Living in a different country is a huge learning experience. Initially, one of the first things I noticed about Italy is the cultural differences I encountered. Now my time of studying abroad in Rome is a few weeks shy from completion, I may return acting more Italian than American.
The first thing to capture my attention is the speed and agility Romans apply to just driving around town. Vespas and small cars whipping past and cutting each other off, honking, hand gestures and more speed. The fact that I haven’t seen an accident is very surprising, and the fact I haven’t been hit by one of these manic drivers is a miracle. In the beginning of the semester, crossing the street was as scary as crossing the ocean by flight, feeling like you are unsure of making the right decision. But it is all about commitment. Especially in the sense of a Roman pedestrian; always check both ways before crossing, make eye contact with the driver and commit to crossing the street. They may not slow down for you, but they’ll stop (hopefully). The driving is entertaining to watch, the running through red lights and random parking spots is what really raises an American eyebrow.
Ironically, while Italians are fast drivers, they love to take their time with everything else. Walking is slow, dining is slow, the wifi is unbelievably slow. Italians enjoy the present moment and put off their worries until tomorrow. I am learning this is a lifestyle I can stand behind.
The people are kind, loud and interactive. They aren’t as keen to smile at strangers, but they like to stare. It is a more common practice here than in the States. It’s not odd; Italians are curious about what everyone is wearing. Especially because they get dressed up just for an evening stroll. They like to put their best foot forward, especially if it’s in a Ferragamo heel.
Crossing the street can be challenging, but just walking down the sidewalk is a game to see who can get away with not moving to the side. Personal space means a totally different thing to Italians and Americans. I was frustrated that men wouldn’t step to the side when I was passing them in close quarters or people on the metro are seemingly closer than needed. Although I am used to this European sense of personal space now, I am looking forward to a little more room in the U.S.
Another noteworthy tidbit for students interested in dating an Italian: the men are believed to be more aggressive and the women initially more standoff-ish. Just keep this in mind when mingling with Italians after class. Overall, it’s a fun learning game distinguishing the cultural differences and adapting to them. Even if you’re used to more personal space or prefer your men less flirtatious, it is rewarding to be immersed in a foreign culture and learn the ropes. Rome has a great way of teaching you life outside the classroom.