The Dreaded Culture Shock: Italy Edition

Sydney Boudreau Florence, Italy


April 26, 2023

One thing I was very apprehensive about when coming abroad was the culture shock and language barrier I would experience. I am currently studying in beautiful Florence, Italy, and obviously, the predominant language here is Italian. Needless to say, the language barrier was definitely a worry when planning my study abroad. My advice: don’t stress. You WILL adjust. Come to find out, since this is such a huge spot for study abroad kids and tourists, almost everyone speaks English. Nine times out of ten the locals will know whether or not to speak Italian to you based on how you look alone, props of living in a touristy city I guess.

   But don't get me wrong, language is not the only culture shock you will experience. Things that you wouldn't even think about may come as a shock to you. For me, it was food in general - the kinds of food, what time they eat food, what they drink with the food, tipping at restaurants, etc. The first night my roommate and I went to a restaurant and when it came time to pay we had to google whether or not it was the correct etiquette to tip (it is neither mandatory nor expected). Additionally, in Italy restaurant staff will let you stay for as long as you want, so you need to ask for the check, or you might be sitting there all day. They also eat dinner later, usually starting around 8 PM, so you will have many late nights. 

In terms of the kind of food they eat, in Italy, they are very carb and fat-heavy, which might not sound appealing but with all the walking you will do it doesn't do any damage. They are obviously very much into their pastas, pizzas, and cheese but something I was not expecting was the copious amounts of red meat. You will not find very much chicken, and all of their paninis are made with some type of red meat, so if you don’t like that, you might have to stick to the pizza. Something else that is very interesting is the Italian Menu. It is split into about 5 different sections. For example, pastas are considered a “first course” while any meats are considered a “second course.” The menus here are very well organized which I was not particularly used to. Lastly: Alcohol. Do NOT try and keep up with the Italians. You have to remember they have been doing this for longer than you have and probably have a better tolerance and understanding of how it affects them. Italians drink with almost every meal, and do not feel obligated to do the same, however, a spritz here and there doesn't hurt. 

Those were just some of my initial shocks after my arrival, but as I said, I overcame them very quickly. As stressful and scary as it might be to go to a different country, you will be able to adapt to the new environment - it might just take a little bit of time. I recommend talking to people back home now and then to keep that sense of normalcy if you feel out of place - talking to loved ones always helps. That being said, really try and immerse yourself in the culture, it’s not every day you get to live in a foreign country.