How to Survive in Italy: 101

Abby Grinberg
September 28, 2016

Although I have not been feeling the effects of culture shock too much, there are obviously many differences between Italy and the United States. During the past month, I have stumbled into quite a few sticky situations, many of which have involved melting gelato. But that’s all part of the learning experience, and with a few tips you’ll be ready to tackle anything as soon as you step off the plane!

I’ve created a list of 25 things to expect when in Italy that can help you prepare if studying abroad or traveling in this incredible country.

  1. 80% of people you will see walking around the streets have a gelato in hand, similar to how people carry coffee cups in the U.S. Locals eat gelato at any time of day and the fact that there’s a gelateria (store that sells only gelato) on every corner makes it pretty accessible…and very tempting *insert sticky situation*. 
  2. No one carries refillable water bottles. However, if you do need to refill, look for the green dragons that are all over the city. It's safe to drink this water. 
  3. Italians are very conscientious about the environment, meaning there is a very specific way to throw things away. It's worth your time to learn how to separate every piece of your trash because there’s always a possibility that someone is watching and will charge you a hefty fine if you do it wrong. 
  4. Big breakfasts (omelette, pancakes, waffles, etc.) are not a thing unfortunately. Breakfast usually consists of a "caffe" and brioche (croissant). 
  5. Which leads to my next point, carbs are your friend. Since portions are smaller, it’s important to fill up and you’ll be walking around so much that there’s no reason to worry about eating too much pasta and pizza. 
  6. A bar is not like a bar where you go to get drinks at night. Bars are quick stop shops that are all over the city where you can run in to get a fast coffee and/or pastry. 
  7. If you order a “caffe” in a bar, thinking you will receive a coffee like what you get in America, don’t be surprised when you are given an espresso shot. Order a “caffe americano” if you’re craving a Starbucks-like coffee. 
  8. Take advantage of “aperitivo”. Many restaurants offer it in the evening and it's where you buy a drink that could be anywhere from 7-12 euros, giving you access to an unlimited buffet. It’s especially popular among college students and a cheap alternative for dinner. 
  9. Everything is closed on Sundays. 
  10. Learn to talk with your hands. Gestures are a critical part of the Italian language, especially when you’re trying to communicate and don’t know how to say something. Speaking Italian requires using your entire body. 
  11. The concept of personal space doesn’t exist in Italy, not even in the language so get comfortable with being uncomfortable. 
  12. Italians are extremely friendly and always willing to assist you with anything so don’t be afraid to say hello to people or ask for help! It’s also a great opportunity to practice speaking Italian. 
  13. The pace of life is much slower so get used to Italian time, which means that nothing really ever starts on time. 
  14. You will quickly become very familiar with the Italian philosophy, “Suffering is a part of life”.
  15. When buying fruit/vegetables at a supermarket, make sure to weigh it and get a sticker with the price before going to check out because the cashier won’t do it for you. 
  16. Non-smoking zones do not exist. 
  17. Milan has many universities and the city offers a lot of student discounts. Download the app ‘EasyMi’ to find anything from coffee shops to theaters, and the app will also give you any coupons that can be used at some of these places. 
  18. Add yourself to Milan Facebook pages so you can stay up to date with events that are happening around the city. Keep an eye out for free entry to museums because it happens often. 
  19. Milan = fashion capitol. Always try to look put together, never go to class in sweatpants and avoid walking around the city in workout clothing unless going to the gym. 
  20. If you need an ATM look for a “Bancomat”. If you ask for an ATM, you will be sent to the metro since that is what they call the public transport system (Azienda Trasporti Milanesi).
  21. Always carry cash, especially when traveling to other areas in Italy. Even in Milan many places won’t accept credit/debit cards. 
  22. Have your passport with you whenever you travel, even in Italy because usually the hotel will ask for it upon arrival (lesson learned). 
  23. If staying for an extended period of time, join a gym/yoga studio because it's a great way to expand your Italian vocabulary, meet new people and continue to do any hobbies that you normally do at home. 
  24. Always look both ways before crossing the street so you don’t get hit by a vespa. 
  25. Don’t always do what the tourists are doing. Sometimes the best adventures lie off the beaten path and with this mindset you will soon start living like a local. :) 

Viva l'Italia!


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Abby Grinberg

Abigail is our 2016-17 IES Abroad Blogger of the Year! Abigail studies Economics and International Studies with a minor in Business Administration at Brandeis University—where she is also an IES Abroad Ambassador. As a Fall 2016 and Spring 2017 Blogger, Abigail illustrated her year abroad in Milan through her insightful posts and candid photography that navigated her growth in the historical city of Milan. 



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