Also, I swear, kind of all the time and ramble on about the capybara. You still there? Winning! I’ve Put Together Some Of My Most Popular Posts For You To Start With:

How To Move To Italy

10 Reasons That I’m Surprised That Someone Married M.E.

In My Husband’s Family, Leaving The Table Is Like Announcing You’ve Eaten A Child 

21 Ways To Survive Being An Expat 

Why Everyone Should Live In Italy At Least Once In Their Lives

25 Things I’ve Learned About Italy 

Christmas In Italy 2013: The Time The Blowdryer Ate My Mother-In-Law’s Head

Moving To Italy: Studying And Living 

13 Things That I’ve Learned From Marrying An Italian Man

Frequently Asked Questions: Jobs, Immigration, Circumcision, Love


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Northern Italians Versus Southern Italians. Are They Really That Different?


My situation in Italy is a little unique. My husband is from a small (tiny) town between Rome and Naples but we live together in Florence. He’s lived outside of Italy in Spain where he made a lot of friends from the Brescia area who he is still very close with today. We have friends from the upper thigh of Italy all the way down to the toe and the heel of this country’s geographical boot. And, unfortunately, before I met my husband I dated someone from Brescia and I went on a few dates with a few Florentines as well. Some of our closest friends are in Florence, Rome, and of course Cassino and Naples. As an outsider I’m always observing people, watching their interactions, listening closely to their words. As a sociologist I’m constantly looking for what societal factors are influencing certain behaviors, what motivates people, what separates them, what makes them the same and what makes them different?

I’ve written about the difference between the North and the South before, or at least I’ve touched on it in lists and given it attention in a sentence or two. The reactions, often from Italian people, is either 1) there is no issue between the north and the south. That whole bigot thing is totally made up for no reason, or 2) You don’t know Italy because you’re husband is from the south. Or you don’t know Italy because you live in central Italy, or blah blah blah bullshit. Either way, from person experience I’ve seen a lot of bias. Northerners call the southerners lazy, and blame them for the economy while they chomp down on the delicious produce that the farming south has provided for the city dwellers in the North. The Southerners discount the Northerners as “not being Italian and lacking culture.” When I first started dating my husband, a Brescia born friend of mine said, “I don’t understand what you’re doing. The southern people are all wife beaters. He’ll move you to a family commune and force you into domestic slavery.” A Florentine friend said, “Your new boyfriend is cute but I don’t like the eye shape of the southern people.” Another friend said, “Your boyfriend is actually very intelligent for a southern man.” And so it goes. For those who claim a cultural bias doesn’t exist:  You need to broaden your friend group. You might not see it if all of your friends are the same and from your own region, or if your friends are particularly open-minded, but in my almost 5  years in Italy I’ve seen it first hand, from every side.

I could write a massive textbook about why every region of Italy is different but I don’t need to because a lot of them have already been written. To summarize: Italy has been occupied by a lot of people. You name it, a different part of Italy was occupied by it. Germanic people in the North, Turkish in the central, Spanish and Greek in the south, Arab in Sicily, Romans all over, and then all of the slaves that Romans brought back to Rome sprinkled around the country. Basically, Italy is a giant crayon box that melted together into the modern Italian people. They all even speak different regional dialects to this day. Have two Italians from a different region speak dialect to each other: Nobody understands shit.

This has obviously had an impact on cultural development throughout the country as well. There are some cultural differences between the North and the South. The differences are not even remotely as gigantic as Italians think though. Italians LOVE to believe that they couldn’t possibly have anything in common with their brethren in the North or South. Sorry, guys, you’re not that different. The differences between the North of Italy and the South of Italy are about the same as the US North-East and the US South. They are different, but it’s not like another planet (unless you’re talking backwoods, then that shit is scary, like being on an inbred Mars). The North in Italy has similar biases to what the US North has against the US South, too (I’ll admit that when people say “deep south” in the US I think of Deliverance. I know, I’m an asshole.).

In Italy, Southerners are often seen as “less educated, closed-knit tribe of closed-minded religious folks.” Truly, the South had less money (no money) for education until recently so they’re still catching up.  And farming communities tend to have that close-knit culture. They were farming people. Simple, family obsessed (like stalker obsessed) family people who care about good food, family, friends, and enjoy simple pleasures. Socio-economic status always plays into religiosity. Meaning that people with less tend to pray more. So yeah, the south is still a lot more religious than the North. Northerners are career-oriented capitalists. Now when I say North and South I’m saying Milan area versus like Campania or further south. Florence is central Italy and you’d be surprised how “in the middle” they really are. Florence is a communist city, it’s stuck somewhere between deep traditions, it’s old farming roots, and liberal. It’s a weird combination. Florence, in terms of culture, is more like Washington D.C., not really the deep-south, but totally not like the north-east, either. Meaning? The inhabitants are somewhere between progressive and worldly, liberal and open-minded, and hillbilly racists. Again, socio-economic status plays in here and Florence has a strange gap between rich and poor, a strong hold on tradition, while it’s simultaneously flooded with outsiders (like me!), and was historically both yee-haw farmland and royalty. Confusing. As. Shit. Also, our friends in Brescia consider Florence to be “the south” and our friends in the south consider it to be “the north.” We need a map up in here.

So, now that we’ve laid all that ground work, let’s talk about my personal experiences because all of these statistics and academic essays already exist. Have I personally noticed any truth to the bias between the Italian North and South? Sort of.

See Part 2 of this post Here: 9 Differences I’ve Noticed Between The North And South Of Italy

9 Differences I’ve Noticed Between The North And South Of Italy

This list is the second part of another post. I’d recommend reading that one first: Northern Italians Versus Southern Italians: Are They Really That Different?

This isn’t an exhaustive list, it’s just a few things  I’ve noticed through the years. If you agree, disagree, or if I’ve forgotten something add it in the comments below! I’d love to hear your personal experiences as an Italian or an expat.

1. Religion. Most of the people we know in the south are religious as fuck. My mother-in-law is a bible teacher, one of our friends had an exorcism (not joking), and most of the humans we know where some kind of cross, do the church thing, and get really emotional when they see the Madonna (not that Madonna, guys). However, some of our friends in the south are also atheists. Our priest in the south scared the shit out of our dog with his intense energy, and refused to marry us unless I lied on a form and said I wanted babies (if you think I’m lying, ask my husband, he was sitting next to me). Also, once in Sicily they refused to give us the Morning After Pill because we were “old enough to have children.” Yep. In Florence it’s easy as shit to get the Morning After Pill. Our priest for our marriage classes (we married in Cassino but did our classes in Florence) was liberal as shit. He glared and shook his head at the super religious Florentines in our class. He told them that Francesco was exactly what Jesus would want (now THAT is scary) and that our relationship was what God intended for a good marriage (Yep, not even joking. ME and FRANCESCO). He was very open-minded and totally fine with the fact that I’m agnostic. However, there are still a lot of reaaally religious Florentines. Some of them were in our marriage class and they were very interesting, others are my former professors or friends. They are serious about Catholicism and they will cut a bitch. CUT. A. Bitch. Everyone that I know in Milan/Brescia area says they’re “not Catholic” but they were all baptized and some of them wear crosses. So I don’t know. Statistically, pretty much F-ing everyone in Italy is Catholic with a TEENY TINY percent of Jews, muslims and Christians and like 5 buddhists that the population ceremoniously sacrifices on good friday or something. I may or may not have just pulled that out of my ass.

2. Racism. I’ve witnessed a ridiculous amount of racism in both Florence and in the South that just makes me want to stab the shit out of someone (a young fascist kid once tried to spit on me when he realized I was foreign and I would have beat him to death except I was holding two vodka’s and I couldn’t figure out what to do with them…i’m not going to waste vodka.). However, I’ve also witnessed a lot of kindness in Florence and in the South. We have a very good friend who works with immigrants to help them, and in our area of Campo in Florence, all of the shops and business people were really friendly with me and the other immigrants who sold things on the streets. They helped them, were kind, and treated them like everyone else. But then again, the Northern League in the North are some racist, awful, disgusting, mother-fuckers who have attacked Italy’s first black government minister by saying “she should be raped,” and calling her “an orangutan,” and have even thrown bananas at her. However, as The Guardian pointed out, “The Northern League is, admittedly, a minority party, usually gaining only between five and 10% of the national vote. And other political parties have expressed solidarity with Kyenge. But anyone who has listened to Italian political debate, or worse, stood in an Italian football stadium, knows that Italy simply isn’t a tolerant place. This is a country where a recent prime minister, Silvio Berlusconi, thought it hilarious to joke that Obama had a decent suntan. The racism isn’t restricted to right or left, old or young, rural or urban: it is noticeable everywhere.” -( 

Education. Some of the smartest people I’ve ever met in my life reside in the South. The South, historically, had the education fund of an inner city school in Detroit, so anyone who has rose from that has kicked as in the face of some serious adversity. Some of America’s Ivy League professors came from Italy’s South, famous restauranteurs, and business owners from small to huge conglomerates.  Northern Italians are brilliant and pretty much do well in every industry in every country. There is more opportunity in the north and the northerners kick ass and take names. Italians, when they have the opportunity, are brilliant people. Unfortunately their economy and the traditional mentality in central and southern Italy has prevented a lot of people from living up to their potential. However, I’ve met really brilliant people across the entire country (and a lot of really dumb people, too). Like every country, there are brilliant people and then some people who it’s shocking that they haven’t accidentally died somehow. 

4. Mammoni. I’ve read about weird mammoni issues in both the North and the South. I think that “over mothering” happens in every region in Italy. Sorry y’all. Nobody wins here. Especially not the dude that some mom is trying to re-womb. RUN! RUUUUNNN!!!

5. Women’s Issues. Okay, this one is complex. The number of women killed by partners, husbands, etc., is highest in central/northern Italy. Yes, that’s right, I was surprised, too. One time in Florence I saw a Florentine couple arguing (they were speaking Florentine) and the man slapped the woman across the face in public, in daylight, and all of the people standing next to them (including police) just minded their own business. Nobody said anything. That was insane. But that was a one time thing and I’ve never seen it since then.

I’ve seen a certain type of sexism in the South that I don’t see as much in Florence and have never witnessed in friend groups in the North. It is a very odd attitude in the South, like an unspoken but you get the gist, “Hush, ladies, the men are speaking,” or, “You have a vagina so I’ll sit here and wait until you get me a drink of water.” You don’t see that in Florence among our generation like ever (I can’t speak for older people). Now, this doesn’t mean that ALL southern men my age are like that. Most of our friends are very liberal, very open-minded, and my husband isn’t like that at all. He’s a feminist (GASP!?) and he certainly doesn’t love the common southern dynamic rampant among some groups.

6. Food. The food quality in the south is epic. The produce is literally farm to table. So good. However, regional cuisine is delicious everywhere, and let’s be honest, Italy is a tiny country, it doesn’t take long from fresh produce to travel from the south to the north.

7. Polite behavior and general way of being. This is the largest difference between the North of Italy and the South from what I can tell. What is considered okay versus what is impolite seems to be really different. In the South it’s totally fine to scream at your friend from one balcony to the next whereas in Florence that would be kind of weird. There are more rules for the South in terms of conversation and how or when to talk with people. The general rule being: Even if your wife is in labor, stop in the middle of the street for twenty minutes and talk with your father’s friend because otherwise you’d be “rude.”  I feel like it’s rude to actually inconvenience other people but it seems like the norm in the South to totally inconvenience the shit out of everyone (this is because I am a city person, I get it). When I’m anywhere South of Rome I don’t know how people expect me to act and I don’t really understand any of it because I didn’t get the secret memo about “ways of being from here down.” I still haven’t figured out what exactly is expected of me. I do know that me speaking frankly is really not cool to most people, sarcasm doesn’t work, and I’m supposed to really like “girl things” and I get pushed into “conversing with the women” as the two groups often split up. There is also some assumption that only the women will help clean, anything, EVER. Although, you can find that in the North and Florence, too. Dudes, stop being lazy.

Something I have noticed that is a large difference is that they seem a lot more hospitable in the South. This isn’t to say that people aren’t hospitable in the North, but Southerners seem to take it to a new level. If they make lunch or dinner it’s going to last for 5 hours and they’ll give you all of the food they’ve ever grown in their life in that one meal. They’ll also practically hand you the clothing off of their back if you say you like it. Careful on your compliments, people have tried to give me all of their things before. Kind of cute. A lot of people say that southerners are more “warm,” or “welcoming” but I don’t know. I haven’t noticed a huge difference honestly. I don’t think that warm and hospitable are the same thing. When I think “warm” I think open and easy but I don’t feel like “open” describes most people.

8. Public displays of Jealousy. I’ve seen this in every region to varying degrees of crazy. I mean, seriously, you can’t just calmly go up to your partner and say, “Hey, what you’re doing it making me have icky feelings of insecurity and jealousy. Please stop that.” Isn’t that easier than puffing up like a rooster and stomping around like a lunatic? You’re not a monkey (are you?). You don’t need to throw doody to prove your love. Doody love. Ha.

9. Fashion. People are going to be really pissed right now but in my opinion, Milan, and Florence are the better dressed cities. This is not to say that EVERYONE dresses well in Milan or Florence or that in Rome and Naples everyone is dressed bad. No. That’s not what I mean. There are always exceptions. But, from what I see, Rome is very casual and the Naples, Cassino, south of Cassino area is waaaay too flamboyant for me. I prefer men in fitted clothing, I like well-dressed men, but WOW. Walking around Cassino half of the time is like a gay pride parade on uppers. Sparkles, rhinestones, fake crystals, bright colors on the women, and then gallons of hair gel, shiny suits, and parrot outfits for the dudes. Who has time for that!? And also, my eyes, you make the burn.

Let me know if you agree or disagree below! What did I miss? What would you add? What’s your experience?

“Where The Hell Have You Been?” Great Question.

Things have been slow on Surviving for the past few weeks because I’ve been busy making large decisions which usually result in me getting drunk, blasting Persian belly dance videos, and embarrassing my husband in front of the neighbors by running into the front yard and proclaiming my undying love for him at five p.m. upon his return home. I’ve decided to take the giant leap from free wordpress to bluehost. Guys, I’m kind of terrified of change but I keep hearing that it’s the better thing to do. Plus, running a blog is expensive and time-consuming so it’s kind of getting to that point where I need the blog to be able to move out, get a job, and take care of itself financially, or GO TO FUCKING COLLEGE. Seriously.

I historically have responded to advertisers with, “You don’t even really read my blog, liar, but I’ll consider letting you talk about GAMBLING on my ITALY BLOG, if you send me a capybara wearing a knitted Christmas sweater.” So far, nobody has delivered Dwayne and alas my site is free from mail-order-prostitutes and gambling sites. Some of you are disappointed, I know. Then Francesco was all, “You know you could actually do ads from bloggers and things you really like, right?” And that’s why he’s an engineer and I’m a wino (and also why i’m fun and he’s less fun).  So, if you come here in the next few days and things seem crazy or weird or it says my site is “UNDER CONSTRUCTION,” you know why, it’s because elves are carrying my blog to a new home (that’s how it works, right?). It should only take 24 hours and most of you probably won’t notice anything.


So when I’m not moving my blog or having a panic attack…I’m trying to get my ass to the Blogher conference in San Jose (I’m SO FUCKING EXCITED!), and I’ll be doing a reading In Salt Lake City, Utah August 7th, 8th, and maybe 9th. The reading will be at a few events with artists/writers, and we’ll be raising money for some non-profits that we love.

Also! This is particularly terrifying: I just co-wrote a screenplay and am waiting to hear back from Sundance (please pray for me or otherwise BRIBE SOMEONE.)

I also recently traumatized my nephew by telling him he couldn’t come to my birthday party. Apparently that’s a really big insult to a 3 year old.


I did a podcast interview with the badass D.J. Paris from (NOT a travel blog, “Paris” is his last name). We met on Twitter a while back by engaging in mutal stalking/harrassment. I’m pretty sure you guys will be into his blog. You can find the podcast interview featuring M.E. Here: Bloggers Are Weird Series. I recommend turning it into a drinking game by taking a sip of wine every time I seem to confuse myself. I’d have a few bottles ready.

I’ve done a recent interview with the gorgeous Rochelle from Unwilling Expat: Blogging Around The World With Surviving In Italy. 

You can also (seriously, are you sick of me babbling about myself yet?) catch another interview on Girl In Florence: Locals I Love, Misty From Surviving In Italy.

I have a freakish amount of posts coming soon. And guys? I feel like some of them are going to be really…uhm, ranty.


Blogging About Italy Is Hilarious: Comments, Emails, And Humans

When you have a blog you know that there is a slight bump in traffic on days when you get a lot of angry comments or really fun, enthusiastic ones. On this blog I’m extremely lucky in the sense that our little community is fucking awesome, people are sweet and fun. Most of my comments and emails are simple questions about traveling to Italy or moving abroad. The number one question is: How do I find a job in Italy? The answer is: You don’t. I address most of these in my FAQ section. Check it out! And feel free to ask me anything, anytime, I try my best to respond to everyone. Sometimes the comments I receive are so nice that I’m elated for days (thank you so, so much). Almost everyone who arrives at Surviving is part of a really fun-loving tribe (except for that lady that just called me a liar, she’s just an asshole). Now, you guys know me, if I get a particularly mean comment I have a tendency to post it here and comment back for fun (I can’t help myself, remember that crazy misogynist?). Luckily, I don’t get too many jerks here.

My favorite comments/emails are the really personal ones where I get to learn about my readers (seriously, please share about yourself, I love it), or the really random or really unique emails that leave me smiling or mildly confused. Come to think of it, a lot of my unique or random emails/comments are also important life-lessons.

Can You Spot The Garden Gnome?

Can You Spot The Garden Gnome?


Love Can Overcome All Obstacles:

1. “Hello. I love your blog!  So, I hope this isn’t overstepping any boundaries but I have a question and I really need your advice. Here is the backstory: I’ve recently started dating an Italian man! He’s amazing! We haven’t had sex but we have fooled around and I realized that he’s not, you know, cut. Which is fine! I’m totally okay with it and everything but I don’t know what to do with it! Like, how do I touch it? Is it different during sex? Oral sex? How the heck!? HELP!”

Loyalty And The Importance Of Having Ones Back:

2. “OH HELLLL NO!? DID THAT MOTHAFUCKA JUST REALLY SAY SOM SHIT!? Grl! I dont know why he be trippin! Dont you put up with that shit from nobody! I swear, I be on a plane headin to Italy to take care of that mo-fo! Nuh-uh, no sir. I WILL STAB A BITCH!”

The Economics Of Marriage:

3. “American woman!  How I marry an american too? Can you give advices? I am very nice. Not so tall but I am very nice. I do not have many mony but I think Americans women don’t care like Italians? This is true? Do you have friends?”

Choosing Your Friends Wisely:

4. “This email will be short. I just wanted to tell you that you’re an asshole; an adorable asshole.”

Where There Is Good Food, There Is Great Company:



This post is a C.O.S.I Collective Post. To See What The Other Members Of Our Expat Mafia Have To Say About The Same Subject Check Out Their Posts!

‘Freakonomics Italian Style‘ – Rick’s Rome

How Not to make friends in a foreign country‘ – The Florence Diaries

Quirky Questions About Life In Italy – Unwilling Expat

‘Best Email Ever Received’  – Englishman in Italy

It Really Is C.O.S.I – Married to Italy

Can You Get Me A Visa?- Girl In Florence

Dining In Italy: How To Avoid Making An Ass Out Of Yourself At The Dinner Table

I was checking my stats this week and there were an unusual number of people searching for “how to dine in Italy,” along with the usual searches like, “Italian hot mom sex,” and “Unicorn penis,” and, “How to pee in public,” WHO ARE YOU PEOPLE!? Freaks, that’s who! And that’s why I like you guys so much, you pervy weirdos. Anyhow, I realized that I’ve never really written anything about etiquette in Italy. Despite peeing in public, I’m surprisingly anal retentive when it comes to table manners. I’ve broken up with people for chewing with their mouths open. Rude dining or gross dining is on my list of reasons to kill or at least maim a person. I know, it’s ridiculous, but it’s not my fault. My parents are crazy people. When I was a kid if I reached “outside of my space” my mom would stab my hand with a fork (not like hard enough for me to bleed to death or cause infection, but hard enough that I regretted it). And guys, I went to finishing school. I’m pretty sure that you can’t tell (nobody can tell, trust me), but I did so I know which fork is which and I can totally drink out of the appropriate glass at the millions of formal dinner parties that I NEVER ATTEND AND NEVER HAVE BECAUSE IT’S BORING. Basically, it’s a bit waste of time and money, unless you’re planning on moving to Europe. Then that useless shit becomes kind of useful. Sort of.


I’ve witnessed so many embarrassing situations in Italy that really explain why Europeans view Americans as pompous, entitled, lunatics. You’d be shocked by the behavior of a lot of tourists. Please, people, don’t come to Italy and scream at waiters because you had your heart set on eating a made-up dish. The food that a lot of people consider to be “Italian” in the United States is not Italian food from Italy. It’s immigrant creations by  impoverished Italian immigrants, generations ago. I’ve witness full-on screaming fights between Italian-Americans and ACTUAL ITALIANS where the Americans were lecturing the Italians on how to cook Italian food. One of my friends/ readers wrote a comment a while back (that’s you, Sid) about a heated exchange she’d witnessed whilst in Italy between an Italo-American family and an actual Italian waitress where they claimed to know more about Italian food than her and there was screaming and name-calling involved. I have tried to put myself in that situation to understand what could possibly motivate people to actually do or say such insane things but alas the only thing that I can come up with is that they are assholes. That’s it.

1. There is no such thing as spaghetti with meatballs. I know, I was sad, too. It does not exist in Italy and if you ask for it you’ll horrify your waitress and look like a jackass. If you order spaghetti it will most often come with a simple tomato sauce. Pasta and starches are a first course food, while meatballs (balled meat simmered in a tomato sauce) are a second course food. You can order them separately as a first course and second course. I know it’s disappointing, but instead of eating American food, why not just order something off of the menu and enjoy real Italian cuisine instead of throwing a tantrum and demanding that the restaurant make you American food? You can get back to your Kraft Mac And Cheese the moment you get home. Watch this movie clip, it’s hilarious: BIG NIGHT

Spaghetti all' arrabbiata

Spaghetti all’ arrabbiata (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

2. I learned shortly after arriving that Alfredo is the name of an Italian human who moved to the United States and invented a creamy pasta dish. Chicken Alfredo was his creation, it’s not an Italian food. It doesn’t exist in Italy and if you ask someone to put chicken in your pasta they’re going to slap you and decide that you’re not to be trusted. I get it, it’s is delicious, but wait until you return to ‘Merca for it.

3. Dining rules are more formal in Italy even at a casual restaurant which can be annoying when you’re drunk or exhausted. Don’t reach across the table (my mom might pop out of the woodwork and stab you), ask someone to pass you something out of your reach. Keep your hands visible by resting your forearms on the table. Do not put your elbows on the table and try to avoid putting your hands in your lap. If you refill your wine or water, make sure that you do so for the rest of the table as well. Don’t just fill up your own glass. Order what everyone else orders. If everyone else is ordering a first course, a second course, and dessert, if you’re financially-able, you should do the same.*

4. Bread is usually eaten with your meal and is not used in public to sop up sauce with your fingers. Yes, the sauce is delicious, but it’s considered a little on the trashy side to scrub your plate clean with bread. If you really want that last bit of sauce, I’d recommend smuggling the plate into your purse, or inside of your pants so you can really savor it at home, in bed, while watching I Love Lucy or Under The Tuscan Sun, which I have recently decided is a really depressing fucking movie.*

5. A very basic wine guide: Drink as much of it as possible, preferably by the bottle. White wine goes with fish, cheese, and white meat. Red wine can go with pork, red meat, and some vegetable dishes. Decide what you’re eating before you choose the wine.

6. Hold your fork in your left hand and your knife in your right hand. Cut one piece of food, then bring it to your mouth with the left hand. The style we use in the US, the “cut and switch,” is considered strange in Europe and most will think you have bad manners and they’ll wonder why you’re working so hard to eat. Don’t change your cutlery between your hands back and fourth. Yes, it’s perfectly polite in the US but it’s not polite in Europe. Plus, holding it the European way ensures that you are always armed. If you’re attacked for some reason you’ll have both a knife AND a fork to fend off the psycho.

Should we retire the “cut and switch?”

7. There is more to Italian cuisine than pasta. Pasta is a first course food and it’s cheap to make which is why it’s really the main dish that made it’s way to the US with poor immigrants. However, Italian second-course meals are amazing (and I prefer them because I’m not a pasta person despite what my saddle-bags might indicate). The fish, for example, is amazing. Prepare for the meat to be served differently than what you’re used to, though. Fish will often be served whole with the head still intact, and the eyes are always somehow trained on you accusingly (though the skilled waiters will usually take the bones out for you table-side). Poultry will be well-done, but you won’t even be able to get a chef to do a well-done steak (this includes a pork steak which is weird and probably bad for you). It’s not possible. They’ll refuse. For all of you vegans out there, you’ll be surprised that vegetable dishes are all delicious given Italy’s fresh produce.

Grilled tuna, panzanella and cannellini beans

Grilled tuna, panzanella and cannellini beans (Photo credit: stijn)

When you come to Italy, it’s best to observe what the locals do (at the table at least). I wouldn’t recommend screaming, “I’m a quarter eye-talian (it’s Italian, guys, like the “i” in “igloo, not Eye-talian), so I know what I’m talkin’ about!” Telling everyone “my grandmother was Italian,” means absolutely nothing to Italy-Italians (nationality matters to them, not bloodline, trust me, I’ve tried to be “Persian” instead of “American” a few times and it didn’t work), you’ll just confuse everyone. Sure, they love hearing stories about your immigrant family members, but it won’t work as a segue into teaching them how to cook, eat, or dine.

*This varies by region and depending on your company. If you’re 21 years old and with other 21 year olds they won’t care. If you’re with close friends they probably won’t care. However, certain people do care and will get judgy (business meetings, formal dinners, or meals with people on the high end of the socio-economic scale). When in doubt just go the classy route. Then, after dinner you can sneak off and pee in an alley with your bottle of Chianti, like me.

Italian The Hard Way

This is why I drink.

This is why I drink.

When facing the difficulty of memorizing thousands of new nouns and verbs in Italian, I tried to concentrate on all of the positive things that would come along with having a command of the language. I’d no longer have to hide in back rooms or bathrooms to avoid conversations with party-goers or my husband’s friends. I’d finally have the chance to express my philosophy on the air violin as the ideal instrument, or the unicorn as a real forest-dwelling Libran who goes by the name of Gus. There was a small part of me that hoped that I wasn’t “weird,” I was misunderstood. I couldn’t manage to express myself as well as I needed to for such complex discussions. “Horse with string on face. Good, he is. He he likes,” just really doesn’t get the point across the way I’d like it to. “You play. This. Thing. With little arm. No you have no need when there is air. Practice you, you must.” Combine the inability to articulate all of the bullshit in your brain and you’re bound to be labeled “that creepy girl.” People would back away, holding me in their line of sight, “I don’t know what she said,” they’d whisper to a friend nearby, “but it seemingly involved my dead mother and a horny chicken.”

Sounding like an idiot is on par for the course, though. When trying to learn a language everyone assumes that at least for a little while there will be some difficulty. They just don’t tell you how difficult. Nobody ever told me that I’d sound like a child and the world would infantilize me; they didn’t explain that I’d feel helpless and vulnerable, and possibly develop some form of agoraphobia so that when I walked my dog I’d have heart palpitations. Granted, helplessness can have its occasional advantages when undesirable activities come into question. When asked to go pay a bill, for example, I could conveniently throw up my hands and say, “Go? Where? I don’t understand. You know what, why don’t you take this one and I’ll get it next time after I’ve had a chance to study a few more verbs.” The disadvantages come in waves, like that time a man chased me down the street with his penis exposed and the only word I knew was, “Cappuccino!”

It took me a long time to learn Italian, years longer than it took everyone else who’d taken a real second language in high school. While all of my friends were in Spanish or German class, I was gesturing madly to the invisible hearing-impaired man or woman our teacher had assigned for the day. I thought that sign language was taking an easier route but I would have taken something else had I known I’d be punished for it later on. I was eons behind my friends who already knew how to conjugate verbs or who understood the concept of matching plural adjectives to plural nouns. I was always too worried about looking like an idiot to really get in there and give it a go, so I stuck with the present tense and the ten verbs that were full-proof. God forbid I confuse the gender or use the reflexive wrong; instead of taking a leap and looking “stupid” I would take a literal step back from the group, allowing everyone else to speak for me. When singled out I would shrug my shoulders and whisper accusingly, “I no speak it delicious, language of yours!”  Some of the locals took pity on me; they’d smile – before excusing themselves to the more linguistically abled. Others, like my husband’s parents, were not about to let me off of the hook. They’d grill me in their thick Neapolitan accents, “You! You are IN ITALIA! You have the need to learn italiano, the language of us, now.” They had a point. My dirty mother-tongue was banned from their home in hopes that if they took my crutch away I’d learn to function without it. What they didn’t understand is that I’m not that kind of cripple; I’m too stubborn for that. If you try to teach me the hard way I’ll practically die before I allow you to think that your way worked. Take my crutch away, go ahead, I’ll just get a wheelchair or crawl on the ground, dragging my legs behind me. I read a sign once that said something along the lines of, “Holding a grudge is like drinking a bottle poison and waiting for someone else to die.” That was me but instead of one bottle I’d drink two – with vodka.

After years had passed, when the entire country had given up on the idea that I’d ever learn more than a few dozen words, I started to speak. It appeared that as the people of Italy lost that last glimmer of hope in their eye, the one that kept them believing that one day I’d be a contributing member of society, the pressure that I’d felt to perform melted away. I stopped worrying that I might disappoint people as quickly as they’d stopped speaking to me. The way that I saw it is that if nobody was expecting a gift, they’d appreciate whatever shit I gave them. It’s like if you’re expecting a cherry Porsche for Christmas but instead you find yourself in a freezing garage looking at some hateful Dijon mustard-colored Pinto. It’s only natural that you’d feel slighted by the cheap bastard you did that to you; resentful even. But what if it’s reversed? What if you’re expecting a set of rollerblades but end up with a Pinto? You’re likely to jump for joy and think, “Ah, really? You shouldn’t have!” and maybe you’d scratch them off of the list of people you want dead. When I finally did learn Italian, it wasn’t perfect but at least I could ramble on about things that interested me at dinner parties. I could finally scream, “Pervert!” at the next guy who ran at me with his dick flailing for help outside of his pants like a fleshy, uncircumcised beacon of mental illness.

Shortly after I could speak in full sentences, Francesco and I took a trip home to the US. I quickly learned that there was another element to learning Italian: I’d forgotten English. Gone were the the fancy words that I’d learned from my modern lit classes. In addition to losing most, if not all, of my educated English, it seemed that I’d also developed some kind of linguistic bipolar disorder.

When speaking English I speak like an American. My body language is rigid, controlled; my lips barely move as we force out most of our words from the back of our throats. American English is like ventriloquism; it’s an art form to seem so blasé while holding a conversation with another human. It seems that the more educated someone is, the less alive they appear when speaking. This is not the case with Italians from anywhere in Italy. No matter where they are from, from Milan to Puglia, it’s safe to say that they’re notably more “animated” than any born-and-bred American. As I faltered back and forth between both languages, my way of speaking, my mannerisms, also changed.

“Amore, please, this you bring me now, please. Him I have need.” Sounds nice enough in Italian but to Americans nearby – given the abrasive nature of the Neapolitan accent that I’ve inherited from my in-laws – it’s the equivalent of a serious tongue-lashing. “Little fat one, no, this no do you!” isn’t all that offensive back in Florence, but coupled with my feet planted firmly in place, my right hand curled into a duck beak pointed towards the heavens, my chest pointed directly towards the recipient, and the locked eye contact, it was aggressive enough for someone to easily scramble for their phone to report me to the police. “Yes, officer, that’s right. This little gnat of a woman! Any moment now she’s going to stab him in the eye. You should see her threatening duckfingers!” In the produce section I’d see people stop in horror, waiting for us to engage in battle. There, in their favorite grocery store on a perfectly nice Sunday, they were witnessing domestic abuse first-hand. They couldn’t wait to get home and tell everyone just how good they had it. “You know,” one of them would say to their friends after describing my supposed spousal abuse over lunch “sometimes I complain about Peggy, but hand-to-God she’d never treat ME that way in public!”

I saw people staring but I usually wrote it off as jealousy or some form of fascination with how cultured we were. Then one day, after speaking Italian with my husband at a pet store, before my Italian brain had been replaced with my American one, I turned to ask an employee where I could find their dog toys. The young man took forever to respond; he seemed frightened. It became clear, just then, that while I was waiting for him to answer my question, I had cornered him. My eyes were locked onto his like a fat baby on a cupcake. I was standing so close that my vagina practically rested on his leg. My left hand was on my hip, the other in a vague mid-air gesture like I was holding a crystal ball to cast a spell on him. I forced him to inhale my carbon dioxide. Within moments I’d gone from “normal” to guy-who-plays-computer-games creepy.

“I’m sorry,” I said as I backed away, “but I’ve been living in Italy for a while…”






Travel Bologna With Sarah Dowling

Name: Sarah Dowling
Nationality: American
How long have you been in Italy?
Almost two years…although it feels like longer.
Where do you currently live?
I live in Bologna (pronounced BO-LOW-NYA). And yes, there is some correlation between Baloney ham and Bologna but we’ll get to that.
What is your favorite thing about your city?
The bohemian, young vibe. There’s this wonderful patchwork of cultures, ages, and architecture in Bologna that I don’t think you find in many other Italian cities.
Bologna copy
What bothers you the most?
There’s a lot of air pollution, but also in recent years a lot of young people who don’t take care of the city.
Have you attended school in your city? How would you rate your school and experience?
I attended one year of university at the Univeristy of Bologna – the oldest university in Europe. On the one hand, it helped to improve my Italian massively and I got a glimpse inside the true student life in Italy. On the other hand, it was a real culture shock and it was difficult to get used to the way university functions in Italy. I remember having to fight for a seat during lectures because there weren’t enough seats for everybody. Also, everyone took cigarette breaks in the middle of the lessons. They would be rolling their cigarettes during the lecture! You would never find that in the U.S. (You can read more about my mortifying first day of Italian university here:
I also attended an intensive Italian course at a school called ARCA in Bologna, which also helped to improve my Italian grammar and helped me make new friends and connections. I would definitely recommend studying Italian in Bologna because there are many opportunities to immerse yourself in the language.
What job do you do? What are some of the jobs you’ve had in the past? Any job advice you’d give to future expats?
I teach English but I don’t really consider myself an “English teacher”. I’d much rather consider myself a writer/blogger.
I think finding a job in Italy depends a lot on who you know, but also on luck and being in the right place at the right time! I can recommend a few things for job seekers. For non-Europeans, make sure that you have the right legal documents (if you don’t know what i’m talking about, please visit my page on Italian immigration: Persistence is also key. Always follow-up on your application as things tend to get lost in Italy. Lastly, find your niche. As a foreigner, you have something special you can offer to Italy and you should try to highlight that.
What are the top five MUST SEE things in your city?
1. San Luca – a monastery/church way up in the hills just outside of Bologna. You have to walk through nearly 600 archways to arrive at the top – for me, it’s an incredibly peaceful and beautiful zen experience.
2. The secret canals – if I told you where they were, that would be no fun, right? (But I have written about them here…
3. Piazza Maggiore – the main square in Bologna – I recommend that you see it at all times of the day as the atmosphere completely changes from the morning, to the afternoon and into the night
4. Quadrilatero open food market on Via Pescherie and Via Drapperie
5. Climb the Asinelli Tower
Archways on Via Cavour
What tourist attractions do you think are underrated or over-rated?
In general, Bologna as a city is quite underrated! Nevertheless, even in Bologna we have tourist traps. Any menu that has tortellini with panna (cream) or spaghetti bolognese is probably not authentic so stay away! Tortellini is typically eaten in brodo (broth) or with salvia e burro (sage and butter). Spaghetti bolognese is not an authentic Italian dish, but rather you should look for Tagliatelle al Ragu!
Favorite caffe?
Caffè Terzi or Aroma (I’ve written ALL about them here:
What are your favorite restaurants or places to eat?
For dinner, I love Osteria al 15 or Trattoria al Biassnot, both of which have very traditional Bolognese food. Still, I think the best atmosphere is at Osteria del Sole – the oldest bar still standing in Bologna where many of the locals go to hang out. They serve wine, but you have to bring your own food. I usually go to the open market nearby and pick up a few snacks and then go there with friends. It’s really unique!
What is your favorite supermarket, farmer’s market, butcher or bakery?
In the summertime, we have Mercato della Terra, an open farmer’s market in front of the Cinema Lumiere every Saturday morning. For fresh pasta, I recommend Le Sfogline (Via Belvedere), for salumi and cheeses Simoni (Via Pescherie) and for bread/desserts, Paolo Atti & Figli (Via Drapperie and Via Caprarie). All of the shops in the Quadilatero Food Market are fantastic!
Tortellini from Le Sfogline
Favorite Aperitivo bar?
Le Stanze or Mambo read more here:
Favorite thing to do at night?
In the summer, there is the outdoor cinema in Piazza Maggiore that is free and open to the public. There are also some amazing outdoor clubs such as Cavaticcio or Vicolo Bolognetti where you can listen to live music and dance. During the cooler months, there is nothing better than a having a traditional Bolognese dinner in good company. For an after dinner drink, I recommend Camera a Sud.
Best nightclub in your city or place to drink and dance?
Arteria, Cavaticcio, Vicolo Bolognetti.

Places to avoid? Why? I try to avoid the restaurants and bars close to Piazza Maggiore. They’re usually overpriced and full of tourists. I also stay away from a lot of the bars on Via Zamboni. They are usually jam packed with students and tend to mimic Irish or American bars.

Favorite place to buy clothes/shoes? Specific stores or general areas?
If you’re on a budget, Via dell’Indipendenza is full of shops – but most of them are major brands like H&M and Zara. Via Farini is more of the high-end designer stores. We recently got a COS (Via Farini) which is a nicer version of H&M that I love. There are also some really interesting clothing boutique stores on Via Oberdan and Via San Felice, but they’re a bit more pricey.
Nettuno Statue
What are the best ways to meet interesting people in your city?
I think the best way to meet people is to join a club or a group. I’ve met a lot of interesting people through my gym or at Internations events, but also just by chatting with people at bars or during an aperitivo.
A great place to find a date?
Any internations event? I find that in Italy, it’s not uncommon to meet someone on the street. Men tend to be quite forward here.
Advice for dating in your city?
I can’t really offer much dating advice other than be yourself (however non-Italian that may be).
What’s your favorite day trip destination?
Dozza! Its this fantastic little town 30 minutes outside of Bologna that is famous for its vibrant murals, amazing piadinas, and is home of the official Enoteca of the Emilia Romagna region. Check out my post on Dozza for the scoop:
Favorite local food or products that everyone should try out? For example, oil, wine, or a specific dish?
We are really lucky in Bologna because many famous products come from this region. Here’s my list:
Mortadella – Baloney’s sophisticated cousin – it’s basically a big pink pork sausage sprinkled with delicate spots of fat throughout. It’s ten times better than American baloney so don’t diss it until you try it!
Lambrusco – fizzy red wine
Crescentine – fried pockets of dough, typically eaten as an appetizer with salumi and cheese
Piadina – a flatbread sandwich usually filled with prosciutto, arugula and squarcerone cheese
Fresh Pasta: tortellini in brodo, tagliatelle al ragù, or lasagne bolognese
Torta di riso – a sweet, custardy rice cake
What advice would you give to students, new expats, or vacationers in your city?
Get lost underneath the porticos – it’s the most beautiful part of Bologna and you won’t find any other city in the world with architecture like that.
What are your top five favorite sources for information on Italy or your city in general? 
1. Other Italy bloggers
2. 101 cose da fare a Bologna – a great book that lists 101 things you can do in Bologna…I’m still crossing them off
3. – for daily Italy news in English
4. Bologna Magazine – I love this magazine because they have beautiful photos and highlight some of the lesser known things of Bologna
5. My Italian students – The jackpot of Italy information!
Favorite blogs, newspapers, or events lists?
For Bologna, my favorite blogs are , and . For event lists, I typically look at or


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Bio: Sarah Dowling is an American living in Bologna. She is the writer and editor of and author of Inside the Italian Kitchen.