Whenever you encounter a new place for the first time, I’m sure your mind is quick to point out the differences. It’s just how our minds work – we identify all that is “strange” and “different” before we can find any commonalities. We can try all we want to correct this, but to an extent, part of it is just instinctual. I know I was guilty of doing it when I first stepped off the plane at Fiumicino International Airport. I came off an eight hour flight and my first thought was, “Why is it so much hotter here?” The negativity that comes with finding physical, social, and cultural differences can be very detrimental, not only to your overall mental wellbeing, but also to your adjustment to a foreign country.
Below are some of the differences that I have stumbled across thus far, which hopefully knowing these ahead of time, will help make the transition and adjustment smoother for you.
- Water & The Way You Get it is Not What it is Like in the US
For some reason, water was never something that I suspected would be different abroad. I thought, “It’s water, how can it possibly be different?” Well, I thought wrong. Water itself isn’t different, how you get it, however, is quite different.
First, most Italians either purchase large water bottles (1.5 liter or so), or drink water from the tap. In the United States, very rarely do I see people drinking water straight from the tap. Perhaps it is because of the water crises that have occurred in the US the past few years, but almost all the water consumed now is heavily filtered beforehand. And as a part of the effort to save the planet, many schools, shopping centers, and office buildings are now installing water fountains specifically designed to refill water bottles. In coming to Italy, I expected to see these, and was caught very off guard when instead of these water fountains, I saw other ones instead.
Throughout Rome there are water fountains on the sidewalks that are constantly letting out a stream of cold, fresh, drinkable water. When I first saw these, I was scared to drink out of them, convinced that the water could not possibly be clean. However, I was quickly told that it was and have since tried it and it was perhaps the best water since I’ve been to Rome.
Also, water at restaurants. In the US, most sit-down restaurants give complimentary water to all customers regardless of what you order. Here, water is not free and can, depending on where you go, be almost as much, if not the same amount, as wine. Even if you do get water at a restaurant, forget about it coming with ice. Ice is just not as available or as common here as it is in the United States.
Despite this, to help with adjusting and to fight the inevitable exhaustion and jet lag that you will experience upon landing, drink as much water as possible. The water is clean and safe to drink from everywhere – so please, make sure to drink it! You’ll be amazed at what happens to your body when you consume the correct amount of water!
- Cultural Norms Surrounding Cigarettes
In the United States, what used to be so commonplace, has now become a rarity. Smoking, specifically smoking cigarettes, was so big up until the late 1990s, early 2000s, when movements began to occur encouraging people, especially children who had yet to start smoking, to stay away from it. Now, being a teenager in the United States, cigarettes have faded out in favor of e-cigs and vapes. It is rare to go out for a night in the United States, especially in college, and not see several juuls and vapes being used throughout the night, however you will never see someone smoking a cigarette.
Having grown up in a country where smoking has really been shunned for the better part of my life, I was not expecting to come to Europe and experience it the way I have so far. Here in Italy, smoking is still very much a cultural norm. Places of business often take “smoke breaks,” and people smoke within their apartment complexes, a feat practically unheard of nowadays in the US. It is an accepted way of life here in a way that it is no longer in the United States.
- The Italian Love for Life
The Italians love life in a way that Americans will never be able to. In America, time is money and when things function inefficiently, it tends to cause some to be quite frustrated. However, that is not the case here in Italy. Here, people appreciate the little things in life, and take the time to actually enjoy themselves.
The US is very much a work over all else type of environment, which while it can be successful for business ventures, can be very toxic to the individual due to the extreme pressures and stress that is placed on one’s shoulders. In Italy, the opposite is the case. Coworkers take long lunches and go for coffee breaks, making sure to not bring work home with them, a trait not often found in Americans.
When arriving in Italy, you may find it annoying at first how much slower everything seems and how much slower people function and move. For example, in the US, waiters come to your table often to check on you, but also to subtly check on how much longer you will be there, to see how much more time it will be before they can turn the table over. In Rome, waiters hardly ever come to the table, and every time I’ve gone out to dinner here, I’ve had to flag the waiter down to ask for the check.
It’s definitely an adjustment at first, but try to keep in mind, that we are guests here in this beautiful country. Italy has survived for thousands of years functioning in this tranquil, relaxed manner, and will continue to survive long after we return home. Instead of finding it aggravating, try finding it peaceful instead. Who knows, you may find it soothing and a mindset you wish the United States would adapt. I know, I sure am!