What You Need to Understand Before You Move to Italy

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I absolutely love living in this country, but let me just say it is NOT for everyone.  Sure, anyone with a brain, and a relative understanding of European culture, and a knack for travel can come visit, even for an extended stay maybe, but it takes a certain type of person to truly have the gall (and the patience of a saint) to live in Italy.  It can prove a very difficult thing for Americans to adapt to- I see it every semester with the study abroad students in Florence.  It’s a situation where you either love it, or you hate it.  Even when you do love it every second, there are times where you just want to throw Italy off the face of the planet for something or another stupid thing the country has gone and done again (this is where the patience of a saint comes in).  So do you have the aptitude and willingness to live in this amazing country?  Check out my list below to be prepared before you make the move!  (The photos are to encourage you that all of this mental preparation is SO worth it?)img_5074

Everything (YES EVERYTHING) Is Tiny

Thankfully there are not tiny amounts of cheese in Italy

And I say this as a 5’3″ (160cm) female weighing in at 105 lbs (47 kilos)- everything is tiny.  The number of times I hit my head in my second apartment while washing dishes because the cabinets were so low you couldn’t lean over the sink is appalling- even more appalling is I never learned to just not hit my head.  Bathrooms are small, doors are small, the portions (are usually perfect, which is small for Americans), the restaurants are small, the people are small, the sidewalks are unbearably small in cohabitation with the tiny winding streets, and the churches are HUGE…I think that’s something to to with the Vatican….but that’s a whole other story.  
Italy is not made for big people, so if you’re tall, be prepared for ALOT of ducking.

The Visa Process is a Load of Codswallop

The views, on the other hand, are not codswallop!

If you are a student or an EU citizen, consider yourself #BLESSED.  A number of hoops is required to jump through to get a visa on your own is painful, agonizing, and downright ludicrous.  I probably will spend about 5 days – meaning 120 hours- doing Visa BS annually.  For me- my love of Italy and my life here makes it worth it in the end- but it is time-consuming.  Not to mention dealing with the entire process that nobody will ever fully explain- EVER, in English or Italian, makes it that much more lovely.  

I love you Italy, but I do not love your Visa process.  Sorry.  Sincerely, a disgruntled expat.

You Should Never Be Rude

But you can TOTALLY be sassy like this street art lady.

This goes as a general life fact, but when you first move here, especially if you aren’t particularly well versed in the language or culture, try and shy away from being rude.  You should do so in general, but ya know if you want to be rude be rude in the country’s native language.  Apart from being a hooman bean other hooman beans want to be around, Italians will be rude right back at you.  Sometimes they will be rude just because they KNOW you are an American (see how they know here), and though they shouldn’t be since tourism is a main source of revenue here- it’s how it goes.  And when Italians are rude it can sting, and you will get cry like a little baby because you are a soft American who hasn’t been toughened by the European scorn.  Not really, but just being polite makes things easier for everyone.  Once you know some Italian and someone says something rude, you can yell back a few choice words- until then it’s time to play nice. ??

You Have to Make Time to Enjoy the City

I shouldn’t have to tell you to enjoy this!! ?

If you’re a study abroad student, it may seem like you have forever to enjoy the city you are living in, but those 3/4 months will fly by faster than expected.  Make time to go and climb the Duomo (Santa Maria del Fiore), walk up to Piazzale Michelangelo, hike the trail in Fiesole, and see the artwork in the Uffizi.  I know people who have lived in Florence for 15 years and have just within this past month climbed the bell tower to the Duomo.  (If you’re reading this you know who you are…) Don’t leave it all for the last minute (or 2 weeks) you’re in town- because you won’t enjoy it as you would have if you spread it out.  

Water, Heat/AC, Electricity are Expensive and IMPOSSIBLE

Who needs AC when you can apertivo to this view!?!? PC Cristian Diletti

Okay, well forget about the whole AC concept if you’re here in the summer because if your apartment has it, consider yourself highfalutin- and it’s probably not even that spectacular.  Here in the winter?  You can’t turn on the heat until after November 1st usually. 

As for water- pressure is usually less than desired, and it’s pretty harsh on the hair.  The good news is in most of Italy tap water is drinkable! 

Electricity is a completely different beast.  If you have ever lived in an old house, what I’m about to say won’t come as a surprise.  Don’t run more than one appliance at a time.  In my ex-boyfriend’s apartment, we couldn’t run the dishwasher at the same time as the toaster, but the microwave is OK.  Only 1 AC can be on when the stove is on, but no other appliance or the breaker will flip.  In my current apartment as soon as I hear one of my roommates turn on the blow dryer I run to turn off my space heater, otherwise we are all wandering around in the dark for 5 minutes while someone goes to find their phone to light the way to the breaker.  It’s a bit like a game, though exhausting and a little terrifying when the lights go out and you’re in the shower.

Italians tend to be very energy-conscious and turn off lights when they leave rooms and don’t have appliances running unless it’s necessary.  This also means no laundry dryers, so get ready to air dry all your dirty (not really I mean your clean) laundry!

While I’m on the subject of homes- you might want to invest in a white noise maker or a good app on your phone or computer or earplugs!  The walls in Italy are old and thin, which means you can hear everything in your flatmate’s room and on the street below. 

It’s Grazie, not Grazie

David will be mad if you mispronounce it.

It’s all in the pronunciation, and if you can get this one right, you’re already doing better than half of the Americans I hear on the street.  Check out this brief guide to crucial phrases in Italian, and start off your stay on the right track. ?  Prego.

The Grocery Stores are a Blessing within a Curse

Processed with Snapseed.
Which means it’s a good thing there’s always gelato.

While I love how everything in the grocery stores here is cheaper and fresher than in America (seriously, this is amazing)- the trip itself is a curse from the DEVIL HIMSELF.  Jokes aside, you’re going to want a plan of attack, because this is no relaxing stroll through Publix- this is full on war!  Most of the grocery stores (Conad City) are one long zigzagging path through the building that flows in a single direction leading to the check out counter.  Know what you want and need before you go!  Lines are usually painfully long at rush hour, but the ‘Nad will have everything you need.

Pro Tip: When buying fruits and veggies make sure to check the number, take them to the scale and weigh them and get a sticker to put on your bag.  Otherwise, you are going to cause all sorts of hassle at the checkout lane.

Patience is a Great Virtue to Have

When the patience is lacking…the wine is not.

As mentioned before, you have to have a lot of patience to live in Italy- or you will certainly be angry all the time.  Come to terms with the fact that everything takes forever.  Literally everything.  Then if something happens in a reasonable time, be surprised.  Otherwise, it’s gonna be a lot of anxious waiting for you, because regardless of what you do- you WILL have to wait.


If I’ve made you grumpy about living here, maybe read about why it’s so great too! 


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5 thoughts on “What You Need to Understand Before You Move to Italy

  1. One definite reason why I would love to visit Italy is because of the food. Thankfully the cheese isn’t small!!!! And a gelato on a hot summer day is absolutely divine. Somehow I feel that the taste of the original cusine mutates from place to place. Visiting Italy would like putting a brand label on what everything really should be like!

  2. Great tips for those planning to move to Italy. Sounds like a dream to live in Italy, but, like anywhere, I guess there’s always the reality that we have to realise that not everything will be perfect. Also, that gelato looks delicious!!

  3. I can not imagine living somewhere like Rome where it is so very hot without AC. Super grateful I was in a decent hotel and did not experience this electricity problem. On the other hand, Florence is so beautiful I think I could adapt!

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