North American culture is quite different to the European culture in many ways. Although everyone is aware that culture varies depending on where you are in the world, travellers still seem to be shocked at the major differences between Florence and the United States. While I do believe spontaneity is key in Europe, you can never do too much research on the place awaiting your arrival. I am here to help you adjust to the everyday life in Florence by giving you a couple friendly warnings on obstacles you may encounter. The following is a list of a few things to be aware of before coming to Florence; this will save you time, money and a whole lot of stress!
1) Breakfast Food. It is this simple- Italians want to fatten us up! Isn’t breakfast supposed to be an important, substantial and healthy meal of the day? In Florence it is next to impossible to find a café that serves eggs, fruit, toast, and/or bacon. Desert for breakfast anyone? There is a large array of fresh pastries lined up along shop windows each morning waiting to the devoured. Here’s my solution- get ahold of any fresh juice shops you can find to get your nutrients; there are a few around the city!
2) Crazy Traffic. Once you arrive in Florence your personal space does not exist. You must be careful in the crowded streets as people will walk in any and all directions, surely cutting you off. You must be extra cautious for the bikes, cars and buses motoring around the city. I often feel drivers are playing the mind game, “how many pedestrians can we scare today”. All in all, my story in Florence goes like this, Bus-1 Me-0. Don’t walk to close to the edge of the sidewalks or the side mirror will clip you!
3) A Late Start. This applies for many things such as store opening hours, dining hours and bar hours. If you arrive at a restaurant around 6 o’clock be prepared to be eating with the company of the people you are with and the staff. In Italy people are arriving for dinner at 9:30 to 10 o’clock. Do not make the mistake of going to a bar/club too early. You will most likely get there and leave before any Italians have even arrived! Between 1 and 2 is when bars begin to pick up.
4) No One-Stop-Shops. One girl came into the office looking for a Walmart. Although it is a funny question to ask in Europe, there is actually nothing similar to it! If you need to run errands allow yourself double the time you would in America. You will likely need to walk all around town and hit at least 3 to 4 shops.
5) Waving down the Bus. Who knew there was a specific way to hail a bus, isn’t standing by the bus stop sign enough! Here is the trick- you must hold you hand down low and wave. If you hold your hand up high, there is a good chance the bus will pass you. I know this is very technical, but it is something one must be aware of!
6) Coffee. Italians drink their coffees very differently. First of all, the coffee is never scorching hot. With the very hot weather you would think that they would serve iced coffee but Italians have something against cold milk. You will also not find any flavored syrups to add to your coffee’s- that’s right no caramel or vanilla lattes! A final tip, if you order a large coffee you will get one espresso shot and a lot of milk. You must clarify you would like two espresso shots.
7) Expression and Hand Gestures. If you are travelling to Italy for only a short period of time you may not have the desire to learn the language. Thus you may try to survive off hand gestures and tone of voice to understand the direction of the conversation. This in fact will only confuse you more! Italians may seem angry with their arms flailing in the air, yet they are simply debating on a very insignificant point.
8) Hours of Operation. If you are anything like me and have a very irregular eating cycle you should keep in mind the hours of operation of all cafes and restaurants in Florence. For example, the well-known Gusta Pizza is closed from 3 to 7pm each day! To avoid being a disappointed and hungry traveller, use the Internet to research the restaurant before you go.
9) Water. This will seem insane to most Americans and Canadians but yes, it is true, you have to pay for water everywhere you go. In a restaurant they will serve you large glass bottles that you can self- serve from at a cost of around 2 to 3 euros each. Wine is almost cheaper then water, but don’t let yourself get dehydrated!
10) Tipping. At restaurants here there is a cover charge of about 2 euros and up. This serves as the tip for your bill so you do not need to leave any extra money. Some people actually find it offending if you tip more, and this I do not know the reason for. Finally, if you are travelling as a group of students be aware that you cannot split bills. I suggest to always have cash on you in case you are going with a large group of people.