Going in Circles: My First Week in Milan

benz headshot
Elizabeth Benz
January 21, 2014

Usually the phrase “going in circles” has a negative implication, but here it’s a fact of life. The shape of Milan is a series of circles nestled inside one another, demonstrating the growth pattern of the city from its medieval roots to the outlying suburbs. No matter how lost you get, eventually you will end up somewhere familiar. The first few days definitely had a “survival” feel to them: using public transportation, purchasing an Italian cell phone, how to order a cappuccino…the important things. After that my circles of knowledge got a little wider. I learned to stand at the front of the bus so you can read the display listing the next stop (and avoid the humiliating process of getting off, realizing you’re at the wrong stop, and immediately getting back on), that coffee is cheaper if you stand at the counter than if you sit at a table, and that no matter how hard you try to blend in, everyone can tell you’re American.
A few things I love about Milan: first, the coffee. A delicious cappuccino for ϵ 0,95! The only place in America where you can get a cup of coffee that cheap is McDonald’s. I’m also fascinated with the concept of bella figura: it translates to ‘beautiful figure,’ but while appearances are important it encompasses more than looks. It refers to a gracious presentation that reflects well upon yourself. Most Milanese dress just as elegantly when they are going to the supermarket as when they are going to a meeting. Speaking of dresses, there’s also saldi! It’s an entire month of sales to prepare for the new spring styles. Everything is thirty to seventy percent off, and you don’t have to wake up early or fight to park. In addition, I’m amazed at the reverence for the arts. Everywhere you look in Milan there is art and music – both for display and everyday use. Medieval architecture exists harmoniously among modern asymmetric sculptures and hand-painted storefront grates, and street performers busk outside of concert halls that host the finest opera companies in Europe.
However, as much as I’ve enjoyed my first week here there are certainly a few things I miss about home. First of all, clothes dryers: they simply don’t exist in Italy. They take up too much room, and use too much expensive utilities. I also miss Target: while I love all the negozi – little shops – sometimes you just want to buy your shampoo and junk food and notebooks all in one place. Here, stores are specialized; the pharmacy just sells medicine, the supermarket only sells food, etc. I still haven’t found inexpensive notebooks. It’s also taken a while to adjust to the lack of pedestrian right-of-way. Every stereotype you’ve seen in a movie about European drivers is true. Not even the curb is safe…and on the subject of movies, there’s no Netflix in Italy due to copyright issues. Although maybe it’s better that I can’t marathon reality TV until 2am.

benz headshot

Elizabeth Benz

<p><span style="color: rgb(29, 29, 29); font-family: Arial, Verdana, sans-serif; font-size: 12px; line-height: normal; background-color: rgb(237, 237, 237);">Elizabeth Benz is a lifetime upstate New York resident who never takes the snow brush out of the back seat of her car. Originally from Buffalo, NY, she is a senior Music Education/Violin Performance major and Italian minor at Ithaca College. These three passions were intertwined on a life-changing trip in 2006 to the International Suzuki Method Conference in Turin, Italy, where she not only saw the communicative power of music across young artists from many nationalities, but also fell in love with the language and culture of the country. Eight years later she is fulfilling the promise she made to herself to return to Italy, after completing her senior student teaching practicum. She is particularly interested in observing the emphasis and importance placed on youth music and arts programs across Europe, and returning with ideas to inspire and support her own program at a future teaching job.</span></p>

2014 Spring
Home University:
Ithaca College
Explore Blogs