Sadly, I’m not a time traveler. I know that now you all think less of me, and that sucks, but I just wanted to be honest with everyone. But IF I COULD go back in time there are no less than 4,543 things I would do differently. How I went about moving to Italy would probably be in my top 10 because I could have done it a lot better and my life would have been so much easier for years and year.
1.I Would Have Learned More About The Culture: Without a solid grasp of the culture you won’t be able to understand your surroundings, to communicate, or to really understand the people you’ll meet, your partner (if they’re Italian) or their family. Americans, more than anyone, will not understand why this is number one or they’ll be like, “they like spaghetti, I get the culture.” The reason that Americans have a difficult time grasping how culture impacts communication is that American communication is really straightforward. Note: This has nothing to do with honesty. Americans can lie just like anyone. Again, it’s not about honesty, it’s about how we communicate. There aren’t a lot of hidden meanings in American communication, there’s no double-speak (unless you’re a politician), and you don’t really need to understand the culture to understand what people are saying necessarily. Sure, there might be miscommunication, like how F used to always tell me, “well, nobody just says what they mean, so I don’t really understand what you’re trying to say.” And I was like, WHAT THE HELL ARE YOU TALKING ABOUT!? Italy is not that way. Half of what people are saying is hidden below the surface and you have to understand the culture to get it. It’s not because everyone has some insidious intent, it’s just how the culture works. You can learn Italian, you can speak it fluently, but without a very solid grasp of the culture, you will still be losing a huge amount of all communication. And, frankly, you’ll just be confused as shit all around. You’re thinking, “cool, I’ll just learn it from my husband or wife or nonna.” No, you won’t. Because they don’t often even know that what they’re doing is cultural or different from you. If you’re about to visit Italy, study in Italy, or move to Italy, you want to start reading, RIGHT NOW.
Resources For Learning About Italian Culture (From my Amazon Store)
- My Brilliant Friend By Elena Farrante
- La Bella Figura by Beppe Severgnini
- Italy: Love It Or Leave It documentary
- A History Of Contemporary Italy by Paul Ginsborg
- The Italian Way by Mario Costantino, Lawrence Gambella
- The Great Beauty a film by Paolo Sorrentino
2. I Would Have Learned Italian Months Before My Departure Date: Most likely you’re thinking like me and many of my friends who moved to Italy. “What better place to learn Italian than in Italy?” Trust me, no. You will learn Italian in Italy, for sure, and it is easier when you’re hearing it every day, but that first year that you’re there and unable to understand a goddamn thing is frustrating, isolating, and annoying as shit. Plus, people will expect you to speak the language even if you’ve been there for 20 minutes and the pressure certainly doesn’t help. Want to move to Italy? Great! But seriously, spend the money and buy Rosetta Stone, right now. No, you don’t have to buy it from my Amazon store, you can also buy it from Barnes And Noble. And, download Duolingo to your smart phone. The app is free, and even 15 minutes per day will be a lifesaver when you’re lost on an Italian street, unable to find your way home or your boyfriend’s mom is saying crazy shit to you and you need a classy response. You’re probably rolling your eyes at the Rosetta Stone, and so did I, until my roommate in Italy was able to speak Italian like a superstar 3 months into using it while I was barely able to name common household pets. It works. Use it.
Tips For Learning Italian While Still In The US
- Rosetta Stone
- Watch Italian films with English subtitles at least a few times per week (Sophia Loren films are a great place to start and work your way up to contemporary films).
- Listen to Italian music, find the words in English, and it will help you memorize them by singing along.
- I Would Not Have Spent Money On Dumb Shit. You’re moving to a new country and you’ll be tempted to buy 10,000 things before you go. Don’t. Italy has everything you could possibly need. And, their clothes are nicer and often cheaper than in the US. Save your money, get to Italy, and then buy all the shit you’ll need. The one exception might be makeup or skincare if you’re super particular. If you’re picky like me, then maybe you want to bring some of your favorite face stuff. Yes, Italy has great stuff but I like really specific stuff and the Sephora in Italy doesn’t carry any of the same shit that we have in ‘Merica.
I would have made it a point to do something new every day. I’m a habitual person. Really habitual. Like, when I wash my body in the shower I do it the same way every single day. When I find places I like, I tend to go there instead of trying new places. I travel a lot but I still tend to quickly find “my kind of places,” and go there. Last year when I was in Prague, I found a cookie shop that I liked and me and F would only buy cookies from THAT place. Mind you, it was the most adorable cookie shop in all the world. But still, I didn’t see any of the other cookies shops because of it. I did the same thing when I moved to Italy. While I definitely did a lot of stuff every year, I often found myself seeking the comfort of familiarity which prevented me from doing as much cool stuff as I could have. If you’re going to be spending a semester, year, or decade in Italy, I’d recommend forcing yourself to do something different at least every week, if not every day. Rent a car and drive around the country, try every cafe in the city, and every restaurant, too. Go tango dancing (I did, and it was SO FUN). The city has a lot to offer. If I could redo my student time there, that’s what I would have done differently. My friend and fellow blogger, Georgette, from Girl In Florence, is super awesome at getting out and doing EVERYTHING. She inspires me to be less boring.
Read the newspaper, follow current events, and pay attention. I got involved in this years after living in Florence and frankly it’s just embarrassing. If you live in any country for even a short amount of time it’s simply smart to know what the shit is going on in that country. TheLocal, is a great place to start to learn about what’s happening in Italy, in English. You’ll also look less dumb at dinner parties. For my first two years all that I knew was that Berlusconi was a douchebag. That’s where my knowledge ended and I really just reinforced the stereotype that Americans live in a bubble. You’d be surprised just how much you can learn about a culture, the people, and the history of the country by following politics and current events.
When dating, I would have set boundaries a lot sooner. My husband is a total badass but he’s also an enormous pain in the ass. And for a long time when I moved to Italy I forgave a lot based on “cultural differences.” Basically, I wrote off a lot of rude or stupid shit by justifying it in my head as “probably a cultural thing.”
No. Asshole behavior is the same in Italy as in the US. If someone is being an overbearing douche, you can say, “no thanks, asshat.”
Also, I spent years doing that American thing where I’m like, “well, I can’t very well be direct with his family because, geez, how rude. Tee-hee.” No. Italians, with all of their fashion and prettiness, are tough. They’re like bedazzled bombs. These are people who exist without air conditioning while wearing long sleeve button-ups and slacks. Don’t fuck with them. If you allow it, they’ll end you, and then the community widow will bake biscotti with your remains.
Also, Bella Figura. You know how high school girls are in movies where they’re like vicious monsters who are also perfect citizens and super polite in public and also sometimes to their enemies while they’re being horrible? A lot of that exists in Italy. Master that shit. Italians can insult you while smiling from ear to ear and being charming as fuck all the while. If you don’t understand the culture you won’t even know you’re being insulted. Also, if someone is opinionated, push back. For example, my MIL will show up and be like, “yo, I’m decorating your house orange cause I don’t like how you did it!” And before I was like, “Oh, how kind,” while trying not to vomit. Now I’m like, “No, brown is ugly, no thanks.” And she’ll shrug and go, “ah, ok.” Stand up for yourself, family or friend, and lay down the law. Smile while you do it to add to the creepy factor. If you don’t have your own back, everyone will walk all over you, decorate your house hideously, dress you, and tell you that your dog is anorexic (the vet said he was the only dog of a healthy weight in all of Italy, the land of chubby poodles).
7. Spend more time asking question about others and less time observing them. I like to watch people. It’s a thing I do, often, in life. At parties I’ll usually be the person in the back, getting shitfaced while I uncomfortably stare at everyone. I did the same thing in Italy for a long time. I just watched people like a weirdo stalker instead of trying to get to know people and ask them about themselves, their culture, their family, etc. You can learn a lot about a place by paying attention, but you can learn a lot more by asking a lot of questions and getting to know people and getting their perceptions about their country. Find a language partner, or a cute barista, or bartender, and get to know them. Ask them endless questions about Italy. Maybe have sex with them if they’re into it (yay consent) and then ask them even more questions after the fact or during if you’re into that.
And there you have it! If you could move to Italy all over again, what would you do differently? I’d love to hear your stories in the comments below!