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.


At 5:36 AM, Blogger Letters to an Invisible Audience said...

I googled some random words/phrases and came across this post.

I am leaving for Florence in August to study literature for ten months.

I have to admit I was a bit unnerved about your first point about not being blonde. I have long, naturally blonde hair and I have been told by a couple of people (not ones who have been there though--so I think they have no say!) that I will stick out like a sore thumb. Is that true?

As if I'm not apprehensive enough about living in another country speaking a language I am not yet comfortable with, now I must worry about my hair color!

Your other tips were appreciate as well. I knew I would have to give up my shorts (and most of my skirts) and this saddens me. I'm from Southern California so I live in them.

Sorry this is so long, as you can imagine I am excited about the next adventure in my life and love to chat about it! Thanks for posting this though. :)


P.S. I would love to keep in touch, we can gab about studying abroad.

At 12:34 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

You are obviously of the "dumb" blondes as she mentioned. If you had read it, she said its most important that you don't ACT dumb. No one gives a crap about your hair.


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