At this point, I’ve been living in Italy for a little over a month and a half. I’m able to find my way around most parts of Florence without a map, and my Italian is (slowly) improving. The extreme heat has finally subsided: fall arrived with a bang about a week ago when, within 24 hours, the temperature dropped about 30 degrees Fahrenheit.
Otherwise, not much else has changed. Many of my first impressions of the country have only been strengthened. Last year in my Northwestern Italian class, my professor showed us a short animated video on stereotypes of Italy, and I’ve realized that, while it is hilarious, it is also extremely accurate. (Video here.) I can attest to the truth of most of this film from personal experience.
Not only do Italians drive much more quickly and aggressively than Americans, but also they seem to park everywhere. It’s not uncommon to see a car on top of parking lines, on the sidewalk or in the middle of the street. Crossing the street is also an ordeal to which I’ve grown accustomed. Minus one incident where I almost got wiped out by a motorbike, I’ve become a champion jaywalker.
The bus system is my main cause of frustration here in Florence. I live so far north of the center of the city that I need to take a bus almost everywhere. However, sometimes the bus is late. Sometimes it’s early. And sometimes it doesn’t come, period. There have been several times where I’ve waited 45 minutes or longer for a bus to come. This is especially exasperating when there is somewhere I need to be or a train I need to catch. I traveled to Perugia this weekend and, due to a late bus, I sprinted to the train literally minutes before it left.
Italians often do not seem to understand the concept of waiting in line. At a café, whoever can shove up to the front of the counter is served first. Boarding the airplane to Sicily was a free for all, with the crowd surging forward into the bottleneck where boarding passes were checked. Applause is compulsory when the airplane lands. Young people here also smoke much more than in America, and Italians take pride in their coffee: Starbucks is nowhere to be found.
Political rallies, strikes and sit-ins are much more common than I would have thought. Students here have been protesting a cut in school funding. The conditions in some schools are so bad that they can’t afford toilet paper. Students have been attending school but the teachers do not hold lessons. One night last week, I noticed that a street near the Duomo was blocked off, and police wearing neon yellow vests clustered together in small groups. Then I heard drumming. I turned the corner to find hundreds of Italian students marching towards me, carrying banners and candles, chanting, lighting sparklers and setting off smoke bombs. The sight was impressive. I picked up a flyer that one of the students had dropped explaining the complaints they had towards the government.
There is also a transportation strike this Friday. For 24 hours, no trains, buses or airplanes can be used in Italy. Fall break starts at the end of this week. I’m departing for my ten day interlude Friday morning starting in Dublin, flying to Amsterdam and then taking an overnight train to Prague before returning to Florence — provided I can leave Italy in the first place.