Italy: What I Learned


Learning Experiences While Traveling: Every Trip is Educational

I try to look at everything as a learning experience. Whether I actually follow that philosophy depends on the day, but generally I try to take life as it comes and learn from everything that I can. While in Italy in February, I tried to learn as much as I could about Italian culture and life. After all, this would help me make my decision between Italy and France. And while some of these experiences may be frustrating at times, I just found them comical. Being from France, I try to think of myself as educated in some European-isms, but every now and then the cultural differences sneak up on me. Now I am trying not to stereotype here, just observing characteristics that were present in both cities at that time of year. And instead of letting a little bit of culture shock get the best of me, I tried to embrace it or just laugh it off. They say the best way to experience the culture is to take part in its activities, so here is my attempt to take part in them.

Cutting off Medusa's Head, Florence

Nap Time

In both of the places I stayed, both said that you needed to be quiet in the afternoon from 2-4pm. Why afternoon quiet hours? I mean I didn’t even plan on being in my hotel from 2-4pm, so why does it even matter? Then I realized that it was the siesta hour. I’ve heard how Southern Europeans do this, but I’m from the north and never thought much about it. And it is legitimately a thing. Shops were closed. Churches. Museums. All closed around this time. I guessed that I was going to have to follow this rule just because I was running out of activities because of these closures! But man can they stay up late, no wonder they need naptime. I learned how the siesta is not just a myth and actually enjoyed taking a break for a while in the middle of the day to stop and smell the roses.


Crosswalks are more like guidelines than actual rules (sorry Pirates of the Caribbean that I twisted that line a bit). Waiting for the light to flash for you to cross takes forever, so most locals just cross when they can. If they anger a person on a Vespa in the process, oh well! In Italy, I don’t know who has the right away, pedestrians or cars, because if you happen to find yourself in a crosswalk with no light, be prepared to wait for the coast to be clear or make a mad dash across the street. The cars rarely stopped for anyone, which is why I really do question what the laws say about priority. Jaywalking is also very popular; in fact, I think tourists are the only ones that use crosswalks on smaller streets. On larger streets, like it Rome, no one really has the option to cross in anything other the crosswalk unless they are training for the Olympics by playing a game of Frogger. Move over Chariots of Fire, we got some serious running to do. So instead of waiting forever for the light, you just have to be alert, pay attention, and cross the street. When in Rome, do as the Romans do.

Flame for the Unknown Soldier, Rome

Lines and Rules

A language barrier is hard. Bringing in your ideas of how things are run is harder. A word of advice, when in Italy, forget what you know about forming lines and just try to decipher the hidden message. At termini station, don’t form a line, pull a number and wait for it to be called. When in line for a museum, make sure that you are in the right one and don’t think of asking for directions in just a random one. When standing in line, make sure you don’t crowd the person in front of you and stand behind whatever marker they asked for. These rules are not that hard once you get used to them, but figuring them out is a process that will probably earn you a few glares. Or at least this is what I, and quite a few other tourists, experienced in my week. My favorite was Termini station where instead of forming a line, we just crowded around the monitors, hoping that our number would be up there. I don’t know how clumps of people are more efficient, but it’s just the way things are. Thanks to the rules lost in translation, or culture, I learned how to navigate the rules in Italy and how to get by on my own when I have no clue what is going on. Oh and not to make assumptions about forming lines.


Now I didn’t exactly fully take part in this experience. But I did stand around and watch, and laugh, a lot, but quietly to myself. I didn’t want to be the lady laughing madly in the middle of a protest all by herself. But I digress. While in Florence, right in the Piazza della Signoria, there was a protest about something that I did not understand. Those Italian words were not in my guidebook. I at first thought it was a parade because of their use of drums and whistles. But then I realized that they had a bunch of signs and looked angry, so that is when I assumed it was a protest. All us tourists were so intrigued that we stood around, from a distance, and watched what was going on. The Italians looked unfazed and continued on their day. But to us, this was new. In Rome, it was an even larger affair. Not only were streets blocked off, but police were ready with their riot gear. I don’t know what they were protesting, but there were a lot of angry people that couldn’t cross the street. They once again had whistles and drums and they marched around with flags saying what they were protesting for. At first I wondered if I should be careful since a protest this big could get ugly. But then I looked to the policemen and they looked disinterested. They were smoking and chatting and their riot gear was casually strung across them or laying on the ground. Clearly there was no present danger. The situation turned out to be very comical because of the police reaction. I already knew that protests were a common occurrence, I am from France after all, but it was funny to see them in person and watching reactions.

A Rainy Morning in Rome

Bad Weather

Now I do know that bad weather really does affect people’s moods and it can be a serious issue. But it seemed that everywhere that I went, whenever bad weather struck, people would complain that it was such an awful day. Both hotel managers stated that their day was going to be bad because of the weather. It was the middle of February, isn’t a little bad weather normal for this time of year? Well it is, but doesn’t mean they don’t want it to be summer all year round. I really saw the cities during these rainy days because only tourists were out. We don’t mind! In fact, if you really don’t want rain, please send it to California since we are having an extreme drought! Now I come from France where my relatives raised me with the idea that if you leave a window open and it’s cold it is bad for your health. So different attitudes about weather just make me laugh. It’s funny to know that Italy is also on board the weather train.


Smoking is like an art form in Italy. A lot of them roll their own cigarettes, taking their time to make the perfect smoke. Now even with the new laws prohibiting smoking within certain areas, that has not seemed to deter them. While waiting for the train, I watched people standing over the no smoking sign and light up cigarette after cigarette. If you thought standing near that sign would save you from the pungent smoke cloud, you are sadly mistaken. No sign seemed to deter the smokers. Even the police and shop owners would just step out and smoke where they were not "allowed" to. While waiting in line in a fairly enclosed area, such as a the Uffizi Gallery, you are still subject to the smoke. So while countries are encouraging people to cut back on smoking or being for mindful, it seems that Italy is doing just that: encouraging. 

Graffiti in the Circus Maximus, Rome


Another art for in Italy is graffiti. Part of the wonder is figuring out how they even get paint on the nooks and crannies of things. Or how high they can reach. Nothing, except maybe national monuments, is safe from this style of art. And some of it truly is an art form! And then sometimes it is just marking someone's territory. Where I am from, if you see graffiti, it means that you are in a bad area, but in Italy, I saw some in even in "good" areas. Of course the "bad" areas were plastered, but the good had their fair share. This made me wonder if they had a different attitude about it and if efforts to conceal it is not as important as here in the US. In one of the art capitals of the world, it is only fair that it is welcoming, or at least tolerating, of all forms of art.

I have to say, some of the things that could frustrate people about Italy just made me appreciate it’s beauty even more! It gave me a good laugh in the case of the police responding to protests or the locals dealing with the weather. It gave me some exercise when crossing the streets. Kept my mind sharp and alert when trying to learn their rules. And had me stop and take a moment to appreciate and reflect on everything thanks to the naptime. While I learned a lot about Italy, what I really learned that when traveling it is best to just embrace the culture, not matter how different, and get the whole experience.

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