“So have you met any cute guys in Italy yet?” So begins almost every conversation I have with my sister. No, I say, not mentioning the two cat calls I got walking back through San Lorenzo Market yesterday. Honestly, I’m not sure I really want to be dating in Italy, though that brings up another whole round of feelings because I’m single and twenty-five. But sometimes, that’s the best thing in the world, and in Italy, it has pushed me out of my comfort zone to ensure that I’m meeting people here—regardless of gender.
I’m an art resident at a school here, so most of the people that I know will be headed back to the US after completing their semester abroad in December. I’ll be headed that direction as well, but for a mere two weeks before I return here to complete my residency, which lasts through the summer. So meeting people has been a priority for me, and that in and of itself has been an interesting proposition. WhileFlorence boasts hundreds of universities and thousands of study abroad students, the expat community is pretty small, and can be hard to break into– at least in my experience!
Without social media, I wonder what people used to do when trying to meet new people in the city. Personally, I turned to Facebook, after spending hours googling “how to meet people in Florence,” which was really just a depressing exercise. I ended up in a couple of different Facebook groups, two of which are more geared towards students and one which is a conglomeration of different kinds of expats who mainly talk at each other when they need recommendations for something: a carpet cleaner, a good restaurant, transportation to Paris, you name it. On there one girl was asking for job recommendations and expressing interest in meeting other people. I replied, and somehow that became a massive thread, that turned into a massive chat conversation, that turned into lunch with seven people I had never met.
So I guess I am sort of dating in Florence. Because making new friends is a lot like dating– you meet the person, talk to them a little, determine if you have anything in common and share a mutual interest in the other person and make plans to meet again another time. Friend dating is infinitely less complicated when meeting other expats though, because they are all relatively independent people who have had to become so because they live and work in a foreign country. I managed to make a good friend in one person at the lunch who is married to an Italian, and have possible coffee plans this week with another girl. And as for the cute boys? I’ll take it or leave it, but for me, friends are essential; like Carrie Bradshaw said, they are our soulmates.
If you’re looking to meet new friends in Italy, know one thing first: it’s not going to be easy, and you’re not going to like everyone, nor is everyone going to like you. I recommend joining a couple of Facebook groups relative to what you are doing in Florence, and using your current connections to network. Since I’m a resident at a school here, I have connections with many study abroad students, and I also lived in student housing for a few months for both simplicity as well as to meet people since I wouldn’t be taking many classes. Schools (especially Italian language schools) are often filled with other people that are new to the area and looking to meet new people.
Above all, you have to be willing to go out on a limb. I joined several Facebook groups, including theErasmus student network and “A Friend in Florence,” but it really doesn’t matter which you join as long as it has the local connection and decent sized membership. After that, it all comes down to how open you are. I ended up having lunch with seven ladies I had never met, but I was never once concerned for my safety because we were meeting in a public place during the daytime. And, I figured, if the lunch was a total bust, I could always use class as an excuse to leave early. I highly recommend the Oblate library for meeting up with people, regardless of whether you are longtime friends or new acquaintances. It’s very affordable and there isn’t coperto, so you can sit and actually get to know someone without stressing about the bill. American-themed coffee shops like Arnold’s and Mama’s are more expensive but also will (generally) let you sit as long as you like. At the end of the day, you have to get out there and just start trying to meet people. The more people you meet, the likelier you are to find that lifelong best friend—or at least someone to go to that gallery opening with!
Ellen Miller is a writer and artist who is currently living in Florence on a student visa. She currently shares her travel writing online as well as the managing editor of local paper Florence is You. http://missellenmiller.com