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Florence: Italian American Style

Florence: Italian American Style

Andrea L. DiCamillo (December 8, 2008)

My parents also decided to come with me to make sure I was settled in my new apartment. Classes didn’t start until September 1st, so I wanted to spend some time with my parents and travel before school would take precedence over my social life. I was able to take the short train and bus rides to Pisa, Bologna, Siena, San Gimignano, and Venice, and yes—I was even able to take some touristy snapshots while there!


Even though I am Italian American, I’ve never actually had the opportunity to live in Italy—I’ve only spent my time in America.  Because this is my first immersion into European culture, I want to devote some time once a week to a diary so that I can remember my entire year here.  Since I know there are other Italian Americans who haven’t had the opportunity to

face our European counterparts, maybe my experiences can resonate with all of you, Europe through the eyes of a so-called outsider.  (By the end of this year, I hope to become an insider, of course).

Since I haven’t had the chance to write all my thoughts down every week the past month, I’d like to sum up what’s been happening.  I’ve broken it down into a few sections: 1) some quick recommendations (that I’ve experienced so far) of restaurants, bars, and other things to do while visiting or vacationing in Florence, 2) learning endeavors, and 3) the differences I’ve noticed between (Italian) American culture and European Italian culture.  Allora…


  1. Bars: La dolce vita, Joshua Tree, and Public House
  2. Clubs: Central Park (has a cover, but that comes with your first drink)
  3. Stores: La Rinascente, Coin, Guess, Zara, and Stefanel
  4. Restaurants (some expensive—I only ate there with my parents): La Giostra, Grillo Parlante, Le Fonticine, Acqua al 2, Borgo Antico, Migone for delicious pastries and torrone out of the usual Christmas season (perhaps the only store to sell the torrone off-season during the summer), Il Triangolo delle Bermude and Festival del Gelato for some great gelato

Learning Endeavors

  1. I met a very nice tour guide on one of my tours to San Gimignano and Siena, who was eager to speak to me about her opinions of America.  As we were traveling down a highway, she told me, “You must miss the United States when traveling!  I mean, you don’t have terrible roads like we have here in Italy.  This road is horrible.”  I looked out the window on the road that had virtually no potholes in it on a rather smooth ride the entire way there.  She considered this road to be in disrepair?  While the roads in the United States she thought were superior?  Obviously she must never have been to Staten Island, where on every car ride you’re bound to hit at least two or three potholes and “bottom out” the front of your car.  She was actually shocked to hear that no, American roads are absolutely awful, and American bridges need a lot of work done too.  It’s difficult to maintain roads and bridges in a country that is so large like the United States.  After a while, our conversation moved towards wines and olive oils (since we had just done a wine tasting and olive oil smelling while in Siena).  I told her how sad I would be when I would have to go back to the United States after a year, to not be able to enjoy the same kinds of wines, olive oils, and other delicacies here.  She again was dumbfounded—she was under the impression that the United States could buy whatever it wants.  But unfortunately for us Americans, Italy does not ship out the superior quality stuff.  They keep that for their own consumption (and rightly so!)
  2. Slang/Vocabulary: My favorite (and most useful) section!
  • Mega festa (a big party)
  • Scatenarsi (to party)
  • Ci siamo capite/i (we’re on the same page)
  • Fuori di testa (crazy)
  • Un 10 per l’impegno (A for effort)
  • Prendere una decisione (to make a decision)
  • Dispensa (course reader)
  • Non fare tardi (to not be able to stay out late)
  • Conoscerti meglio (get to know you better)
  • Stammi bene (take care)
  • Feste su feste (party after party)
  1. Italians are eager to bond with non-Italians.  This goes without saying.  European Italians love it when a non-Italian is fascinated with their culture and language.  I noticed this when I first met my landlords, an old Florentine couple.  I told them I was studying Italian because it was something I loved and that I wanted to get back in touch with my Italian roots, and they were thrilled.  “Questo mi fa tanto piacere [This makes me so happy],” my landlord Paolo said.  But I’ve noticed this mentality everywhere else, when I tell shopkeepers or waiters that I’m from America coming here to learn more about Italian culture and literature.  In restaurants, for instance, as soon as the waiter finds out I’m American, they flatter me by saying that I speak “un ottimo italiano [excellent Italian]” and always manage to bring out something for free, whether it be a limoncello, caffè, or a free dessert.  I’ve made lasting friendships with two particular waiters at a restaurant (Il Grillo Parlante) and gelato place (Il Triangolo delle Bermude): at Il Grillo Parlante, the waiter, Ugo, has told me that if I ever need any help, he would be glad to lend me a hand in any way (and always give me some sort of discount and free dessert), and at Il Triangolo delle Bermude, the owner gave me and my parents his phone number to call him when they’re back in Italy so we can stay at his house.  Not only did he give us his number, but he also brought his entire laptop out of his house to help my parents schedule their next flight back to Italy to come visit me. 
  2. The Florentine accent.  Ah, the infamous Florentine accent that I’ve heard so much about.  They pronounce their “c’s” as “h’s,” so it’s sometimes a bit difficult to follow if they speak too quickly.  They pronounce their “q’s” quickly too.  My landlords were my first interaction with this accent.  As Paolo told me, “una hoppia greha (coppia greca, Greek couple)” lived in my apartment before me.  Hoha-Hola (Coca-Cola) anyone?
  3. Some good Italian music.  I think besides the American imports that are really popular here, the Italian music is great!  My favorite songs I’ve heard so far this summer are Ligabue “Il Centro del Mondo” and Giusy Ferreri “Non ti scordar mai.”  That’s all I’ve heard so far that were Italian.  As a British import, “American Boy” by Kanye West and Estelle seems to be popular and is a catchy tune.

Differences and Other Lessons Learned

  1. Dinners last anywhere from two or three hours, even in a trattoria.  In the United States, a dinner could be as short as ten minutes, but could be as long as an hour or so (depending on how fancy the place is).  But Italians never rush with anything—they will come over and take your order when you seem ready, cook the food fresh for you, and make sure you enjoy your dinner as much as possible.  And the food they serve you is always the best quality and freshest products, especially their seafood!  As I’ve seen other tourists do, avoid the common pitfall of asking for butter with your bread.  Bread is intended to be enjoyed with your meal and not as an appetizer slopped with butter, as we typically do in America.
  2. Dress to impress.  Italians will never wear shorts and will almost always wear designer clothes—even to the gym!  And their eye glasses are super trendy and always chic (and designer, of course)!  In order not to stand out, I had to learn not to wear shorts, even on those blistering hot Florentine days where the temperature creeps up into the 100’s.  I preferred fitting in, rather than standing out, even though it was tempting to wear as little clothes as possible because of the heat.
  3. Italians must be some of the most patient people I have ever encountered.  As one example, in the bus depot, I was purchasing a yearly ticket for myself to commute back and forth to school and said the wrong word for it.  I accidentally said I wanted a monthly ticket, so the worker took about 10 minutes making the monthly one.  When he gave it to me, I realized that it was in fact a monthly ticket.  I told him that I made a mistake and if he could fix it to give me a yearly one.  He smiled and said “Non c’è problema [No problem].”  It’s funny because if this incident had been in America (especially in New York), the worker would have rolled his eyes or thrown his arms up in the air to have to re-do it.  It’s weird, but I don’t think I have seen a Florentine get mad or flustered yet!
  4. Americans always say sorry.  For every little thing, it’s “sorry” this and “sorry” that.  Even when you just ask someone a question, it is usually preceded by a “sorry.”  In America, we consider this polite.  In Italy, though, instead of sorry, they say “scusa [excuse me].”  So scusa is pretty much equivalent to the way we use the word sorry.  When Italians do say “mi dispiace [I’m sorry],” they actually mean it, such as if a relative dies.
  5. Italians like “fillers” like we do.  In America, our preferred word of choice is the word “like:” “It’s like so hot out here,” “I like need to get home to study,” “There are like three pieces of chicken in this soup,” etc.  It’s particularly popular among the younger generations.  In Italy, their “fillers”—words that fill in conversation—are magari (perhaps), quindi (however), comunque (however), senti (listen), insomma (in conclusion), guarda (look).  I realized that in order to speak like an Italian, it was necessary to learn those words!
  6. Clothing sizes in stores are much smaller here as opposed to America.  Enough said. 
  7. In restaurants, the coperto (cover charge) and servizio (service charge/tip) are already included in the bill, so Italians don’t really tip, unless the service has been exceptional.  I was tipping the waiter when I first got here, but slowly started to learn that tipping isn’t necessary, since it’s included.
  8. Don’t walk around alone late at night.  Just don’t do it.  This was something I learned very quickly.  I have now saved money to take cabs if I’m ever out past 2 AM.
  9. Feria and Ferragosto: the vacation time in August for the Italians.  Every store and restaurant will be closed for either the entire month or part of it.  It doesn’t sound bad, but oh boy, does it get frustrating when you’ve been stuck in Florence for the entire month and everything seems to be closed.  And not to mention once a week stores are closed for their giorno per chiuso.  By law, Italian stores have to close one day a week.
  10. The most important lesson I learned: buses are never on time.  The first week that classes started, I had to take a twenty minute earlier bus to ensure that I would get to class on time.  Now that feria is officially over as of September 1st, traffic has become insane and delays your travels even more.  I am always prepared for my bus to be anywhere from ten to twenty minutes late.
  11. The most frustrating experience since I’ve been here was when I had to go to the Questura to register as a non-Italian citizen (straniera).  I waited in line there for 55 minutes, only to be turned away.  The worker told me that I first had to go to the post office to fill out paperwork and then come back when they tell me my appointment date that would be sent to me through the mail.  Right after the Questura, I went to the post office and filled out the appropriate forms (after, of course, being bounced back and forth trying to pay the fees required and finding an open tabaccheria in the middle of Ferragosto to stamp my paperwork). 


As seen with the last four items in the list, I lost my patience quite a few times since I’ve been here.  But before wanting to rip the hair out of my head, I thought to myself: how could I lose my patience in this country when its people are so wonderful and caring (minus the bureaucracy), where everywhere you turn the scenery is breathtakingly beautiful?  The only simple solution in the face of adversity like this is to take a deep breath and smile.  After all, I’m in Italy—I should enjoy it and live the dolce vita like the Florentines.

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