After living here for only 5 days, how do I even begin to describe Roma?
My head is still spinning from the fragrant assortment of artistry and peculiarity that graces this city. There are the obvious landmarks: the wide, teal fiume Tevere that flows across the street from campus; the expansive and bustling Piazza del Popolo, which holds a concoction of regal stone buildings and stylish shopping centers.
And then there are the nuances: the constant friendly “ciao” emitted from complete strangers; the supermarket tomatoes that resemble rubies and taste like candy; the flowers that elegantly spill over the side of balconies and fill the air with potent streams of pollen and perfume.
I feel like I’ve acquired about 1% of knowledge that the average seasoned Italian possesses. OK, maybe 1% is a bit generous, but I’ve learned a few lessons so far in Surviving Rome 101:
Lesson #1: Crossing the street here is comparable to looking death in the eye.
I promise I’m not being overdramatic. As someone who grew up in Philly, where the streets are contaminated with honking horns and profanity, my fear of the Vine Street Expressway has quickly dissolved and been replaced with a new nightmare: Vespas.
Weaving among tiny cars, sleek bicycles, and innocent pedestrians, Vespas defy all American rules of the road— and they do it in style. While walking to campus, my roommates and I stopped to gawk at a woman effortlessly maneuvering her way through traffic in a pink Vespa and barking authoritatively on her Bluetooth- all while wearing sparkling six-inch stilettos.
The key to dodging Vespas? Don’t freak out. The driving in Italy may be a little chaotic, but road rage isn’t a thing here. If you cross the street at a reasonable pace in front of a moving vehicle and make eye contact with the driver, he most likely won’t yell at you —in fact, you’ll be fine, and he’ll drive around you. It’s similar to a staring contest, but the stakes are un poco higher than usual.
Lesson #2: Don’t act too much like a tourist, but don’t hesitate to be a nerd.
It’s not difficult to tell if someone here is from the States: my Ked sneakers, Jansport backpack, and bulky camera are dead giveaways. If people in Rome think you look American, they’ll launch right into English. This might be convenient for study abroad students, but it’s not something that should be taken for granted. Making the effort to speak Italian– even if it’s a small phrase like grazie instead of thank you— is not only respectful; it can enhance the learning experience immensely.
That being said, don’t be afraid to be “that person” listening to every audio tour and reading every sign at the museum. When my graphic design class visited the Pantheon, we stayed for over an hour and I still feel as though I don’t know nearly enough about it. The history here is unbelievably rich. Its thousands of years dwarf the couple hundreds of history that we explore back in the U.S. When they say Rome wasn’t built in a day, they’re truly not joking.