It’s the halfway point in my school year, and I can’t quite believe I’ve been here for nearly four months already. I still feel like a bit of a noob, like I haven’t gone to all the piazzas and museums and places that I’d been planning on going, or at least I thought I would have checked off a lot more places off my list than I have done at this point.
Living here really makes me realize the difference between the pace of a tourist and the pace of day-to-day. I’m used to having jam-packed itineraries and being always on-the-go, because time is so limited and you’re always trying to get the most bang for your buck, especially in a country as expensive to be in as Europe is. But when you’re living here, that go-go-go pace is not really something you can sustain daily. With all my workload from school, the mountain of scholarship requirements I have to submit every month or two, and just all the errands that I need to do regularly, like cleaning the apartment or going grocery shopping or whatnot, there really isn’t as much time or energy for side-trips as I thought I would have.
I do have some small epiphanies/ insights from life in Florence after four months. I don’t know if this is just me or if any of these thoughts are shared by other people at all, but here goes.
1. “Italian time” is something I can’t really stand, but something I have to get used to/ deal with while I’m here. I understand la dolce vita and all that, but seriously, I often feel like I’m the only one with a sense of the transience of life.
2. Somewhat related to #1–Italian customer service kinda sucks. I don’t know if this applies to all customer service experiences in this country, or if they were isolated incidents I was just unfortunate enough to encounter during my time here. As much as I love Italy, Italians could really learn a thing or two about hospitality and client relations from the Philippines. I mean, we’re not the best at it–I’ve definitely had my share of scolding incompetent agents, usually from a telco company, on the phone–but compared to what I’ve encountered here so far, we’re samaritans. We are freakin’ saints. Also, this sort of makes me think that this kind of thing might be a factor in Europe’s economic recession. Maybe. That and the fact that store/ operating hours are ridiculously short, and lunch breaks are ridiculously long.
3. On grocery shopping. Foodstuffs and other household supplies are generally quite expensive. Plastic bags cost a few cents if you don’t bring your own bag, but these plastic bags are also super thin and are not made for sharp items or long hauls with heavy things. I usually just get one if I’m buying raw food that I don’t want contaminating the rest of my stuff. Also, there are no baggers at the end of the cashier line, and the people waiting behind you are hella impatient, so you have to bag your stuff quickly (like right after they get scanned) and pay quickly, and grab your change and your stuff quickly, because I’ve experienced someone cursing at me because I put my wallet back in my bag first and blocked his way for like two seconds. Really? You’re a snail every other time but here in the supermarket you rush like it’s the apocalypse? I really don’t get it. On the plus side, I am becoming an expert grocery-shopping-planner. It helps to have a list of what you need, and placing the items on the conveyor belt in the order in which you want to pack them, so like the bottles of EVOO or balsamico first, and the breads and salads last. And of course bring the appropriate shopping bags and make sure you have enough hands to carry it all. I live on the fourth floor with no lift, so I end up making a few extra trips to the grocery store, spacing out what I need to buy, instead of buying everything in one go. There’s my daily exercise regimen for ya.
4. Lost in translation. I’ve had several experiences wherein I thought the other party was clear on something, but later on it turned out that they did not understand me at all. English is not that widely spoken. Some know a little bit, but I guess not enough because things still get lost in the translation. I’ve been using the app Jibbigo for emergency translation needs, although there are a lot of words that Jibbigo screws up or doesn’t know. In any case, there’s always charades, pointing, and cave drawings.
5. Traveling by bus in the city. For the first twelve weeks, I lived in an apartment that was really far from the city center, so I took the bus pretty much everyday. When I first got here, it took a while to get used to the bus system, because it was really confusing how stops were named and whatnot. For example, a piazza may have two bus stops across the street from each other (one for each direction), but the two stops have different names. At first I thought this was annoying because it made it harder to look for bus stops on the map or online, but I guess it makes sense if you live here and you’re used to it. It just means that instead of naming the stops Piazza A North and Piazza A South or something like that, the names are different for each direction. For example, the Piazza Indipendenza bus stop in the direction coming from train station is called Indipendenza, but the stop in the direction going back to the train station is called Ridolfi (a nearby street), so it was really confusing at first because it makes you think that these are two completely different locations instead of partner bus stops. So yeah, not the best system for visiting tourists, and I still think that the name+direction system is a lot clearer, but whatever works for them, I guess.
6. On greetings. A common notion for tourists is that “ciao“, since it means both “hi” and “bye”, is the universal greeting when in Italy. Apparently this marks you as a tourist :)) “Ciao” is only used as a greeting with people you know, in informal situations. The “ciao” (hi) equivalent for people you don’t know is “salve“, and then you can say “ciao” (bye) after that, or use another Italian greeting like good day or whatever. I haven’t really been able to focus on Italian language studies, what with my insane school workload, but basically: buongiorno (good morning/ good day), buona giornata (have a good morning/ have a good day), buon pommerigo (buongiorno for lunch time/ midday), buonasera (buongiorno for the afternoon and evening), buona serata (have a good afternoon/evening), buona notte (good night but more final, like when parting ways for the day). Also: a dopo (see you later), a domani (see you tomorrow), piacere (nice to meet you). That’s my noob Italian for ya.