When I first moved to Italy I had to learn all sorts of things that were never a part of my daily rhythm in the States. So if you're planning on moving to Italy sometime soon, here are some things I learned from friends, kind strangers and good ole fashioned trial and error. Also, if you haven't read 10 things you should know before coming to Italy, that should be next on your reading list.
A Practical Look at Life in Italy in 12 Parts:
1. Dishwasher Salt is Not Only a Thing But a Necessity
The water is so full of calcium here that you need salt for your dishwasher (there is specific dishwasher salt, so don't use regular salt) and calcium-fighting tablets for your washing machine. You'll also need to occasionally soak your shower head in vinegar or get one that has rubber where the water comes out and you can just flick off the calcified bits.
2. You Mix Your Own Water in House Paint
If you are painting your house, inside or out, you will need to read the directions on the paint can and mix in water as instructed. Coming from America I had no idea that here in Italy I'd have to mix water into my paint. Boy did that paint come out LUMPY. We eventually figured it out, but it would have been nice if someone told us before we finally read the instructions...who knew? I know what you're thinking, just read the instructions before you paint! Well, there's never been instructions before so I didn't realize there even WERE instructions.
3. The Word "Prego"
The word "prego" is used for farrrr more than just "you're welcome". For example, if you walk into a bar to order your morning coffee, you may have the barista look at you and say "prego" in this case it would mean how can I help you? In other cases, someone could say "prego" when letting you pass them on a crowded sidewalk or maybe you only have 1 item to buy at the grocery store and the person in front of you has a lot so they say "prego" so you can go first. I could go on and on but it's used in a lot of different circumstances so don't be confused.
4. The Personal Bubble Is Non-Existent
Ah, the personal bubble. It truly doesn't exist here. People will be all up in your business while waiting in line because if you leave the tiniest space it will somehow be exploited and someone will slide in front of you. So don't be alarmed when you can practically feel the person breathing on your neck, they don't want someone cutting in front of them either. I've seen several people exchange words if they see someone cut. It's serious business. Of course, always stay alert especially when on public transportation because even though this is the norm, I've seen a man try to pickpocket someone on a crowded bus just because it's not weird to be all up in each other's business.
5. Weigh Your Own Fruits and Veggies
I've mentioned this one before in 10 things you should know before coming to Italy but it bears repeating. If you are buying fruits or vegetables from the supermarket you will need to weigh them ahead of time and print out the sticker using the number associated with the product and stick it on the bag yourself. I have only ever been to one supermarket that weighed them at the register. Everywhere else you must provide a price beforehand or it will just get set aside or someone will need to run and (unhappily) price it out for you.
6. Dialects Are Like Another Language
The dialects might as well be another language. In Salerno we will primarily hear Napolitano and I already know my Italian is bad but my goodness...I don't understand one word of what people are saying! So sure, learn Italian, of course, but you will also probably start learning your region's dialect as well that you can really only use in your region.
7. You Need Comfy Walking Shoes
You will walk a lot. The first few weeks here my legs were twitching every night because my muscles weren't used to walking almost a mile roundtrip just to get groceries. I think that's the Italian secret to staying fit. They might carb load with tons of pizza and pasta but people are walking everywhere all the time! Especially if you live in a city center. It's both a blessing and a curse depending on if you have to run to a bunch of different stores that day or just going out for a stroll on a sunny day.
8. The Trash Schedule is Intense
We take out a different kind of trash daily. While, yes, it can be a bit of a pain in the butt when you live in a 4-story walkup, I really appreciate the emphasis on recycling here. We have 4 different trash cans in our house, all dedicated to different trash, and once you get used to it, it's great! The only thing that doesn't just go immediately downstairs at the doorstep is glass. There are giant receptacles around the city where everyone dumps in their glass. In case you're wondering, our trash schedule is as follows:
9. The Public Bathrooms are Well, Memorable
Yikes. Ok, I feel like I could write a novel about public bathrooms in Italy but here are a few highlights. Most of the time, there is no toilet seat. Also, it's a gamble if there will be toilet paper so I like to keep some napkins or something in my purse just in case. There are a myriad of different ways you can flush the toilet so it's always a surprise. Sometimes it's an easy push button on the wall, sometimes it's a smaller push button that you have to like pump and then hit it harder, sometimes it's a button on the floor you push with your foot, and other times there's like a string handle you pull. Never boring, right? Also, you will most likely have to pay if you're not eating in a restaurant. Oh, and whatever you do, DON'T use the bathrooms in the metro stations. The ones in Rome are nast-ay. The Roma Termini Train Station on the other hand are actually quite nice since you pay to use them.
10. Cell Phone Plans Are Incredible
Cell phone plans are INSANELY cheap. We went from paying $125 per month for 10 gigs of data split between the two of us (and that was with a discount from my company at the time), to €20 per month for 30 gigs of data EACH. This was truly a pleasant surprise! When setting up your phone plan for the first time you will need your passport and you will need to pay a setup fee but it's still nothing in comparison to the American phone plans we had before. We almost fell out of our seats when we saw the prices! If you don't have an Italian bank like us, then you will just need to go to a storefront or Tabacchi and "recharge" your phone each month.
11. If You Invite, Then You Pay
It is common here if you ask friends out for coffee, then you pay for everyone. Also, if it's your birthday and you invite everyone out for dinner, you will also be the one to pay for everyone. When moving here I found this so interesting and was therefore careful to invite people out if I didn't have the budget to pay for everyone.
12. There Are Two Aperitivo Hours Every Day
If you thought happy hour was just for after work, then think again! In Italy they also have lunch aperitivo and I'm 100% for this tradition. Often times this is reserved for the weekends, but we see many people indulging during the week as well. You can sometimes even use the lunch aperitivo AS your lunch because, in most cases, you will receive free snacks along with your drink. Bottoms up!
So there you have it! Just some practical things about life in Italy that I hope help you from having to learn the hard way or stumbling through things that you just don't know that you don't know. Because there will be many, many things that you don't know. If you're looking for some vacation ideas to give yourself a breather or a pat on the back for just surviving, here are some trips around Europe to take a peek at.