A patriotic American myself, I am blessed to hail from the Land of Opportunity. However, sometimes one just wants to fit in while abroad…especially when tourist season hits and flocks of our (sometimes obnoxious) compatriots descend on the city. Here’s how to bamboozle the natives and avoid looking like an American.
How to Look Spiffy
Ok, so the weather is warming up. A lot. I know you are dying to slip into those Havaianas to show off your freshly painted toenails, but just. don’t. do. it. I haven’t seen a single Italian wear them, and contrary to popular belief I HAVE seen my fair share of Italians this semester. And shorts? Put ‘em back in the duffel. Italians as a whole cover their legs for the most part. I’ve seen longer skirts, but you will definitely get attention for wearing shorts (and that’s not always a good thing!) When going out at night, avoid wearing tight, short skirts without tights. This is a telltale sign you are American, and practically speaking, this getup isn’t really conducive to club dancing. Also, for your safety, don’t disembark in stiletto heels at night. The cobblestones present a particular challenge, especially after a glass or two of vino! Your best bet is to stick with neutral colors and natural materials such as leather. After all, Italians are known for their effortlessly chic style.
You slept in and are late to class. Yikes! Your first inclination is to run out the door and jog to class, book bag in hand, in complete disregard of others. Looking and acting as if you are in a rush will identify you as a foreigner. As our Italian Cultural History professor explained, Italian time is more of an estimate. You’ve got about 15 minutes leeway to show up to appointments, etc. Italians embrace their pace of life, something that I’ve found has greatly reduced my stress. (Note that buses and trains DO run on time, and CET classes for that matter…)
Speaking of buses and trains, make sure you validate your tickets! There’s nothing like being singled out of a crowded bus and given a steep ticket for not knowing the cultural norms of public transportation.
*When making a grocery run*
Bring your own knapsack to the grocery store or don’t be surprised when a single plastic bag costs .08. Though this is such a miniscule cost, it does add up, is less environmentally-conscious and could identify you as a foreigner. Also, if the grocery store has a member card you can sign up for, get one! Residents can sign up for a card which gives you great deals and makes you smile every time you pull it out at the register proving not only to the cashier, but to everyone else that you are a (semi) permanent resident! Now, when you are at the register, avoid paying with the 1 and 2 eurocents. The coins are so infrequently used that I’ve gotten strange looks when I pay with them. Sometimes cashiers even round up or down a cent when giving you change.
- Don’t order a cappuccino in the afternoon! An Italian coffee is ok, and even said to help digestion, but ordering a cappuccino post-lunch is bad form.
- If you go out for an aperitivo, limit the number of times you go back to the buffet. One plate should be sufficient. Each subsequent plate only hampers your ability to fit in. After all, this is supposed to be a pre-dinner snack, not a multi-course meal. While you’re at it, order a glass of wine or a Spritz as your drink. These are the drinks locals tend to get and you may be disappointed at an Italian interpretation of a certain cocktail anyways. Margar-whatta?
- When ordering gelato, don’t mix a cream-based gelato such as Nocciola (Hazlenut) with a fruit-based gelato like Limon. Something about compromising the integrity of the flavors…
- Steer clear of any restaurant advertising its menu with images of food. These places aren’t usually as authentic and cater to tourists. The pictures never even look that good anyways!
- Ensure that the mushrooms on your pizza are Porcino! The flavor of these mushrooms surpasses the alternatives and your knowledge of this Tuscan specialty will impress natives.
These are merely my humble observations. They may or may not work for you. With some behavioral adaptations, however, you should be able to assimilate into the Italian culture and fool them at least for a first glance. This being said, if you’ve got blonde hair…good luck!