Every experience in a new culture comes with a heavy dose of judgement.

Some more politically correct than me wouldn’t admit to such a thing, but we all know it’s true. Read: 50 Things Americans First Think About Italy

As humans we need to tackle novelty and mold it into a shape that makes sense to us. Our monkey brains need to be able to relate what we’re experiencing to something we already know or else we feel scared or defensive or freak the hell out.

stereotypes like red checkered tablecloths!

stereotypes like red checkered tablecloths!

After the honeymoon stage of culture shock, in which every single thing is absolutely remarkable and perfect – “Taste this cappuccino, it’s perfect!” “Look at that cute old guy on a bike, SO ITALIAN!” – comes the irritation stage, in which every single thing drives you absolutely crazy. The best of expats ultimately accept these things. The worst complains about them their entire life abroad.

The funny thing is that most of the things that tend to bother us are remarkably insignificant. We’re not talking about gun laws or local politics here, but personal body space and sofa styles. Far too often these are the kinds of things that Americans, whether visiting or living in Italy, find simply crazy: 

1. The little cups

It’s like drinking water out of a shot glass.

2. Walls around houses and bars on windows

This comes to make sense over time – there are a lot of burglars in Italy and little legal protection from them – but it can make a neighborhood feel like a fortress rather than a community, and typically baffles Americans on first glance.

3. The lack of window screens

Doesn’t anyone think about the mosquitoes?!

4. Crazy keys and locks

Put the key in, no matter how old fashioned, then proceed to turn one million times to open the door.

5. Shutters


No curtains here. If you don’t want light, close the shutters. Oh, and also close them when you leave the house, when the sun is too bright (to keep the house cool), when it rains (to keep your windows clean) and when it hails (because duh). So many rules!

6. The nonne

Because little old Italian women are notoriously crazy. 

7. Not being able to touch your fruit before you buy it

In a supermarket you can, but at the fruit vendor stall you’re hand will be slapped away. No bruising the fruit!

8. The wait time in restaurants

With Italian servers, ain’t no one getting out of here fast. This is one you’ll learn to appreciate though.

9. Lack of online services

What is this, the Middle Ages?

10. Certain attitudes toward women 

What is this, the Middle Ages?

11. The lax road rules enforcement

senso unico

What speed limit? What road lines? What sidewalk?

12. No dryers

Wah! I miss my efficiently dried and wrinkle-free cotton! This one is based on electricity costs and you’ll get used to it as well. Think of it like saving money and the environment.

13. Incessant staring

Women, men, little old ladies, they will all stare shamelessly. My usual response is to stare back and hold their eyes for a long time, but it’s disconcerting when you realize that even that doesn’t work to put them in their place, they’ll just stare longer and then you’ll be in a weird game of “who blinks first”. 

14. No concept of “waiting in line”

Get ready to scream in the face of a nonna if you ever want to get helped at the post office. They will ditch in front of you, which is fine once or twice, but let me remind you just how many old people there are in Italy…

15. No sense of lines whatsoever

Lines are wavy, their very concept ephemeral in a country like Italy. Your best bet? Remember your basketball moves and box out. 

16. The lack of personal body space

Don’t try backing up, they’ll only move closer. 

17. The non-stop church bells


Sometimes the unique sounds that ignites your love for this wonderful country upon first landing turn into the lighter fluid that burns it up in flames after a few months…or after a night out when you are woken by their incessent ringing…

18. Elaborate rules on digestion

It’s hard to digest lettuce and the skin on raw bell peppers. Onions should be cooked and mushrooms hurt your liver. Lemon sorbetto helps you to digest but even lemon gelato will do if that’s all you have. For sure some things are true, but there are so many digestion rules in Italy it makes my head spin. JUST EAT!

19. The plethora of fake diseases

See: Italian Sicknesses I Never Knew Existed But Now Believe in Wholeheartedly. Besides complicated digestion rules, there’s also the dreaded hit of air, the bathroom problems you’ll have if cold air hits a full stomach and the change of seasons. Yes, the change of seasons. 

20. Most everything. 

Because no two countries are the same and isn’t that great? 


You might also like: 

11 Questions About Italy, Answered
50 Things Italians Think About America
50 Things Americans First Think About Italy

Written by ginamussio

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