Studying abroad presents itself with the opportunity to fully experience a new culture, their customs and traditions. Florence, the capital of Tuscany, is an artistic treasure bursting with culture. Angelina Alberigi-Donaldson, one of our study abroad student bloggers, shares the top five things that she has learnt since studying abroad in Florence.
“Firenze…. the land of gelato, endless amazing art and crazy Vespa drivers. Oh, how I’ve come to love her beautifully chaotic ways. It takes about a month to feel accustomed to the Florentine way of life and here are a few essential tips to help you adapt.
Learn some basic Italian
Learning some basic Italian words will serve you well and are fun to say. During my first week I learned that ‘thank you’ (grazie) is pronounced ‘grats-eee-ayyy’ and not ‘gratsee. Good to know! ‘Ciao’ is an informal way of saying hi and bye. More formal and traditional greetings are ‘buon giorno’ for ‘good morning’ and ‘buona sera’ for good evening. You’ll often hear these in restaurants so it’s good to know what they mean. Additionally, knowing how to say ‘vorrei’ which means ‘I would like’ is useful for ordering food. It’s just another small way to begin incorporating the Italian language into your daily life.
Clichés are real
Yes, some of the romance is intoxicating and PDA is so natural and common here. People of all ages great each other with kisses on both cheeks, while couples cuddle and kiss without a care as to where they are. Occasionally Italian men will call out ‘ciao bella’ to pretty girls passing by, but it never feels invasive. Just keep walking and do your thing. Italians are very social and gather to talk everywhere from bridges to piazzas and outside shops; sometimes it makes you want to join in. Often cigarette smoking accompanies such gatherings and is a part of the culture across all generations.
Learn the customs that come with dining in Florence
Long leisurely meals are one of the best experiences here. It’s common and necessary to make reservations for restaurants. Places get crowded later as Italians often begin dinner around 8pm when things are just getting started. Once you’re seated at your table, it’s yours for the evening. You are in no rush, but you need to remember that you won’t be brought the check until you specifically request for it. Italian custom dictates it’s rude to bring it before requested. To do so, you’ll need to say “il conto!”
One funny memory was during one of my first attempts at using my limited Italian. I said something entirely random and unrelated to ‘il conto’ and the waiter thought it was hilarious. After a good laugh and correction, he treated us to free limoncello! Moral is funny mistakes can happen, but it’s all part of learning the customs.
Grocery shopping is a fun adventure
With a bit of practice and awareness of the customs you can actually enjoy the experience. Here in Italy, it’s a crime to physically pick up your vegetables WITHOUT a glove on. Well, it’s not actually a crime, but you will get some ugly glares. Always remember to put one on (they’re usually right underneath the plastic bags). Secondly, you must place your selected produce on the scale, press the scale number that corresponds to the specific fruit/veggie bin, and a printed sticker with the price and weight will pop out. I’ve also noticed that Italians shop frequently and in smaller quantities. I’ve learned to only buy as much as my bag can carry. Also, use strong reusable bags! You can get some cheap ones at Flying Tiger which is a hip home goods shop on Via Panzani. This will prevent an explosion of squashed sidewalk veggies ripping through the limp plastic ones.
Explore and appreciate where you are
Florence presents itself with style in everything whether it be food, fashion or art. If you need a break from the hustle and bustle, then catch the number 7 bus at Piazza di San Marco and in twenty-minutes you’ll be in Fiesole. Here you can soak in the gorgeous views of Tuscany. It’s a quiet break from the crowds and city. Once you have mastered navigating the busy city streets, remember to pause and appreciate where you are. It’s hard to imagine the Duomo or Ponte Vecchio becoming commonplace, but it happens. Take time to read signs, as this is a city with serious history. It wasn’t until half way through my program that I finally looked up and noticed the sign above my apartment entrance commemorating it as the birthplace of Antonio Meucci, the Italian inventor of the telephone (google him, it’s a fascinating story). Take alternate routes and discover new things. Each day Florence will reveal herself to you. Honestly, a semester never felt so short. Enjoy it!”
This content was contributed by Angelina Alberigi-Donaldson, one of our student bloggers. She is studying abroad this Spring on an AIFS Customized Faculty-Led program in Florence, Italy from Santa Rosa Junior College.