5 Things Italy Did Not Warn Me About

In most American’s minds, life in Italy could only be wonderful and marvelous. We must all be dancing around in the streets with our Fendi bags and pasta forks, waiting for the always-on-time train to whisk us to the blue sea for sun bathing and holidays.

This could not be farther from the truth. Plenty of parts of Italian living are uncustomary, if not outright baffling, even after living here over three years. So to help you in your travels or expat living, here’s a list of 5 things I wish I’d known about prior to moving here:

1. No exchanges, no returns


Forget about returning that pair of boots you’ve realized are too small. There will be no refund on that dress you bought impulsively – the one you were sure didn’t make you ass look like a Jell-o mold. You may, however, exchange it…provided the tags are still attached, AND you still have the receipt. Lose the receipt? You’re out of luck. This ain’t America, hon.

Shop window in Milan, Italy.
Shop window in Milan, Italy.

2. Crazy Driving

It’s no secret that Italians drive like just-released convicts. Drivers don’t hesitate to pull up behind you on the highway and flash their lights in a way that borders on toddler-obnoxious. They fly down roads at amazing speeds or putt along like snails, weaving back and forth like the God-gifted inventors of the Ferrari that they are.

Typical chaotic roadway of Southern Italy (Puglia)
Typical chaotic roadway of Southern Italy (Puglia)

3. Construction Season

There is, indeed, a season for this. Once the snows have melted and the ground has thawed, the construction workers and muratore all across Italy dust off their collective tool belts, jackhammers, and concrete saws, and head out to the nearest wall that needs destroying, roof that needs replacing, or ceramic tile floor that needs amending.

In Torino, one spring, there was even construction at the Egyptian Museum, and it was so death-defyingly loud, we walked out (note: I walked out, and Jason chased after me.)

Workers redoing the roof next door in 2015 (Perugia, Italy)
Workers redoing the roof next door in 2015 (Perugia, Italy)

4. Doctor’s Office Visiting Hours

Socialized medicine has many benefits. The lower cost and fact that it’s available to everyone (despite employment status) is the main one. But in order to keep costs down, certain things have to be sacrificed. Like the convenience of making an appointment at your GP. Instead, you will wait your turn in a waiting room during “visiting hours.” Just like they did in the good old days. Sometimes all afternoon.

You will also keep track of all your visits and results, trekking from office to office with them like a paper porter. And you will not be treated like the delicate, sentient being that you are, but like a child needlessly taking up the doctor’s precious time, all with the low cost attitude of, “Why are you even here?”

Waiting my turn at the doctor's office in Fondo, Italy.
Waiting my turn at the doctor’s office in Fondo, Italy.

5. Coffee Culture

There is an almost cult-like mindset when it comes to coffee in Italy. I can understand the obsession, because it’s arguably the best in the world, but as a tea drinker, I don’t share the preoccupation.

Instead, ordering tea in a bar/café can be like asking for fresh mango in Alaska. You get weird fumbled stares as they try to figure out what you mean. They always bring an entire pot, and with slices of lemon. Lemon? Acid for something that’s already acidic? No, I would like milk — which must be requested.

Every time.

Coffee in Italy.
Coffee in Italy.

What kinds of things blow you away about places you’ve traveled? Or even about the place you live? Share your story in the comments, below, so we can all laugh at how weird the world is!

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