While in Florence, I was subjected to both daily culture shocks and a shocking sense of continuity. I know very little Italian so it was jarring for me to be in a country where I could not readily communicate with the vast majority of people. On my first day I wandered around, feeling like I was in a movie set. The aesthetics of the city are beautiful, and it felt incredibly surreal.
My typical early experiences were characterized by awkwardness and confusion. On the first day. I needed a towel because I didn’t have room to pack one and it wasn’t provided, but I couldn’t one in any of the pharmacies or grocery stores near my apartment, and I had no idea what to search on my phone to find a store that would sell them. At a loss, I went into the nearest pharmacy and tried my hand at Italian, using google translate.
“Dove posso compare un asciugamano?” I attempted bravely, with the most American pronunciation possible. Where can I buy a towel? The guy at the counter laughed at me, supremely unimpressed. He also had no idea what I had said. Shamefacedly, I handed him my phone and he read it, and began to jabber back at me in rapid Italian. He must have seen my incomprehension because he slowed down and pronounced the store name very intentionally. I did my best to write it down in my notes app. I ended up with utter nonsense, but when he gave me a questioning thumbs up I smiled and said “Grazie!” because I was too embarrassed to try again.
It wasn’t until I asked the lady at CAPA the next day (with very greasy hair) that I was able to locate a store that sold towels.
Despite this anecdote (and others like it), I found that the cultural differences weren’t as scary to navigate as I had anticipated. Most people could understand my cheerful and sincere (if apologetic) disposition and respond well to my various calls of “ciao!”, “buongiorno!”, “grazie!” “scusi!”, and “permisso!”
While some Italians were impatient with my lack of Italian, and general air of Americanness, I found that most of them were kind, generous, and engaging. I especially loved my interactions with the Italians on the various countryside dwellings and farms we visited. They were incredibly lovely, and explained their lifestyle, daily jobs, and values to us patiently and passionately, eager to share their knowledge, expertise, and – in most cases – food. I would heavily suggest traveling outside of Florence and other big cities, and trying to visit small producers if you want to find some of the nicest people you’ll ever meet.
“A man has not fully lived until he experiences that gently balmy climate of ancient empires, the land of lemon trees and the genius of Michelangelo.”– E. A. Bucchianeri