It’s easy to fall for Rome’s architecture, food and lifestyle but finding a social circle in this city is harder than it seems for an expat fresh off the plane and perhaps struggling with the language.
We caught up with the principessa of the ‘aperitivo’ and the ultimate networker, Kirsten Hayes, who is constantly helping newcomers to the Eternal City purely for the unselfish motive of seeing yet another foreigner adjust a little bit easier in Rome. If there’s an aperitivo in Rome, whether in an art gallery or a private rooftop gathering, you’re sure to see Kirsten. This Australian girl exemplifies one of the secrets to conquering Rome socially – this city will embrace you if you get out there and be a part of it.
Here’s how it’s done…
Why and when did you move to Rome?
I moved to Rome two years ago to work for the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization based here. I had no idea what Rome would be like and was delighted to find my office has a terrace overlooking the Colosseum and this beautiful ancient city.
What was your first impression when you came and how has that changed over the years you’ve spent here?
At first I saw Rome as a city, now I see it as a bustling village – you can go anywhere with a bike in 20 minutes and almost every time you go out you will bump into someone you know. It’s adorable really.
You are known around the city as ‘the girl who knows everyone in Rome’ – what’s your advice for expats who have just arrived who are finding it hard to settle in?
Wow what a reputation to have! Romans have to be the most confident and cheeky bunch I’ve ever met, so really you have to do as the Romans do and feel comfortable going out by yourself, smiling (not too directly!) at interesting looking people and generally being ready to chat to beautiful strangers (but never feel rude to cut disinteresting conversations otherwise you’ll regret this advice!). You learn to avoid those people who are overly keen to befriend you because you are foreign, as you tire quickly of cliché “Italy vs. your country” conversations. To find the same type of internationally minded, cosmopolitan friends you may have at home the best ideas are to go for the foreign cinema most often at the foreign language institutes (Institute Cervantes for Spanish, or Goethe Institute for German, Centre Saint Louis for French), embassy events (French and Argentinean Embassy are very active for example) and Modern Art museum Macro has a lot of interesting social evening aperitivi on, as you will meet a broader mix of people there.
Where’s your favourite place in Rome for visitors who have just one day?
Never rush around trying to squeeze in every monument. Rome has so many amazing things to see but the true beauty is in the pace of life and simple pleasures here. A nice lunch alfresco at a piazza near the Pantheon, followed by a stroll around this area for the best coffee and gelato and of course, going inside the Pantheon itself and marvelling at the ingenuity of the structure (especially when it rains) will send any visitor home happily (and jealous of your life here).
What are the three biggest differences when you compare your Roman life with your old life in Melbourne, Australia?
Melbourne is a modern and spread out city, so you have to plan your commute. The manageable size of Rome also gives you a lot of freedom to change plans, change locations, meet up with friends from all over the city much more easily. You don’t have to think about driving or public transport, you just up and go when you hear something interesting is going on and have no excuses for staying at home.
Melbourne is very multicultural and there is no one type of standard food which means you mix up what you eat much more. The food here is excellent and very fresh but on the downside you have to go out of your way and pay a bit more to eat good international dishes.
- Importance of lifestyle:
For better or worse, in Rome work is just one part of your life. Food, friends and rest time are equally as important as work here and once you accept this it is hard to go back!