We’ve been in Rome two and a half weeks. I’ve been to Europe before as a tourist but living here is a completely different experience. Here are a few survival tips and common cultural practices I’ve picked up so far.
1. Why communicate with your words, when you can communicate with your hands?!
It’s true- the Italians love talking with their hands. Our chatty tax driver hardly kept his hands on the wheel. I was concerned when the manicurist began talking passionately with nail clippers in her hands. Italians love to use their hands to speak. The benefit is if you can’t figure out how to say something, use your hands! Most Italians speak more in gestures than they do in Italian.
2. Personal bubble popped!
Living in a city combined with being surrounded by Italians means no personal space. You don’t realize your own personal bubble until you are squished between Italians on the subway or a stranger grabs your arm while talking to you.
3. Drink the water on the streets, it’s clean!
Scattered around Rome are fountains that aren’t only used as drinking fountains but also as places to wash your hands. The water from the fountains is surprisingly fresh!
4. No smoking zones do not exist.
Smoking is a lot more a part of the culture here. Even vendors at the market or people hanging out in bookstores will pull out a cigarette. Although you will see a few no smoking signs around, there are few restrictions on smoking here.
5. Also, no parking zones do not exist.
Every place a car can fit is where a car will be. Sidewalks, intersections, you name it! If a car can fit there, most likely someone has parked there.
6. “No” means “try harder”.
When in Rome, you learn the art of ignoring people. Along the streets there are often people trying to sell you things. Normally, you would politely decline. However, saying no is like an invitation for the vendor to hand you the product and demand the money from you. I have definitely learned the art of avoiding eye contact!
7. Watch out, there’s another hidden fee!
Whether you are at a fancy restaurant or trying to use the bathroom, watch out for the hidden fees. While at a fancy restaurant, we politely declined the bread. However, they brought us a loaf anyway and charged us for it. When I went to use the bathroom at a park, the janitor was waiting at the door for a tip. It’s a good idea to be aware of what you are being charged for. However, we did end up taking the bread to go and it was quite delicious so sometimes the fee may be worth it!
8. If you want to buy something, speak up!
The concept of a line does not exist. Instead everyone forms a cluster around the counter and whoever says something first gets to order. Luckily the food is so delicious it gives you the courage to speak up!
9. Green means go, red means go faster.
Crossing the street is quite the adventure. Rather than trusting the pedestrian signs to keep you from being hit, you stare at the driver and walk into the street. At first, I thought it was odd to stare but that eye contact is the only thing that will make the Italian drivers stop for you!
10. Coffee to go or coffee to…stand?
When you go to get a coffee, you don’t really take it to go. And yet, you don’t really sit and drink. Instead, you stand at the coffee bar and drink your cappuccino there. Instead of everyone sitting around the coffee shop or running around with a to-go cup, coffee shops are many caffeine lovers clustered around the bar drinking.
Living in Rome has made me absorb all of the culture so much more quickly. Although these are just a few things I have noticed, I am sure to notice more as time goes on. Arrivederci until next time!