Home stories 7 Really Great Resources That Will Prepare You For Italy

7 Really Great Resources That Will Prepare You For Italy

written by M.E. Evans December 5, 2014

This isn’t a real post so I apologize. It’s more of a post answering emails. Sort of. I’m often asked for resources and recommendations on moving to Italy, so, alas, here is a roundup of my favorite resources from my little Amazon store. It also kinda supports my alcoholism wine habit. I hope you find some of the resources helpful. Am I missing something? Tell me! I’ll add it.

I suppose it’s common sense that knowledge and understanding can greatly enrich your travel experience, yet, I didn’t realize that nor did I prepare at all. When I decided to move to Italy I was more focused on preparing for the school I would be going to and not at all worried about preparing for living in another country. I figured I’d just learn once I arrived. I did learn, gradually, but more than that I spent a lot of time confused, while looking like a complete moron. The more you know about Italy the more you’ll be able to enjoy your time there right from the gate.

Italian culture is complex, the way things work, the way the people operate, can be impossible to appreciate or understand without some historical context or alcohol. It’s a rich country with thousands of years behind it. Thousands. Of. Years. So, there are so many dead bodies under the streets. That’s like the US times ten or fifteen or…What is it? I suck at math. Anyway, you’ll fit in better, you’ll see things deeper, and you’ll have a richer experience if you’ve taken the time to learn as much as possible. I know for a fact that my experience as a student would have been a lot better (and I would have looked a lot less stupid) if I’d taken the time to do some reading before jetting of to good ole Italy. So, if you’re planning a trip to Italy or you’ll be studying or moving there soon, these are my top picks from my little Amazon store of the best resources to get you in the know as fast as possible. Seriously, I have like 100 but you’ve got shit to do and who has time for more than 7 when you’re packing?

1. The Documentary Italy, Love It Or Leave It. 2014. This is a new, funny and moving documentary about two young Italian men as they try to understand why so many Italians are leaving their country. During their search for answer they cover an array of social problems from marriage equality to fascism. It’s touching, and it will quickly give you an understanding of what young Italians are struggling with. You’ll come away with a deep sense of the modern culture and history. It’s a must see.

Italy: Love it or Leave it

2. The Complete Idiot’s Guide To Learning Italian. No, I don’t think you’re all idiots but this is one of the best books I’ve read as far as breaking down grammar, etc. Textbooks really complicate the whole process of conjugating verbs, etc., but this book makes it easy as hell. I took lessons, have an Italian husband, but this book is where I actually learned HOW verbs work. Admittedly, I am much better at hear=repeat, than “break apart and put back together.” It’s because I hated puzzles as a child.

The Complete Idiot's Guide to Learning Italian, Fourth Edition (Idiot's Guides)

3. Language tools: Now, from my experience, the best language tool ever for learning Italian is Rosetta Stone. This shit worked amazingly well. Both myself and my roommates learned a huge amount of our conversational skill with the program. However, it’s expensive and might only be worth the money if you want to work on fluency. If you can’t shell out the money for it, sell one of your kids or try DuoLingo.com or Babbel.com. I’ve used both and I love them both for learning new languages. Duolingo is free, but Babbel is like 7 dollars per month or something. I have Duolingo on my phone (the app is awesome) for both spanish and french, and I use Babbel to keep building my Italian and improving. Really, really great tools. I highly recommend starting this asap. The more Italian you speak, the better your life will be in Italy. Take it from someone who avoided learning it for as long as possible (because I’m an idiot).

Learn Italian: Rosetta Stone Italian - Level 1-5 Set

4. Family Politics By Paul Ginsburg. Dr. Ginsburg is one of the most important historians in Europe. He teaches at the University of Florence and his books offer incredible insight into Italian culture, history, and society. You can’t understand Italy without understanding the family dynamics and how they came to take shape. My life in Italy completely changed once I married into an Italian family. The family dynamics are so complicated, interesting, strong, and incredibly annoying in many ways. All of his books were very helpful on my depressed days when I was wondering, “what the hell is wrong with these people?” Ah, answers! Plus, I’m friends with his son who is also a total badass.

Family Politics: Domestic Life, Devastation and Survival, 1900-1950

5. La Bella Figura. You need this book. That’s really all I’m going to say about it. It’s a great cultural guide and it also covers the infamous Bella Figura,  a concept that is so insanely Italian (and it’s one of the cultural things that frustrates me the most, especially in the south). Impress, Impress, IMPRESS. You can’t live in Italy without this book. You just can’t. It will be one of the best things you’ve read. Plus, it will probably save your Italian friends and family (or partner) some embarrassment and frustration.

La Bella Figura: A Field Guide to the Italian Mind

6. Italianissimo. This is a great coffee table book, it’s gorgeous, and it’s funny. You’ll learn a ton of useful things about culture, the history of words, Italian hand gestures, all with the help of badass photos. I have this on my coffee table. My friends find it highly amusing.

Italianissimo: The Quintessential Guide to What Italians Do Best

7. In Pursuit Of Italy: A History of A Land, It’s Regions, And Their People. Alright, so this book is really in-depth, a little heavier, but you’ll understand so much about Italy and the people who live there after you’ve finished it. Also, you’ll appear smart and educated at dinner parties.  In order to understand Italians it’s absolutely necessary to know the history and the complexity of the different regions. Italians often have the assumption that Americans are uneducated about the entire world outside of the US so prove them wrong by arming yourself with all this fancy knowledge. Really. Especially if you want to make roots in Italy, you’ll need to understand it so you can do better in battle. By battle I mean dinner parties.

The Pursuit of Italy: A History of a Land, Its Regions, and Their Peoples

BONUS: The film Marriage Italian Style with Sophia Loren. Italy’s cultural obsession with the madonna/whore complex is amazing/weird and this movie (among plenty others) highlights that dichotomy of the “Italian woman,” as depicted by the patriarchy better than most. Basically, just ignore my rambling and watch it. It’s a really good movie.

Gif: http://aliai-snow.tumblr.com/

What is your favorite resource? Have you read or used any of these? Were they helpful to you in any way? Please let everyone know what resources have helped to enrich your Italy experience, learn Italian, or fill in the cultural blanks for you!

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MLombardo December 6, 2014 at 1:50 am

Love that on Bonus; Madonna/Whore complex. You nailed it again on the head! Also on men “sei un porco” which I noticed inhibits certain men who are under the thumb of mom or sister. In my case, sister.
The book I’d recommend as well: “The Italians” by Luigi Barzini.
As always, love your takes every time.

orna2013 December 6, 2014 at 3:01 am

I completely agree about Rosetta Stone. I don’t know how I would manage without it now that I’m living here. After about disc 2, it only really makes sense if you are trying to communicate on a daily basis. Discs 1 and 2 are great for mastering the basics. Discs 3, 4 and 5 are for the really serious who want to be able to talk on the phone and with the builders. Essential!

wanderinglasagna December 11, 2014 at 2:25 pm

Orna, did you find the discs or the online help was more help in getting fluent? I haven’t tried the online portion yet because I don’t think I’m over the embarrassment of speaking to other people yet…

orna2013 December 12, 2014 at 12:41 am

I always felt under pressure about the on line chat option. Nobody wants to look stupid and that’s what made me keep on with the discs only. However I really struggled when I reached disc 3, until I actually moved here and had to attempt my terrible pigeon Italian on actual people. However, I have not yet had to use such phrases as “the woman throws the ball over the car” but it’s there when I need it….!

Michelle December 6, 2014 at 3:16 am

A great resource and promptly added to my Amazon wish list 😊 thank-you. I’ve read La Bella Figura and been toying with buying Rosetta Stone…as you say it’s sooooo expensive but as I’ve been trying to learn Italian for four years and making slow progress maybe it’s just what I need…although I manage to learn anything food or drink related with no problems at all ☺️

Hayley December 6, 2014 at 5:26 am

Ooh great list, I’ll have to add some of these books to my reading list

venus December 7, 2014 at 8:52 am

tried Rosetta stone and did not like it so much. I have tried so many different ways to learn then I hit on the Pimsleur method and that really worked for me

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Max Leggett May 31, 2015 at 3:40 pm

Great blog. Your comment about not understanding the culture without historical context or [a lot of alcohol] very much applies to America – they’re nuts. For learning Italian, and I’ve tried Rosetta, Duolingo, et al, I really really like Pimsleur. But great blog.

Stef Smulders April 27, 2016 at 7:24 am

It’s Paul Ginsborg, with o instead of u, as I discovered searching for this great resource, thanks! I will be publishing my own book on living in Italy this year, title The Italy Challenge!

Laura May 25, 2016 at 1:11 am

Nice list! Thanks! 🙂 I am a big Italy fan! Last year I was in South Tyrol. It was great. But I really like to travel to other places! 🙂


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