Culture Shock

I got back from Rome on Wednesday night and am in the midst of writing all about it, but in the meantime I wanted to share some of the differences I’ve noticed between the US and Italy. We had a whole presentation in Rome about Hofstede’s cultural indexes like power distance, uncertainty avoidance, and masculinity (hooray for concepts I learn in school coming back to haunt me!), but my list is a bit more simple. Here are some differences:

1. Italian washing machines are usually in the kitchen or bathroom and are quite small. There are no dryers. This means that in cities like Bologna, where the water is quite hard, fabric softener is necessary.

2. Many gas stoves in Italy don’t have built-in fuses. You have to turn the gas on and then use a match or lighter to light the flame.

3. Queues are a much different concept here. There is no defined line at the train station, for example. Everyone just shoves in. And, where there’s no way to set a line, like at the post office, everyone just takes a number. This still doesn’t stop people from cutting if they think their query won’t take long.

4. Daylight savings time ends in Italy on October 30, and in the US on November 6. This is going to make all of my Skype dates next week quite fun to figure out.

5. Dinner in the US is at 7pm, typically (or sometimes as early as 5pm.) Here, most restaurants don’t start serving la cena until 8pm at the earliest, and 9 or 10pm is a common eating time.

6. Coffee is served throughout the day in Italy. Not only does one have un caffe with breakfast, but the same espresso shot is often served after dinner. Also, ordering a cappuccino after 11am is completely taboo.

7. Many Italian stores close for lunch from noon until 2pm, and many stay closed on Thursday afternoons. Those stores that aren’t closed on Thursday afternoons typically close Monday morning instead.

8. Breakfast is typically sweet in Italy. People get pastries or fruit salads. No such thing as eggs and bacon. Also, omelets are for dinner.

9. 220V outlets. Need I say more? I have a thousand converters floating around.

10. Wireless internet in Italy is often delivered by way of a chiavetta, or Internet key. You can get these in the US, but routers are far more common.

11. Most Italian cellphones are rechargeable; they don’t use set plans. To replenish your minutes, visit any tobacco store.

12. Tobaccoists in Italy are responsible for the sale of many common items. In addition to cellphone cards and the expected tobacco, they sell bus tickets, stamps, and issue receipts for the payment of utility bills.

13. Italian refrigerators are small; one is expected to shop for groceries daily or every other day, but definitely not for the whole week. And they don’t get food particularly cold.

14. Eggs and milk are ultra-pasteurized, so they come in plain old aisles at the markets rather than the refrigerated section. When you get home, you put them in the cupboard.

15. Smoking is prevalent everywhere in Italy. I haven’t quite gotten used to smelling it everywhere I go.

16. Compared to Midwesterners, Italians have no tolerance for cold. It has been in the high 40s and low 50s for the past few weeks, and many have already broken out their winter coats.

17. Crossing the street in Italy is an experiment in boldness. Many Italians simply step out and expect the drivers to stop, and surprisingly enough many drivers do. I’ve even had drivers stop for me because they saw me waiting for them on the side of the road.

18. Recycling happens, but bins are less prevalent in Italy than in the US. Many people simply reuse their glass jars as storage containers.

19. Responding to e-mails isn’t necessarily optional, but one has plenty of time to be getting on with it in Italy. A week or more isn’t uncommon. Phone calls, however, must be returned promptly and the best way to get in touch is always by phone.

20. Italians bring their dogs everywhere. I see dogs in businesses, in grocery stores, in restaurants, and on the bus. Restaurants may be the most interesting because most waiters bring the canine customer a bowl of water over dinner.

21. Italian showers are small. Although my new apartment has a bathtub, it’s the first I’ve seen here. Even in hotels.

22. Due to Italy’s long history, things that awe us in the US like priceless art and ancient ruins don’t really phase most Italians, but good beer does.

23. Euros. They make everything look cheaper, but they are deceptively expensive.

24. In Italian apartments, everything is made to optimize the space. It kitchens, this often means the drying rack is in the cupboard, so you miss out on storage space in favor of counter space.

25. And, finally, one of the biggest adjustments for me: Netflix, Hulu, Pandora, Spotify, and many other music/TV websites do not work overseas. This has led to some fun finagling to access new stuff, but I’m embracing it. And, I got to catch an episode of The Simpson’s in Italian last night. It was weird – none of the voices were the same.


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