Now that I’ve been here a little over a week, I feel like I can accurately report my first impressions on the culture here and Florence in general .
Italians seem to stress being environmentally friendly. There are recycling bins next to every trash can and recycling dumpsters every few blocks. Utilities are extremely expensive to encourage people to cut down on their use, and most public bathrooms have reusable cloth towels. I have not seen a single SUV; rather, smart cars roam the streets. I even saw a one-person automobile that had three wheels in the manner of a tricycle.
While I’m on the subject of traffic, Florentines are crazy drivers. I’ve nearly been hit several times by vehicles while crossing the street. Yielding for pedestrians is apparently not the norm. They also drive incredibly fast through the narrow, winding streets, and I didn’t think speed limits existed until yesterday when I finally spotted a sign imposing a maximum.
Italians also love their food, and everything I have eaten here has been delicious. Each meal has multiple (large) courses, and dinner usually takes about an hour. Every meal has pasta as the appetizer, and also usually contains bread or potatoes as well — so many carbs! However, I’ve also been eating more vegetables and fruit than normal. Open-air markets set up every morning to sell fresh produce in piazzas throughout the city, and supermarkets are rare. Instead, many shops specialize in meat, cheese, salami, bread, fish or other food products. Women also take pride in their cooking, and to not cook well is considered shameful.
In spite of the enormous amounts of food Italians seem to eat, almost everybody here is in shape. I haven’t seen anyone who qualifies as obese, and the host mother of one of my friends said that she automatically assumes anybody “fat” to be American. Even the elderly keep themselves fit. Nonno and Nonna, for example, take a walk for about an hour every day. Apparently the obesity epidemic is localized to the United States, or at least it hasn’t hit Florence.
Furthermore, I’ve found that I stick out as an American even when I’m not speaking English and I’m trying not to appear foreign. I was sitting on the steps of the Duomo one night with my roommate when an Italian man approached us and started speaking to us in English without inquiring where we were from. We asked him how he knew we were American, and he couldn’t explain. He just knew. Maybe my red-blonde hair and pale skin gave me away, but partly, I think it’s that the European fashion is slightly different in a way I’m not sure I can describe. Most individuals, especially women, dress very well. Two of my friends wore gym shorts and t-shirts during one of the first days here, and they were stared at by passers-by. Nonna wears pearls every day over skirts and dresses. Some women even wear high heels on the cobblestone streets, which are easy to trip on while wearing flat shoes, let alone 3 inch stilettos.
It seems I’ll have to try harder to fit in.