Life in a foreign city can be tough! Here’s what to prepare for in Rome.
G’day mate, or rather, ciao bello! As an Australian living in Rome, this greeting is just one of the many cultural adjustments I have had to make since my arrival in the Eternal City 1 year ago. While some may associate Italian culture with sophistication, style, and ultimately ‘la dolce vita’, the numerous cultural differences between Italy and Australia have meant assimilation to Rome has been no figurative ‘walk in the park’. Here I share with you some of the Italian cultural conventions certain to initially ruffle your foreign feathers!
Coffee alla speed
Coffee has well and truly become the globe’s potion of choice, and Italy is the Mecca of coffee culture. I was initially astonished at the different ways in which Italians inject their caffeine fix into the daily routine. Outside of Italy, the ‘coffee shop experience’ is about just spending hours lounging or “working” in artistically designed cafés, sipping double-shot, skinny, soy lattes. In Rome, I was startled by the speed at which coffee was consumed. Well-dressed professionals seem to treat the experience with as much speed and regularity as taking the metro; paying, sipping, and dashing all before the 60-something-year-old barista has time to say “buona giornata!”
A little too close for comfort, oh dio
In order to get to know a new culture, interaction is paramount. This is normally expressed through various greetings, such as “hi, how are you?” maybe a wave, or even a wink of the eye depending on the situation. One of the main differences in Rome is the form of greeting most Italians use when meeting people in a social context. Soon after arriving in Rome, I was invited to a party and when I arrived I was rather surprised, yet equally excited, about the fact that a dashing Italian stallion approached me with the words “ciao caro” and a kiss on each cheek. Thoughts such as “thank God I am wearing my best perfume” went through my mind. This was until my friend enlightened me with the sad realisation that kissing on the cheek is about as normal as a “ciao bello” from he local barman on a Sunday and my situation was far from exceptional.
Dapper dressing to kill
Italy has long been regarded as a country of high-quality fashion thanks to its internationally revered brands Prada and Versace (need we say more). So it was only a matter of time before the italians themselves became walking advertisements for stylish clothing and accessories. Something I was unaware of, though, was the consistency with which Italians did this. Whether it is for a quick trip to the local supermarket, or a leisurely Sunday walk through the city streets, Italians are always dressed to the nines in perfectly tailored shirts, the latest branded-shoes, and of course a pair of designer specs. They don’t do messy, ill-fitting or unpolished. When I first arrived in Rome, my overly casual, Australian attire made for numerous glances and passing comments of disapproval. As a result, I spent a hefty portion of my savings on an entirely new wardrobe to please Roman spectators, and my Australian flip-flops (a major no-no) were hidden in the back of the closet.
A lasting invitation
Nothing says assimilation into a foreign culture like being invited to a local’s home for a home-cooked dinner. However, make sure you have a minimal awareness of Italian dining norms so you get invited back. In Australia, the alcoholic beverage is often the gift of choice, so when the time came for me to attend my first cena with Italians my contribution seemed obvious: a bottle of Lazio red of course! Upon arriving, the two hosts appeared a little perplexed at my gift, quickly stowing it in the nearby kitchen cupboard. I was later informed by a fellow guest that the host normally selects all the corresponding wine for the evening and the more appropriate gifts include pastries, chocolates, or flowers.