Travel,  Travel Advice

Ways Italians Will Know You’re an American

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I am proud to be an American.  From sea to shining sea, whenever anyone asks me where I am from while I'm abroad, I always proudly tell them the beautiful sunshine state of Florida.  I admit though, lately with all these "Florida Men" I will sometimes just say the States!  There are some out there though who should be ashamed they are from the United States.  I'm talking to you Mr. Norts & New Balances - you're giving me a bad rep.

Clothing - Let's look at a fashion mag before we travel, shall we?

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Proper daytime attire.

Italians dress nice.  Looking fashionable and clean is a very important cultural factor. You can tell an American 100 feet away just by the way they are dressed, and American students tend to be even more noticeable.  Americans usually dress everything down, OR they try too hard.  In Italy, both the men and the women look nice and fashionable, but in a relaxed and "I did this in 5 minutes" kind of way.
Dead giveaways for American students?  Wearing gym clothes EVERYWHERE.  I understand your norts and frat tanks are comfortable, but so is a sundress with a comfortable pair of flats.  Try and blend in with society by dressing up a little bit. Throwing on something nicer won't take you any longer to get ready in the morning.  As a bonus, you'll always be ready for pictures, along with being socially conscious.

Night out attire is another dead giveaway for study abroad students.  Too little clothing in general, especially when it's cold out, coupled with a lack of modesty is like holding a sign over your head saying "Hello!  I am naive of cultural norms and American." If you don't know how to dress, just wear a lot of blacks.  It goes from day to night easily, and always matches.

I'm not saying drop American attire completely, but maybe leave the Greek letters at home.  Read my blog on how to dress in Italy here and check out my Italy Packing Guide!

Shorts

I know I just went on a rant about clothing, but this is a separate issue altogether.  A major giveaway of Americans in Italy is wearing shorts.  Italians quite honestly just don't wear shorts.  It's part of their whole "non si fa" (we don't do that) thing.  I will admit, there are some days in August where I hang up my pride and take out the shorts because it's just too hot. But as a rule of thumb, it's only because I know I'm not going anywhere important.    Not to mention if you're traveling and seeing new sights it's better to avoid shorts anyway, because you won't be able to get into any churches.

Traveling in Packs

11267248_10204400856757700_339345867_nLike men's confusion as to why women go to the restroom in pairs, I am forever baffled why packs of American students stampede down the streets together.  If you don't want people to think you're American, don't parade down the streets of Florence in a pack of 7-15.  When I walk alone people greet me in Italian, but if there are more than 2 other Americans with me, everyone instantly knows.
Hanging out with other Americans is totally acceptable, but you didn't come to Italy to meet Americans, hopefully.  Branch out and meet new people, size your group down and be able to focus on a core group of people and meeting new locals.

Sheer Volume

This goes hand in hand with traveling in packs- the more people, the louder.  Americans as a whole greet each other loudly (and the women in high pitches), and the longer period of time spent together, the progressively louder.  I'm fairly certain that you could drop an Alien in the middle of Florence who couldn't recognize English, and they would be able to tell a group of American students apart just by the sheer volume in their voices.

"In America"

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Shorts and backpacks are acceptable when you're hiking!!

"In America", the french fries are so much better.  I miss all the Starbucks "in America".  The taxi drivers are so much safer "in America".  "In America", the customer service is so much better.  I miss the way McDonald's tastes "in America".  I miss eating chicken wings "in America".I miss this about being "in America".  I miss that about being "in America".
There are a bunch of things that are in America, and some may even be better than they are here.  The point of coming to this country is to notice all of these differences but to accept them as they are and learn from them.  The point isn't to continually complain about how you can't get your double whipped iced mocha soy latte (or something), but to learn how to order coffee in Italian like a boss.

Wearing Backpacks

Please for the love of God invest in a cute tote bag to take to classes.  I understand a backpack is more comfortable, but if you want to blend in, this is one of the biggest beacons you could have.  As a bonus, again you're always photo-op ready!

Abrasiveness

Please, do not walk up to any given Panino counter and demand a sandwich.  If you aren't sure about how to order a coffee in a coffee shop, stand back and watch the locals order, then make your move.  Italians see Americans as aggressive and demanding, which we are, so try and take a more laid back approach to everything and it will make your experience here a lot more pleasant.  Just don't be so balls-to-the-wall about everything.

Asking Ridiculous Questions

"Why do they speak Italian here instead of English?"
There are no stupid questions only stupid people.  Not really.  Everyone asks a dumb question here and there but please, open your mouth before you speak because a  question like that would only be asked by an American.

Rushing Through Everything

Americans are always going go go go go!  I am guilty of this myself, and one of the best things living in Italy taught me was how to slow down.  It's normal for dinner in Italy to take several hours.  It's also very normal to not be served right away, for lines to take forever and for a general lack of organization.  One time I had to wait a month in the middle of summer to get my AC fixed in my apartment. Accept the fact that things are NOT going to happen in a timely fashion in Italy.  If the train is late and you miss your connection, do NOT cause a hissy fit.  Be firm, nice, and stand your ground when asking for a change of tickets, but don't go in there demanding things.  Everything runs a little late in Italy, and that's just something you have to take in its stride and learn to enjoy.

Inability to Handle Alcohol

Europeans drink socially.  Americans drink to get drunk.  In Italy, if a 16-year-old goes out to dinner with her family, the restaurant is not going to card her for having a glass of wine with her family.  It's just what is expected.  Families drink with their children from a young age, and youths grow up seeing this as a privilege and something to do in a social situation.

Not knowing what to order, or how to order is another dead ringer for a study abroad student who has never drank before.  Whenever anyone orders a "Sex on the Beach", you know they're new to drinking (hint, this goes for when you're in America too).

Get drunk if you want, and enjoy your time abroad, just also know that it will set you apart from the Europeans in the area.

Ridiculous food Assumptions

When you eat out at restaurants you will order pizza from time to time.  There are often 20 different types of pizza to choose from.  This is NOT pizza to be shared.  If you attempt to share this pizza, you will be shunned.

Also, Americans lets get over the parm obsession.  Look I get when you're at Olive Garden, you have the need to drown the horrible flavor of whatever pasta you're eating, but you're not at Olive Garden. You're in Italy.  Unless they offer you the parm (for specific dishes) DO NOT ASK, not only is it weird in their culture, but it's also rude. Oh, and NEVER... I mean NEVER EVER put parmesan on seafood!

Oh and one other mention, chicken alfredo isn't a thing.

Lack of Understanding About Culture, Language, and Country

The amount of students and tourists that come to Italy knowing absolutely nothing about the country is truly astounding.  The fact that people can blindly go across the ocean not knowing a lick of what the other country's cultural norms are or a basic understanding of the geography is genuinely baffling.  Look up common greetings.  If you want into a restaurant at say 6 pm and greet the host with "Buongiorno!" you're probably going to get an eye-roll.

Being Amazed at Everything

What's great about traveling to Europe from the U.S. is that everything here is SO OLD!  In the States, the oldest town in the nation (Saint Augustine, my hometown), is only 450 years old.  That's a baby compared to most things in Italy.  This means that Americans are awestruck (if they're paying attention and not on their phones) by the history, beauty, and antiquity of everything around them.
Just make sure you watch where you're walking on the sidewalks, and hold your purse so it won't get stolen from you while you're in awe!

Smiling/ Greeting everyone

I'm not here to tell you that this is a bad thing.  I love the fact that Americans (especially southerners) tend to greet people they don't know with a "how ya doin'" or a smile.  However, this is a dead ringer for non-Italians.  If you want to blend in, don't make eye contact as you walk down the street.  Sunglasses are your friend and not making eye contact will also allow you to not be bothered by people trying to sell you things on the street who know you are a tourist when you are staring.

 

Did I miss any dead giveaways for Americans? Let me know in the comments below!

5 Comments

  • Donigan Merritt

    I see a lot of these articles about how not to look like an American or a tourist in Italy, and they usually seem about half right, like this one. I live in Trastevere (Rome), and during summer Italians wearing shorts and tee-shirts is common. I see businessmen in suits walking with backpacks, although admittedly cool-looking backpacks. There is a high school near my flat, and you could take the kids I see milling around in front and drop them onto a high school campus in, say, Des Moines, and they wouldn’t look out of place. Also, a good many of the plastered kids I see in Piazza Santa Maria at night are Italian kids, and they are so drunk they can hardly walk. (The rest are mostly students from nearby John Cabot U.) Regarding traveling in packs, Italian young people always, always travel in huge groups, and speaking of loud, Italians are the loudest people of any country I’ve lived in — including Argentina, Mexico, Germany, and South Africa.

    The rest of your piece seems largely accurate.

    • Sydney Zaruba

      Hi! Thank you so much for your reply!

      As always there are exceptions to every rule. My observations are from Florence mostly, which is significantly smaller than Rome population wise, so I get to see all of this at a much smaller concentration.

      I too have seen Italians wearing shorts and tees, my boyfriend does it all the time- but the style is significantly different than the American shorts and t-shirt combo. Italian men tend to wear their shorts tighter, ripped, and below the knee. I have a hard time imagining any Italian highschooler I’ve ever met looking at place in an American high school, regardless of how American they attempt to dress. As for the women, you would be hard pressed to find a female over 21 in Florence wearing shorts. The younger ones I see doing it in the hotter months, and it’s still with an Italian flare, even though it tends to mimic an American style.

      The backpacks, yes, you are right! I do see Italians wearing them, though it is rarer, and again, in a different style than the American student on their way to school backpack.

      And as for the loudness, traveling in packs and drinking. I have this discussion several times a day with people at work, and sadly Americans are shaping the way Italians, and especially young ones, drink. Bar crawls were banned in Florence a few years ago because Americans would bar hop in groups of 200 or more, wreaking havoc on the town with their drunkenness. Not only was it terrorizing the city, but Italy, and Florence in particular, has noticed a huge change in the drinking habits of young Italians in the past few years, and this is believed to be partly because of the American influences here in Italy. I agree, Italians are loud and I have spent many a good night in Santo Spirito watching loud drunks. Italians are loud. But from my observations, I have seen Italians gathering at one place, not so much pack travelling together.

      As I said in the beginning, there are exceptions to every rule, not that my post are rules by any means, just the observations of an expat who has some time on her hands. Thank you so much for your feed back, I hope you find my reply helpful.

  • wendy aronica

    Thanks for all the info, but your tone and presentation were off putting. Sardonic, sarcastic, uppity. Must be the American in you! I do not disagree with any of your information, I have 2 adult children who live in Europe and your observations are quite astute. Your tone bordered on rude.

  • Kaitlyn

    Hi! I am going to Salerno to study abroad for about 5 weeks in May. I want to blend in and look nice when I go to class, or on an excursion. I am a college student, so all I really wear is shorts/t shirt/ leggins/ tennis shoes. Do you have any website/store suggestions for clothing? Also, comfy, yet fashionable shoes?

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