There are always many differences when you go abroad, and you tend to notice them more when you’re living somewhere, as you’re able to pick up the subtle changes in every-day life and cultural quirks. Some things I’ve noticed so far:
-You have to take the menu completely literally. My roommate Chelsea has had some bad luck with this: She ordered “grilled cheese with ham,” without the ham…and what came was a huge chunk of- literally- grilled cheese (no bread, nothing else, she thought she was ordering a grilled cheese sandwich). We decided that the ham must have been the main part of the entree, because the waitress had given her a funny look when she asked for no ham.
- The same thing goes for salads. In the United States, a salad typically means a bed of lettuce with toppings and a dressing of sorts. In Europe, a salad just means that it’s a chopped up vegetable. I.E., a tomato salad is simply a chopped up tomato. No dressing, nothing else. So you can order a tomato salad for 2 euro, or buy it for 25 cents, and cut it up yourself.
- Even brands we’re familiar with are different in Europe. Coke tastes different (I think better) and they don’t have Diet Coke- they have “Coca Lite” which tastes infinitely better than Diet Coke. Kellogs Frosted Flakes taste different. Paprika Pringles. Fanta Orange. Orange soda–Aranciata– tastes more like Orangina than it does orange soda, and I like it a lot better.
- While we’re on the topic of food…there’s about a million different types of bread here. And pasta. And cheeses. Like most of Europe, specialty shops are more common than supermarkets (though they do exist), and when you go to a bakery, or a pastry shop, or a formaggeria (cheese shop), or an enoteca (wine shop), you have hundreds of choices in front of you. Needless to say, I’m becoming an expert.
- The portions are smaller (not that anyone could beat the United States in terms of portion size). You go to a pasticceria and the canoli are about an inch and a half long…though, I must say, to DIE for…and the servings of gelato are all smaller, as well as pasta, etc. You get all you need and nothing more.
- Speaking of gelato- it’s AMAZING- but if you don’t know what you’re ordering, you’ll end up more often than not with alcohol in your ice cream (rum, liqueur, irish cream). If this really isn’t your thing, then avoid anything with “nonno” in the name (it means grandfather) or a fancy sounding dessert name, like tartufo.
- The pizza here is the best I’ve tasted anywhere. Hands down. Also, the cookies. Not your typical American cookies, but ridiculously delicious, and addictive. Oh, and they eat eggs benedict on Easter. I know we used to make it for Dad on Father’s Day, but I think we should all have it on Easter this year.
-The thought of “no-fat” or “skim milk” horrifies Italians. They may have reduced fat or lite, but that’s rare too. You will never find no-fat anything…everything is natural, and they like keeping it that way. The milk we drink I think is probably equivalent to 1.5% in the U.S. and is the lowest fat milk we can find. But because everything is natural, you will never find trans-fats or things with ridiculously high sodium content or preservatives.
- The lack of preservatives means that the best foods are the ones “in season.” I’ve always heard the term, but never really payed attention to it when food shopping in the United States, because everything is available all the time. Right now in Italy carrots and oranges are in season, and I must say…they are AMAZING. I’ve never eaten so many carrots in my life. Also, oranges have red “blood” splotches in the middle (a little disconcerting the first time you cut into it) and egg yolks are orange, not yellow.
- American pop-music plays EVERYWHERE, from the fanciest restaurant to the supermarket to the bakery across the street. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard “Delilah” or “How to Save a Life.” I guess that’s not much different from the United States, except that we don’t play pop music in the fancy restaurants, as we typically like to set the ambience. I was in the supermarket the other day and Cupid’s Chokehold came on…literally EVERYONE in the supermarket started singing it. I have no idea if they knew what they were singing, but they knew the words, and were singing along. This one little old lady saw me laughing and abruptly stopped singing, but I smiled and started singing it too, so she started singing again and we were just singing along together.
- Fashion is one of the most crucial parts of Italian culture. Everyone dresses up, all the time. You can tell the Italian and the American teachers at the school apart very easily- everyone dresses nicely, but the Italians dress stylishly. Their shoes and purses always match. They have the cutest clothes. Americans really do stick out like sore thumbs here…tennis shoes, Uggs, hoodies, etc. My teacher told us the first thing they look for is if our shoes and purse match. And the shoes- oh the shoes! I wish I had about 100,000 more dollars to spend.
-They never wear sweats out in public. Period. I was getting stares when I ran to the supermarket in sweatpants and a hoodie to buy some medecine while I was sick. A couple of my roommates decided to wear flip-flops on a nice day and they were getting some odd looks, too.
-They don’t exercise, typically. They’ll walk their dogs, play soccer or take a stroll on a nice day, but it’s very rare to see anyone running/exercising like we do in the U.S. My roommate Amanda runs quite a bit, and she says people will cheer her on when she runs by. When we were in Sperlonga, we thought we were missing the last bus out of town, so we all had to sprint after it as it drove away, and everyone on the street cheered us on then, too. It’s quite interesting.
Well, that’s all for now!