Before studying abroad, I found myself shocked by how much advice the people around me seemed to have about life in Italy. One facebook post about the subject often came with 100 replies with different people saying some variation of “In Italy, did you know that people ____.” Although I appreciated the advice, I’ve come to learn, through living in Italy, that some of the things that Americans believe about the country are not necessarily true (or greatly exaggerated.) For this post, I’ve compiled a few of the things that I’d heard before arriving in Italy and elaborated on why they’re true or false (based on my experience this semester.)
1. The Post Office is Evil.
This one is 100% true, folks. I hate the post office at home, but I found the post office in Rome to be an absolute nightmare. Every time I went to the post office, it was so hot, stuffy, crowded, and slow that I ended up avoiding it like the plague.
Thankfully, if you want to mail a letter or a postcard, local tobacco shops sell stamps and typically have mailboxes in front of them. I would definitely recommend doing that and never stepping foot inside of an Italian post office again (unfortunately, you will have to at some point in order to get your residency permit.)
2. Italian Pizza is ALWAYS Good.
It goes without saying that there is some pretty amazing pizza in Italy, but don’t think for one second that all of the pizza is good by default just because it’s Italy. Granted, even some of the worst pizza that I had in Italy was still better than most American pizza, but if you’re in Italy you just can’t waste time on mediocre, especially when the better pizza places are often also less expensive than the tourist traps. Do some research, go to small trattorias, and don’t trust the guys who try to herd people into the restaurant like sheep.
Even in Naples, the home of the best pizza in the world, there are definitely places that aren’t that great. Be careful!!!
3. Most Places Only Take Cash
I’d heard a lot about how most places in Italy don’t accept credit cards, but I found that this was not really the case during my time in Italy. In Rome, I found that I rarely ever really needed cash. Throughout the semester, I was also able to travel to Pisa, Florence, Bracciano, Perugia, Naples, and the Amalfi Coast and in all of these places I mostly used my debit card. I do not recommend going the entire semester without having any cash on you, but more places than I expected take cards. For smaller towns and rural areas I would make sure to have cash, but Rome is definitely a card-friendly city - it’s crawling with so many tourists that I imagine it would be hard for it not to be.
4. Public Transportation is Flawless
Public transportation is great, but it’s far from being as perfect as people believe. Compared to most places in America, public transportation is way more accessible and affordable. I live in a town where it’s basically impossible to get around without a car, so having the ability to hop on a bus or train to get wherever I wanted to go felt pretty amazing! America is, unfortunately, very car-dependent as a whole. However, this doesn’t mean that the public transportation in Europe is completely flawless. To be honest, I rarely took the bus as I often found that it was faster to walk places than to wait around and hope that it came on time. If given a choice, the metro is way more reliable and convenient!
The train system in Italy is great but be warned: it’s not always dirt-cheap like people will have you believe. You don’t just casually hop on a train for like 10 euro and zip on over to Milan. Traveling to some places can be pretty pricey! I paid much less for a plane ticket from Rome to Dublin than I would have to go to Venice by train. Sometimes there are low-cost buses, but they take so many hours that it’s not an easy option if you have limited time.
5. Beware...of the Mafia!!
I feel like we need to talk about the cartoonishly evil mafia guys that Americans think are always skulking around every corner in Italy. Seriously, how many times did your relatives bring up the mafia when you told them that you were studying in Italy? I would say mine felt the need to mention it just about EVERY time I saw them.
I promise, cross my heart and swear to die, that you will not get shanked by the mafia in Italy. Tell your Aunt Bethany to relax. It’s going to be okay.
6. You’ll Get Harassed by Sellers/Scammers
This one is true. Depending on where you go, there is a lot of unwanted harassment from people trying to sell you things or to trick you into giving them money. It’s Rome, after all, and who is more gullible than a tourist? Right outside of IES are a million people every day trying to sell you scarves, phone chargers, or those guys who give you “gifts” but then relentlessly heckle you to give them money or try to steal from you while you’re distracted. Don’t accept things from strangers because they’re never actually free!
I don’t know a lot about immigration and poverty issues in Rome, but I don’t believe believe that the majority of these people are trying to cause harm. I won’t say “never support illegal vendors!!” because I think that many of them are sincerely doing the best they can to get by. However, it’s still important to be wary of scams and harassment.
7. Nobody In Italy Exposes Any Skin
This is probably the biggest one that I heard. People told me that Italians would be shocked and appalled if I wore shorts in Italy on a 95 degree day. Shocked and appalled. In reality, not only did plenty of young Italian women wear weather-appropriate clothing, but also nobody seemed to care what I was wearing. I’m not saying you should deliberately stand out like a sore thumb without even trying to blend in with the locals, but the idea that Italians even care that much what you’re wearing seems to be greatly exaggerated. Nobody sat around gaping in horror at those brazen American youths shamelessly wearing shorts when it’s hot outside. I did notice that Italian fashion tends to lean more on the conservative side compared to American fashion, but not to the point where exposing a bit of skin is a great offense. This is especially true in Rome where there are so many tourists that people seem to be used to American fashion anyway. Wear what you like and feel comfortable in - it's nobody else's business, anyway!
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<p>My name is Charlotte and I'm a senior at Penn State studying Human Development and Sociology. I like traveling, baking, k-pop, rabbits, and collecting scrunchies!</p>