An American In Italy

A semester spent in Europe... Rome, specifically.

Thursday, March 31, 2005

How not to look like an American in Italy

Stats counter have said I've gotten a few hits searching for this very thing. And so I'll offer my suggestions:

1. Don't be blonde. Physically or mentally. The physically part you mightn't be able to help, but the mental part you can; just be smart.
(My friend in Rome Zadok can't help that he's Irish, straight from the rock, and looks it. On the other hand, my grandfather is Sicilian and I've inherited a good bit of the Meditterranean look. My Italian is basic but better pronounced, and Zadok's much more comprehensive but accented. Whenever in situations where someone was addressing us in Italian, they addressed me instead of him, not knowing how absolutely rock-dumb I was; there was occasional surprise when he gave the intelligible answer whilst I stood dumbly by. But it goes to show you, the look works. I sure fooled them. [G])
2. Observe people around you. Italians are crazy, but they do different crazy things than Americans. For example, if you notice that nobody is standing in the middle of the Piazza Barberini playing a bagpipe, you probably shouldn't do it either. (However, I have observed this phenomenon. It was bizzarre.)
3. Keep it down. Americans have a reputation for being really loud.
4. Don't drink anything out of bottles or eat things on the street; "fast food" is not really a concept over there. Straws and glasses are your best friends, drinking from the beer bottle or the coke can is considered crude and gross.
5. Don't stare at people. I mean, duh. They can stare at you okay, but if a girl looks back it's a come-on.
6. Make it at least look like you're making an effort to use their language. You can not know a word of the language, but if you pretend like you do but you've just forgotten it, I've found people are a lot nicer. (Believe it or not, this also worked in France.)
7. No shorts. EvereverevereverevereverEVER. I don't care how hot it is -- NO! Along the same line are t-shirts. Don't pack 'em.
8. No sneakers. This is more forgiveable, especially if they're colored sneakers (black, red, baby blue). Sneakers that don't look like sneakers, in other words, I have seen Italians wearing.
9. Don't do the jeans thing, Americans can't do it right. I was there in the winter and I found that black pants not only went with everything, but they blended in nicely with everybody else.
10. Pretend you know what's going on. Just fake it and eventually you'll figure it out.
11. Be polite -- say "buon giorno" when you go into a shop, and "arrivederci" when you leave, and "grazie" for anything.

#11, I think, is the most important one, and one that people forget. Being in another person's country is like being a guest in someone else's house. You don't walk in the door and put your muddy shoes on the furniture (*shudder*). Some of the customs (for example, the not-drinking-from-the-bottle thing) seem totally arational, but it doesn't matter... don't make a spectacle of yourself, just follow the customs; it's polite. Mind you, don't let people walk all over you, either. Italian men especially like to be very, erm, friendly to women. Know when to say "basta cosi!" ("enough! quit it!") In other words, make sure your head is screwed firmly upon your shoulders and you've packed your common sense.

One of the searches asked how not to dress like an American in Italy. Well, following the above tips should be a start. The advice I was given was just to dress up generally, as in a dress-casual senss. That should be enough.