If you’re thinking about adopting a pet in Italy, come over here and let me give you a hug. Adopting my two fluff nuggets is one of the best things I’ve done while living in… More
Welcome to my insane little corner of the internet, guys. Shit’s about to get reaaaal weird for y’all.
The Florence Diaries is my collection of observations on what it’s actually like to be a foreigner living in Italy. Between working as a tour guide around Europe, bartending in the city center of Florence and manning the help desk at a school, I’ve been a lot of places and seen a lot of crazy things. Whether it’s almost locking an intern in a storage locker underneath a bus in Budapest or getting sex advice from the crazy old lady in line next to me at the supermarket, my life in Florence has never been boring and I’m just here trying to document it all.
And that’s where The Florence Diaries begin…
Like a fart that lingers long after the perpetrator has left the elevator….WE’RE STILL HERE AND WE’RE NOT GOING ANYWHERE. Your favorite troupe of wandering bloggers formally called C.O.S.I–Crazy Observations by Stranieri in Italy— has adopted a “Winter Theme” to dissect this month. Now before you start having flashbacks of the hideous paper snowflakes decorating your high school Prom night, stop right there. If you’re planning on visiting Italy or are already living here, you might want to heed the wise words of Game of Thrones hottie Jon Snow–WINTER IS COMING.
Lucky for you, I’ve prepared this handy step-by-step guide for foreigners to surviving winters in Italy.
Step 1: Get some Wine.
This is obviously the easiest and most effective strategy for staying warm in Italy during the winter. There’s a reason that the wine harvest happens in November, people. Stock up now–If you are worried about storage (a valid concern here, considering the shoebox size of many Italian abodes), may I suggest storing it in handy places such as the insides of shoes?
Step 2: Adopt a four-legged friend to cuddle during the cold winter months.
This is a really good strategy for beating both the freezing cold and seasonal depression all rolled up in one. I recommend adopting two animals and teaching them to fall asleep on your feet, thereby eliminating the need for socks or additional space heaters.
Step 3: Eat spicy foods.
It is a well known fact that eating spicy foods will not only help you stay warm but also Gisele Bündchen does it and maybe that is the supermodel’s secret to looking so supermodel-y. Also there is the deliciousness factor to consider, so it is a definite recommendation.
Step 4: Make the sexy times.
The average human body has a temperature of 98.6°F (37°C) but scientific fact says that this level of heat will change dramatically once you have an Italian stallion in your bedchambers.
Step 5: Go south for the winter.
Birds are nature’s most intelligent creatures–as soon as the outdoor weather turns chilly, they pack their suitcases and sandals and jet off to Malta or Sicily or Morocco for some much deserved rest and relaxation. I like to imagine them on a beach somewhere sipping Mai Tais but then I get annoyed because they don’t have to fly RyanAir to get there.
And there you have it–the perfect guide for any foreigner in Italy to help you survive the cold winter months. For more classical interpretations of Winter in Italy, visit the number 1 rated (by me) page on Facebook, C.O.S.I. or check out the links below to the team’s various articles tackling this month’s Winter theme:
Rick’s Rome-How to Enjoy Winter in Italy
Girl in Florence-What to Expect When You Visit Florence in Winter
Surviving in Italy–Italy in the Winter: Baby It’s Cold Outside
Englishman in Italy–Baugna Cauda and Wine
Married to Italy
Unwilling Expat–Without Winter There Wouldn’t Be a Summer
Sex, Lies and Nutella-Surviving the Italian Winter
A few months ago at work, my boss brought up an opportunity to participate in a primo soccorso or first-aid course here in Florence. I immediately jumped at the opportunity–apparently I am the only American for miles that has never been CPR certified and actually wants to learn how to mouth breathe on total strangers when they collapse in the middle of the piazza ( I blame my mother and Shonda Rhimes for getting me hooked on Grey’s Anatomy–have you SEEN how smokin’ hot everyone is on that show??). So after filling out my application form and getting the green light to skip out on work after lunch, I trotted off happily to a nearby language school to attend my first basic life-saving skills course.
Over the next three days, my afternoons melted into a blur of Italian medical vocabulary and complete chaos. For those of you who have never seen the inside of an Italian classroom, let me give you a little sneak peak at what to expect, also known as Utter Bollocks.*
*This is no way reflects on the teacher of my primo soccorso course, who was unfailingly professional and polite in the face of complete idiocy.
Let’s begin by examining the course itself, shall we? A simple enough concept in which several people come together in the hopes of learning some basic life-saving skills should the need ever arise, taught by a qualified professional such as a doctor or nurse.
Now we had the professoressa, a trained medico who had experience in the field of life-saving as well as in teaching this course. This was clearly not her first rodeo, since the first thing out of her mouth was the following:
“So the course that you will be completing is registered with the state, and you will receive a certificate upon completing the 12 hours required. I won’t be letting you leave early, either, because you really have to do 12 hours in order to become certified, so don’t even ask.”
Immediately several middle-aged women in the front row of the classroom started protesting in what I’m sure they assumed to be their “indoor voices” a.k.a louder than a garbage incinerator. “But I thought that if we went through it quickly..” “Well my friend took this course and she said they got out early…” “I should probably call home to let them know I won’t be there until late..”
Undeterred, our professoressa continued on with her explanation of the course objectives, telling us that we would all be expected to pass a written test of about 30 questions as well as practicing CPR on a mannequin on the final day. In the front row, predictably, the hands went up.
And so went my initiation into the Italian classroom, a place where I rapidly learned the foolishness of my desire to actually learn anything at all. Instead, I took pictures of the Powerpoint presentation to study later in my spare time and sat back to enjoy the spectacle that is twenty middle-aged Italian women forced to sit in a classroom together for hours on end. The questions ranged from mildly amusing to completely ridiculous, mostly centered on the one scintillating topic–Whose fault was it if someone died? Below is a favorite exchange of mine:
Woman in class: “Ok, so if I finish this course and I get the certificate, what happens if somebody starts dying in front of me and, you know, I just can’t help them?”
Professoressa: “What do you mean, you can’t do it? I’ve just taught you how to administer basic life saving techniques.”
Woman: “Well yeah, but I am a very emotional person and if I see someone collapse in front of me, I just don’t think I could do it. So if I just can’t do it, then what?”
Professoressa: “Can you use a telephone?”
Woman: “Yes, of course!”
Professoressa: “Then you can call 118 (the emergency number in Italy), which is what I’ve basically been teaching you for the past 12 hours.”
My favorite part of the primo soccorso course was our third and final day, in which everyone was required to practice CPR on the dummy unless they were quick enough with the excuse like one woman who claimed her carpal tunnel syndrome refused to allow her to participate. Luckily for her, the professoressa was so sick of us by that point that she just waved her hand in the air and got on with the rest of the class without making the woman get up and go through the act of pretend breathing into rubber Randy’s mouthpiece. Watching everyone pound away on Randy’s chest while the others simultaneously shouted instructions at them, called them an idiot for doing it wrong and/or cheered them on was better than any medical drama on late night TV.
In short, I’d strongly advise everyone to get a thorough medical exam and maybe brush up on their physical fitness before visiting our bel paese. You never know when you might need a competent set of fingers to push the buttons on a telephone.
Helloooo from America, land of the free and home of the lightning fast internet speeds that have pretty much turned me into a potato chip eating, Netflix-binging shadow of my former self. It’s been almost 8 years since I’ve spent a summer back in the motherland, and while my vacation has been a blissful combination of visiting with family and friends and enjoying some creature comforts like obscenely large jars of peanut butter and to-go boxes of food, I have noticed that in my absence a few things have changed.
Behold the ever-changing and constantly growing list of things that are now super weird to me:
- American toilet paper. It’s like wiping your ass with kittens! How do they get it so soft and where can I buy some of this magical mystery fabric in Florence?
- The outrageously large size of the stores. They’re growing wider every day, much like my waistline.
- Potato chip flavors. Southern biscuits and gravy? I can almost hear my arteries clogging, but in the name of sacrifice and this blog I tried them. And by try I mean ate a whole bag and then hated myself for about 30 minutes afterwards. DAMN YOU, LAYS!!
- Space on the roads. Have we always had this much room in between lanes? The first time I got behind the wheel I had to fight the urge to swerve like a Mario Kart driver between lanes while shouting WEEEEEEE!!!!
- Strangers being nice and chatty with no ulterior motive like getting you to give them a discount or stealing your spot in line while you’re distracted.
Is it possible that I’ve turned into an Italian without even realizing it? A few days ago I was walking around the city with my sister, looking for a place to buy a coffee and exchange some one dollar bills for coins to feed our parking meter when we passed a very unassuming shop window filled with stainless steel countertops and an empty deli window. I was about to follow her next door to an actual coffee shop when I spotted an espresso machine out of the corner of my eye, lurking behind a couple of bearded gentlemen who were chatting behind the counter. “Hang on a minute, let’s just get a coffee in here,” I said as my sister looked at me a little strangely. I asked the guy behind the counter for a coffee and almost cried with joy when I realized THEY WERE ITALIANS!! AND THEY HAD ESPRESSO!! Turns out these two dudes were actually from Rimini and Lucca, respectively, and had literally just opened the shop a few hours ago for a prova (trial). They were super sweet and gave me a free coffee which made me so happy I had to restrain myself from jumping across the counter and kissing their awesome Italian beardy faces. Instead, I will thank them by shamelessly telling everyone who visits San Francisco to go to The Italian Homemade Company on Union Street.
It’s strange how out of place I’ve felt since coming back to America. I never really considered Florence my home until people started asking me where I was visiting from and I realized that although I may have been born in California, I have spent the better part of my twenties in Italy, struggling to adapt to the habits and customs of a foreign country while simultaneously trying to navigate my post-college adulthood. For better or worse, Italy has been with me during these defining years and has turned me into a weird half-breed of human that doesn’t quite belong in either place. I will never be Italian, just like I’ll never identify with being just American anymore– it’s too late for that. Anyone who has ever made a home outside of their birthplace can relate to this strange place in which I now find myself–dancing along the line that connects continents and cultures, learning to be content with existing in the space between. Because like any good foreigner will tell you, at the end of the day it’s not really about where you come from, but where you are now that really matters. Bonus points awarded if where you are now has extra-soft toilet paper…#AMERICA!
There’s a reason they call it an art–and if you’re looking for the masters, just come to Italy.
This month, my favorite band of miscreant bloggers (or as you probably know them, the members of C.O.S.I) have tackled an immensely complicated subject–the concept of furbizia or as I like to call it, being a con-artist. As you may know, being furbo is quite the complement in Italy–indeed, the more furbo you are, the more likely you are to be praised by your peers and regarded in high esteem. So what is being furbo? Aside from the general definitions of cleverness or craftiness, it basically implies a willingness to do or say whatever you want in order to get what you desire. If you’re still unsure of the meaning, just google Silvio Berlusconi, Italy’s #1 furbo, and you’ll start to get the picture.
It’s hard for me to fully explain my feelings on the matter, mostly because I rarely recognize when I am being conned until it’s too late. Growing up in a white suburban middle-class neighborhood, the only experience I ever had with furbi was in the form of these bad boys:
You would think that after 7 years in Italy, finally being able to recognize when I am being conned would make me the most bitter anti-furbo person on the planet, but the truth is that I understand why this is such a popular behavior. Living in a country where being honest has more disadvantages than advantages, it’s pretty easy to fall into the predictable patterns of con-artistry, especially if you are being encouraged by your Italian counterparts who praise you for your intellect and skill while weaseling your way through life. I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve been scolded by Italian friends for paying the full amount for a mediocre meal, or not cutting the line at the first glimpse of an opening. And I would be lying if I said that I had never employed my own version of furbizia from time to time–I am only human, after all, and a woman so obviously I know how to get what I want. Luckily, I find a perverse satisfaction in doing things in the most difficult way possible so there is no danger in me becoming Mrs. Furba anytime soon, but I can definitely see the attraction in behaving so shamelessly.
In short, Italy has taught me some important life lessons when it comes to trickery and guile. However, my parting words for anyone thinking to pull a fast one on me would be this: Karma’s a bitch. You’ve been warned.
Check out other musings on furbizia from C.O.S.I here:
Girl In Florence- Why Being Furbo in Italy Is Anything But Cool
Rick’s Rome- What Does It Mean To Be Furbo?
Surviving in Italy- Furbizia: The Italian Art of Being Sly
Englishman in Italy- Furbizia
Unwilling Expat- The Complexity of Italy’s Cheating Heart
Sex, Lies & Nutella- Tourists Beware: Fighting Furbizia in Italy
Married to Italy- Furbizia–A Blessing or a Burden?
GUYS, GUYS! THE SUN IS OUT AND FLORENCE’S WEATHER MOOD SWINGS ARE OVER!! Wiggling my toes in my Rainbow flip-flops and walking around the house in my underpants complaining about mosquitoes has never felt so good.
In other awesome news, we have been hosting a pretty special visitor to our fair city these past few weeks in the form of one Mr.Tom Hanks. You might recognize him from such films as Forrest Gump or Philadelphia, but I know him as the guy who is currently causing some of the biggest pedestrian traffic jams in Florence and really pissing me off because the only place I’ve seen him so far is on everybody else’s Instagram feeds. COME ON TOM! Throw a girl a box of chocolates or two, would ya?
In T.Hank’s honor and also because it’s that time of year, the lovely group of loony tunes expats we call COSI decided to put together a video with some tips on how to be a good tourist in Florence. Unfortunately I was super late in showing up to the party as per usual, so I’m here with the 1990’s paperback version instead.
Top Tip #1: Learn how to greet people in Italian, and then actually DO IT.
Repeat after me: “Buon Giorno is for morning, Buona sera is for night. Grazie is for leaving, remember to be polite.”
Listen, these poor Italians have to deal with incredible herds of tourists swarming into their cities day after day. The least you can do is acknowledge their existence upon entering their workplace. And possibly buy something from their shop or go on a date with their 40 year old single son who still lives at home, that one’s totally up to you. It’s amazing to me how many people just blatantly ignore the greetings of shopkeepers and baristas. SAY HELLO AND SMILE! You’ll be amazed at the difference it makes in your experiences with the locals.
Top Tip #2: Embrace the chaos.
I know that a lot of people who arrive in Florence are shocked when they see just how chaotic our city can be–dudes, even though it’s small it’s still a CITY. There is no way to completely avoid the noise, traffic, pollution, or dog poop that you will inevitably encounter. Just roll with it, trust me. You’ll be happier in the end. And bring some earplugs for safety’s sake.
Top Tip #3: Talk to the locals.
Resist the temptation to just stop at the first overpriced restaurant with outdoor seating that you see and ask around for some recommendations on where to go for the best food in your area of town. It might be a local farmer’s market where you can make your own picnic lunch with freshly picked olives and sliced salami or it might be a Mom and Pop shop around the corner from your hotel that bakes its bread fresh each morning, but you won’t know until you ask, will you?
Top tip #4: Spend your money.
I know, I know. This one’s a toughie–it’s in our nature to always look for ways to save and stretch our coin. But if you’re on the fence about it, my philosophy is just go for it. You can always make more money but you might never make it back to Italy, and that butter-soft leather bag you’ve been eyeing for 3 days will definitely double as a pillow for when you can’t afford to pay your rent and wind up sleeping on your parents couch.
Top tip #5: Channel your inner Aretha.
R-E-S-P-E-C-T: There’s nothing more obnoxious than a visitor without it. While Florence can often feel like a Renaissance version of Disneyland, just remember there are some people who actually have to live here and we have no problem dumping buckets of water on your heads at 3AM out our bedroom windows if you’re being too loud. You’ve been warned.
For more tips on how not to get your ass kicked while traveling in Italy, check out COSI’s Facebook page or any of my awesome blogging partners’ websites under the COSI tab on the homepage of this blog.
Dear Internet Diary,
How are you? I know it’s been too long since we’ve last spoken–so much has happened in the past month or so that it’s hard to pick a good place to start, but we both know that finesse is not my strongest quality so I don’t think you’ll mind too much if I jump right in.
After a long few weeks of searching for apartments from the internet-less cave of F’s parent’s house, we finally managed to find a place of our own and move in. Of course my stomach decided to choose Moving Day as the perfect time to stage a WWF fight inside my body, so I spent most of the day lying on the bathroom floor while Zola hid between the boxes in our new living room to get away from the Exorcist sounds I was making. Perhaps not the most ideal way to spend our first night in our new apartment, but I did discover that my bathroom is in fact awesome and totally prepared to handle my future hangovers.
It’s been a painfully long transition into spring here. My winter coats and sweaters are still hanging in my closet, and each morning as I get dressed I glance longingly at the plastic storage container where my trusty pair of Rainbow flip-flops lie, sighing as I pull on my worn black boots and puffy jacket to go to work. Even though I know that in a few months I’ll be complaining about the heat and the infestation of mosquitoes that terrorize the city each summer, it all seems so far away and impossible that my patience has completely vanished. I find myself angrily throwing scarves and tights into the far corners of my bedroom, as though it is their fault that the sun refuses to stick around for good.
To be honest, the lack of sunshine isn’t the only thing weighing on my mind. Although I’ve been in Italy for about 7 years now, this year has been particularly difficult and I find myself questioning every new decision that I make. Nearly all of my closest friends have left Florence this year and moved back home, in a bold statement of dissatisfaction that has left me scrambling to find that familiar sense of faith and compassion for my beautiful city that was once so easy to call to mind. The lack of economic opportunity and constant uphill battle to be understood have taken their toll on me as well, and with each passing day I find myself wistfully remembering all my lazy summer afternoons on the beaches of California, and wondering how to move forward from here.
If you have any advice or a kind word for your anonymous friend, I’d love to hear from you. For now, I’ll be drowning my melancholy with the biggest Nutella pizza I can find.
Your preoccupied friend in Florence
When my good friend Georgette from Girl in Florence approached me about collaborating on a group discussion on the topic of authenticity and Italy, I was a bit skeptical. Talking about the “realness” of this jumbled country is not an easy task, and to be honest I didn’t know whether or not I would even be able to organize my own constantly fluctuating opinions into something even remotely worth reading. However, the great thing about writing on a computer is that you, my dear reader, will never know how many times I erased the stupid things I was putting down on the screen and only have to suffer through the next few paragraphs until you get bored of me and can start scrolling on Buzzfeed for more interesting crap like babies who look like drunk people. Now stop stalling and pay attention to what I’m saying because it’s important if you ever want to understand why an authentic Italy doesn’t exist.
So here we are, searching for an authentic Italy. The real Italy. The one that we’ve recently started reading about in travel magazines, or hearing about from our friends who invite us over for a home-cooked Italian dinner taken straight from their recipe book bought in Rome. We sigh enviously when we see those stunning photographs of the Amalfi coastline from our neighbors’ summer vacation, imagining ourselves stretched out on those sun-drenched beaches and languidly floating in the turquoise waters of the Mediterranean. We swoon over ruby glasses of wine brought back from Tuscan farms, exclaiming over the marvelous quality and taste of the balsamic vinegars and golden oils given to us as gifts from returning visitors, wondering how in the world such a place could even exist. And with a sudden start, we realize that all this time, the Italy we thought we knew is another creature entirely. We wonder if perhaps we don’t know as much about this distant land as we once thought. And suddenly, before we even have time to process it, the seed is planted—desire, that curious little spark that unfurls its tendrils and quietly seeps into your heart.
And slowly, after months of dissatisfaction at our ordinary lives, the longing becomes so unbearable that we must act. We must visit this mythical country for ourselves.We scan the internet for flight deals, talking to everyone we meet about the best time of year to visit, what we should see and do while we’re there, taking recommendations for restaurants and daydreaming about rooms that are stacked floor to ceiling with strands of golden pasta hanging out to dry. We pack our suitcases weeks in advance, armed with guidebooks and lists from trusted friends who have been there before, counting down the days to departure.
When the big day arrives, we manage to get all the way through connecting airports until we are being waved through customs in Italy by a bored-looking older gentleman who doesn’t even stamp our passports, only flicking through them with a cursory glance before glancing over our heads to the next person in line behind us. We cram our bodies into tiny Fiats, allowing ourselves to be driven into a winding maze of shrinking alleyways at breathtaking speeds, craning our necks as we glimpse the dizzying heights of ancient buildings whizzing past us. And as we venture out into the streets for the first time, a sinking feeling starts to wash over us as we realize that perhaps we may have been mistaken entirely.
Because surely this cramped, chaotic mess can’t be the same idyllic place from the photographs. The place in the photographs didn’t have shouting street vendors on every corner, hounding you as you walk down the littered streets. And it must be impossible to grow such delicious food with the lingering cloud of cigarette smoke and bus pollution permeating the air. Why, we can’t even walk down the staircase without stepping over discarded ashes and empty beer bottles, let alone sleep with all that noise outside our window at all hours of the night! Impossible, we say. It’s not the same place. We can’t even get the internet to work in our tiny rented flat—how on earth can these people survive?! Surely there is some mistake.
So we rent a car, thinking to move to the countryside, or out to the edges of the sea. And we sigh with relief. Yes, this is better, much better, we think to ourselves as we hastily pack the last of our souvenirs into our bursting suitcases and thank the taxi driver who carries them all the way back down the stairs again (but not tipping him for all his hard work, no, because our guide book says all the real Italians never tip for these kinds of things). And as we pull away from the cities in our rented Fiats, our hands grip the steering wheel tightly as we try to manuever our way out of town, cussing loudly at the insane drivers around us who honk and swerve around us as we desperately try to follow our GPS directions. But wait—wasn’t that the sign for our exit back there? How do you know? The same sign is pointing in 3 different directions, and we’ve definitely gone through this roundabout at least 2 other times. Are we lost? Oh god, what have we gotten ourselves into?
As our frustration and blood pressure level rises with each passing kilometer, we complain amongst ourselves. How can these people get anything done, we ask? Everything is so much more difficult than it ought to be. There are no clear directions anywhere, everything is so confusing and complicated, and every time you ask someone for directions you get a different answer! We throw our hands up in the air in defeat. Fine, we concede. We just have to get through the next few days and then we will finally be home where everything makes sense. We stop at a roadside restaurant, staring dejectedly at our plates of cold sandwiches and Coca-Colas in defeat. This is definitely not the authentic Italian experience we were looking for, we think sadly as we climb back into our overstuffed rental car, staring moodily out the window as we drive through miles of industrialized towns.
And then suddenly, without warning, we turn the corner and are driving along the most beautiful stretch of road we have ever seen in our lives. We gasp with excitement, pulling over on the side of the road and hitting our hazard lights, not caring about the honks from exasperated drivers behind us as we snap picture after picture of the glittering blue sea stretched out for miles ahead, hugging the cliffs where brightly colored apartments are stacked precariously along the edge, forming an impossible Tetris combination of ancient architecture and land. A peaceful feeling washes over us, soothing the jagged bits of anger and resentment that’s been lingering in our hearts over the past few days as we watch the sun sink down into a blanket of sapphire water, lighting up the sky with a comforting golden glow. And we smile as we realize that perhaps we are experiencing a moment of pure authenticity that has nothing to do with Italy, but with our own satisfaction instead.
This post has been a collaboration with #italyroundtable and your favorite blogging misfit group #COSItaly. Read on for more!
Jessica – Where is this “authentic Italy” everyone’s looking for?
Gloria – The odd woman out’s view on “authentic Italy”
Rebecca – Italy Roundtable: Finocchi Rifatti al Pomodoro
Alexandra – Art and Travel: the authenticity of seeing art in person
Melanie – Everything Is Authentic
Kate – On being authenticated
Michelle – Living Authentically: How Italy Forced the Issue
Georgette of Girl in Florence-
Pete of Englishman in Italy – “How Authentic an Italian are you?”
Rick of Rick’s Rome: “The Authentic Italian Culture Debate”
Andrea of Sex, Lies and Nutella: “How to be an authentic Italian (in 9 simple steps)”
Married to Italy – The fear of the fake: What “authenticity” means to a foreigner in a strange land
Surviving in Italy – What does it mean to be Authentically Italian?
Unwilling Expat – Leading an authentic life in Sicily