A Foreigner’s Guide to Surviving Winter in Italy

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?

I never throw shoes away, even the ugliest ones have their uses…

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.

Adopt your furry space heater today!

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.

If you don’t have anything spicy in the house, a doughnut will do in a pinch.

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

 

 

 

 

 

Top 5 Tips on How to Be A Good Tourist in Florence

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.

What It’s Like to Fall in Love With Italy

This post is brought to you by your favorite neighborhood blogging mafia C.O.S.I. 

So you want to know what love looks like in Italy? Well, my story might not be the most romantic, but if you’re interested in how a 22 year old California girl who’d never left home before studying abroad and eventually wound up living in Florence and dating a half-English, half-Italian bar manager….well, I already wrote about that here.

The love story I want to talk about today is my long-standing love affair with my city.  Firenze is the place I’ve called home for the past 6 years, and while there have been plenty of ups and downs along the way, there is just something about this goddamn city that I can’t stay away from, no matter how much I hate it sometimes.  Take this morning, for example.  I’ve been packing frantically like a rat high on cocaine for the past two days since I got the unexpected notice that I had to be moved out of my apartment by Feb.20th, not the end of the month like I’d originally planned. I’ve had little sleep and a jam-packed work schedule on top of this, all the while trying to ALSO pack for my vacation back to California on Thursday for one of my best friend’s weddings.

So needless to say, it’s been a stressful time in my household (Zola has taken to hiding in her corner of the couch, blissfully unaffected by the chaos around her) and this morning was no different. After being woken up at 2am to Francesco moving boxes out of the apartment, I had to be up and out the door for work at 7:30am. As I rubbed the sleep out of my eyes during my walk across the Ponte Santa Trinita, I realized that in the morning light I was literally the only person around. Taking cold sips of air in through my nose, I breathed out a sigh of relief and looked around me.

sunrise ponte vecchio
Sunrise warming up the Ponte Vecchio
empty streets by the ponte vecchio
Empty streets for miles…

 

Moments like this are rare with my city, but when it happens it’s enough to stop you dead in your tracks for a brief minute.  Without the noise, the traffic, the bodies and daily chaos of the tourists clogging up the streets, this morning was a stunning reminder of why I fell in love with Italy in the first place. There’s just something there that tugs at just the right place in my heart, kind of like when you eat a lot of really spicy food…oh wait, that’s not right. Well, the obsession with one’s indigestion thing (and also the need to publicly discuss bodily functions) is probably also why I love living here too.

Anyway, I guess what I’m trying to say is that even though sometimes Florence can be a real bitch, I also am really going to miss her while I’m away for the next two weeks.

NOT! I’ll be sitting by the pool in San Diego with a beer in my hand laughing at all my friends who are freezing their asses off.  Sorry I’m not sorry, guys. I really need this vacation.

A presto!

Xoxo,

Gina

 

“Nobody Leaves The Table Until They’ve Eaten So Much That They Hate Themselves”–Observations on Eating in Italy

“Nobody leaves the table until they’ve eaten so much that they hate themselves.”  Even after years of eating some of the best food Italy has to offer, this is the one quote (said by a good friend after a painfully long and indulgent meal) that has stuck with me the most.  Trying to describe what it’s like to eat the regional food in Florence would take years, and to be honest I wouldn’t even know where to begin.  How do you explain the feeling of biting into a ripe tomato so juicy that it explodes in your mouth the second it hits your tongue?  What words can one use to describe the dazzling array of colors in the vegetables spread out so lovingly across the stalls of Sant’Ambrogio?  I’ll tell you what you do–you stop thinking and start eating.  A lot.

Have you ever seen something so RED in your whole life?!
Have you ever seen something so RED in your whole life?!

The thing is, not that many Italians are fat.  In fact, pretty much none of them are.  They’re all just regular people who happen to have kick-ass metabolisms groomed after centuries of poverty and disaster.  After spending years picking up the pieces that Mussolini and WW2  left behind, it’s no surprise that they would want to celebrate.  And what better way to celebrate than with food?

Tuscans are particularly good at this skill of turning pretty much nothing into something amazing.  Take a handful of stale bread, some leftover beans, the wilting bits of cavolo nero from the pitiful garden harvest and BAM! You’ve got yourself a stew called Ribollita, baby.  No need for fancy spices or hours on end.  You make use of everything you’ve got, because you never know when that stock will run out.  And when you make food, you make A LOT of it.  You know, cause you’ve got to feed the neighbors and stuff, too.

antipasti
That’s just the appetizer plate…

 

Every region in Italy has its own particular “brand” of food–from the steaming mussel soups of the Ligurian coastline to the thick doughy pizzas of Campagna.  The Tuscan brand is farming, from the groves of olive trees swollen with green fruit to the creamy white cows grazing along the hillsides that end up as prime cuts of bistecca in Florence’s most upscale restaurants.  Wine, vegetables, meat–if you can grow it out in the countryside, it’s probably coming from Tuscany.  If not, it probably tastes like shit.

The problem is that now my whole perception of food has been ruined.  I used to love munching away on a piece of string cheese (ask my mom, she used to buy like 5 packets a week) or a microwaved Hot-Pocket, but now I can actually tell the difference between processed foods and fresh ones so it kind of sucks for me because I’m way pickier when it comes to eating.  That being said, I also eat a lot more weird stuff, like cow’s stomach and fat spread onto a piece of bread and wild boar, because if you live in Florence for any length of time you’ll inevitably come across a Florentine who will shove it down your throat because “YOU HAVE TO TRY THIS AT LEAST ONCE, TRUST ME.  I’M FROM FLORENCE.”

So if you’re planning on coming to Tuscany at any point in your life, you’ve been warned–pack your stretchy pants and say goodbye to your waistline.  From the salty schiacciata flatbread to that first crisp sip of Chianti Classico, you’ll understand one day when I say that every bite is an adventure.

This post is part of a series on different food regions in Italy from your friendly neighborhood bloggers C.O.S.I.  For more stories like this, click here.

 

Chiuso per Ferie: But What the Hell is Ferragosto, Anyway?

This post is brought to you by C.O.S.I–Italy’s most badass blogging mafia.   For more great stories from expats in Italy, check out our page here.

If you’ve ever been in Italy during the summer months, you’ve undoubtedly noticed those foreboding signs posted up in nearly every shop window–the ones that say “Chiuso per Ferie/Closed for Vacation.” Welcome to Italy in August–the shittiest or the best month of the year, depending on where you fall on the socio-economic spectrum.

chiuso per ferie sign

 

So what’s all this ferie business about, anyway? Well, listen up America, because Italy has got this one right. Every year, Italians take their paid 3 weeks of vacation time sometime during the month of August, or more specifically, around the 15th/16th of the month which is known as Ferragosto.  Because it’s hotter than a witch’s tit in the summer here (especially in the cities), almost everybody hightails it out of town and hits the seaside during August.  Despite the massive traffic jams on the way out of town, it’s the one time of year where most people expect you to do nothing but sit on your butt eating fresh watermelon and seafood and turn an abnormal Oompa-Loompa shade of tan.

Unless you’re one of the unlucky ones who have to work throughout the summer like me, obviously.  In which case you’ll be shut up inside your air-conditionless house until you have to go to work at the bar, serving cocktail pitchers until 3 in the morning to drunk, obnoxious Australians who roll into town on their Contiki tour buses.  Don’t worry, I’m not bitter or anything (can you SMELL the sarcasm through your computer screen??).

However, I will say that Ferragosto is actually one of my favorite times of the year due to the massive drop in population in the city center.  Despite the fact that it’s almost impossible to get anything done during August since no one is working, I still harbor a secret nostalgia for this time of year that has kept me in Florence for a record-breaking 7 summers in a row.  I very rarely take my vacation time during August for a number of reasons, including the fact that it’s one of the busiest times of year for tourists (and therefore very easy to make money) but more importantly because summer in Italy is one of my favorite times of year.

Even as a kid, summertime was the one period of the year I looked forward to the most, where the biggest obstacle in my life was figuring out which flavor of popsicle to eat that morning for breakfast and where I was going to ride my bike that afternoon.  Italian summers are no different–because I usually spend my summers doing odd jobs (i.e. bartending or waitressing) it means that I have my days free to indulge in whatever my heart desires, whether that’s meeting up for a leisurely lunch with old friends, impromptu barbeques on someone’s terrace, taking long walks along the Arno with Zola, and so on.  Because my school year is usually so hectic with work trips and late nights at the office, Ferragosto reminds me to slow down and enjoy the things you can only do during lazy summer days, like drinking prosecco at noon or watching an entire season of Orange Is The New Black on Netflix (yes, these are my summer priorities and I’m sticking to them).

So if you’re planning a summer vacation to Italy or you already happen to be here during Ferragosto, don’t panic at the thought of all those “Closed for Vacation” signs.  There are still plenty of beautiful little alleyways to stroll down, and that cafe around the corner will still be open in the morning so you can sit down, read the paper and enjoy an iced coffee before escaping to an air-conditioned museum or the cool enclaves of the nearest church.  And if you’re lucky, you might just get a glimpse of that bella vita vibe that makes Italy so irresistible.

 

How Not To Make Friends in a Foreign Country

As most expats tend to do, I have spent a considerable amount of time fielding all kinds of inappropriate questions about my personal life.  For some reason, whenever I meet someone from the USA (yes, I am stereotypically using my countrymen as an example of what NOT to do) my life becomes sort of like a game of 20 questions, except way less exciting and with a lot more dog poop in it.  They want to know everything about me, from how I met my boyfriend to my social security number and how much I pay my landlord for my gas and electricity bill (that’s actually not even a joke, someone asked me that once).

Sometimes answering questions about my life doesn’t bother me–I understand that my life must seem foreign and impossible to a lot of people (mostly it’s the really stupid people who find it difficult to realize I am in fact a person and not a zoo animal). But the majority of the questions I get asked are enough to make anyone react like this:

Just…no.

 

Somehow when I moved to Italy, I also crossed into a land where personal boundaries and privacy are an imaginary concept invented by Santa Claus.  Now it’s a very well-known fact that Italians have no idea of personal space (as evidenced by many an Italian stranger stopping to comment on my outfit, weight, choice of deodorant, etc. on a daily basis) but guys–come on.  We Americans practically INVENTED the idea of personal space!!  We make our little cubicles at work into SHRINES to our personal space, we build enormous houses spread miles apart from any living thing, and we drive MASSIVELY oversized vehicles just to keep everybody out of our little bubbles of security.

So why do you all turn into creepy little weirdos that want to know incredibly private details about the lives of strangers the second you arrive in Florence?

If you are in fact a tourist who suffers from Nosy Nelly syndrome, don’t worry–we’ve all been there a time or two (especially after one or two gin & tonics).  In order to help you overcome your inner idiot, I’ve created this handy little reference chart that should leave no doubt the next time you decide to have a friendly “get to know you” conversation with a stranger.  If you see any of the following reactions while talking to someone new that you’ve met in a foreign country, you’ll know without a doubt that you’ve freaked out everyone involved your conversation and you should probably just turn around and walk away before they decide to get a restraining order or jump into traffic to avoid you.

Expat #1:  The Politely Bored Expat.

This face means that you have the great luck of encountering the Politely Bored Expat.  This type of expat is probably newly relocated to the city you’re visiting or an old veteran–either way, you’ve hit the jackpot.  Politely Bored Expat, or PBE, has the good grace and years of training their face to passively reflect almost no emotion while listening to you prattle on and on about all the cities you’ve visited on your travels and everything you love about the current city.  Be warned: they’re probably thinking about their grocery list while pretending to listen to you or mentally calculating how many years in the local prison they’d get for popping you one right in the mouth then hightailing it out of there.

 

Expat #2: The Always Drunk Expat

This expat is most often met after a wild night out at the local bar or club.  Here you’ll find a willing participant in your incessant question-and-answer repartee, someone who enthusiastically agrees with every observation you’ve made about the city and it’s inhabitants, and tells you “how it really is” to live abroad.  However, upon trying to Facebook friend the Always Drunk Expat the next day, you wake up to find a series of penises drawn on your forearms and absolutely no memory of any of the previous night’s conversation.

 

Expat #3: The Creepy Overly Friendly Expat

You’ll undoubtedly run into this expat at a restaurant given 4 stars by TripAdvisor, where you’ll strike up a conversation in between bites of deliciously overrated food.  They’ll be your new best friend, promising to show you all of the cool “undiscovered” spots in the city and end up taking you to a bar where not one person will talk to you as long as Creepy Expat is by your side.  Do yourself a favor–if you need someone to listen to you this badly, adopt a dog.  At least then you won’t be considered a leper amongst the locals.

 

Expat #4: The Disappearing Expat

At first glance, you’d think that this expat is actually just another local.  They’ve managed to fly underneath everybody’s radar, but you sneakily overheard them talking to someone on the telephone in a mix of the local language and English, and you’re totally waiting until they finish their call to bombard them with questions about how to move here.  Until you turn around and realize they’ve pulled a Batman maneuver and disappeared.

Expat #5:  The Insufferable Know-It-All Expat

This is the expat most likely to not only listen to your hundreds of questions, but interrupt you every minute or so to interject their own opinions into the conversation.  While the Insufferable Know-It-All Expat is a wealth of valuable information, hanging out with them after they’ve already answered all of your questions will make you want to stab yourself in the eye with a fork rather than listen to them blab on and on about the city you’re in, and now hate thanks to them.

 

I like to pride myself on the fact that on any given day, I have been all 5 of these expats.  Now go bother someone else with your questions–I’m busy eating gelato from a locals-only place away from the tourists.

 

Want to hear how other expats deal with crazy questions from people about their lives?  Visit C.O.S.I: Crazy Observations by Stranieri in Italy–a badass gang of expats who blog about the ups and downs of life in Italy.

 

Learning Italian in Florence, or that one time a can of Coca-Cola taught me a new language.

It’s a question I get asked at least once a day:  So how did you learn to speak Italian? Depending on my mood, you’ll usually get either the perfunctory response of Going to language school, practicing the language every day, making sexy times with an Italian, and blah blah blah or a more creative Well actually, there’s this great guy who hangs out by the salsiccia stand at the train station who gives free private lessons and I learned everything I know in about two weeks! It’s amazing.

So how did I really learn Italian, you might be wondering?  Well I’d like to say that it all came naturally to me just from hanging out in piazzas and listening to the daily chatter on the streets, but really, I owe all of my language learning skills to one life-changing source–from a can of Coca Cola.

Now now, before you start spinning crazy stories in your head about how I could have possibly learned an entire language thanks to one tasty beverage, I’ll stop you in your tracks with one very important fact:  I do not speak Italian.  I speak Fiorentino.  The difference is in the details, my friends.  Let’s journey back in time to the year 2009, when I was a young, fresh-faced American student who had just gotten my very first waitressing job at an infamous bar in town…

……………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………….

Pulling on the requisite black t-shirt and black jeans for my first night of work, I was a bundle of nervous energy.  My boyfriend, whom up until very recently I had only spent about 4 weeks total with, had pulled some strings while I was back in the US finishing up my spring semester of my sophomore year and managed to get me a part-time job at the bar where he worked.  This meant two things to me: one, that I absolutely could not screw up this job, and two, I could absolutely not screw up this job.  My entire relationship depended on it.

As I looked at myself in the mirror, I thought Okay, Gina, here it is.  Just act like you’ve been working at a bar your whole life instead of a crappy Panera cafe and you’ll be fine.  It can’t be that difficult.  You can do this.  Nobody will know that you’ve never worked at a bar in your life, just be cool. 

After a short walk to the bar, my boyfriend walked me over to a tall, white-haired man who gave me the perfunctory Ciao and nodded off in the direction of a dimly-lit back room.  After being shown where to leave my purse, he headed into the back office of the bar and I followed, where I was greeted by a petite, dark-haired girl who introduced herself to me.  “Ciao, I’m Ana,” she said.  “Just follow me tonight, pick up any empty glasses that you see and try to keep up.”  With that, she turned around and grabbed a full tray of drinks, hoisting it high above her head and heading straight into a crowd of already drunk Australians who were dancing and screaming wildly at the karaoke singer on stage.

Holy crap, I thought to myself.  An hour had gone by, and the bar was absolutely packed with bodies.  Tables were stretched to the max, and impatient customers kept waving their hands at us waitresses as we scuttled past, trying to keep up with the drink orders.

“There’s too many tables. Here, take this and write down the orders,” Ana said as she shoved a pen and pad of paper in my hands.  “Then bring them to me and I’ll deal with the rest of it.”  She turned on her heel and sprinted back towards the bar to fill her orders.  Turning around, I barely had time to process what had happened when a I felt a tapping on my arm and looked down to see a table full of Italians staring at me.

“Um, hi.  I mean, ciao!” I stammered.  The man who had gotten my attention waved at the menu as he rattled off something in rapid-fire Italian.  “Drinks?” I said hesitantly, trying to understand the jumble of words being hurled in my direction.  “Si, si!” he said.  “Prendo una hoha hola.”

Bent over my pad of paper, I held the pen to the page, unsure of what to write.  A hoha hola?  Although I’d never tended bar before, I was pretty sure that I had never heard of that drink name before.

“Um, scusa?” I said, a confused look on my face.

“Un hoha-hola!” The man repeated.  “Voglio una hoha.”

“Okay, okay, va bene,” I replied, trying to cover up my confusion as I pretended to write down the order.  The rest of the table ordered a few different cocktails, and as I wrote them all down, I thought to myself, Don’t worry, I’ll just ask Ana what an hoha hola is and she’ll sort out the rest.  After taking all the orders from the table, I spun around on my heel and power-walked back to the bar.

“What do you have?” Ana asked me as she grabbed the ticket out of my hand.

“Um, just the normal stuff.  But I wanted to ask you, what’s an hoha hola?” I said.

“A what?” Ana asked me as she tucked a new ticket of drink orders into her apron.

“An hoha hola?” I said.  “At least I think that’s what the guy said.”

“No idea,” she replied.  “Go ask him to tell you again, but slower since you don’t speak Italian.”

“Um, okay,” I said, as she grabbed a new tray of drinks and disappeared back into the chaotic din in the back room.

Slowly, I walked back to the table in a state of mild panic.  What happens if I can’t understand him again?  I’m so getting fired.  Smiling faintly, I tapped the same man on the shoulder and he turned to face me.

“Si?” he asked.

“Um, I’m sorry, what drink did you order again?”

“Che drink?  Una hoha,” he said, confusion starting to spread across his face.

“Ok, si. Una hoha.  But…” I stammered, before trying again.  “But what is a hoha?”

“UNA HOHA! UNA HOHA HOLA!” He said slowly, speaking to me in that loud, slow tone usually reserved for the deaf or exceptionally stupid.

“Can you show me?” I pointed at the menu.  “Show me?”

The man grabbed the menu and placed his finger underneath the soft drink category.  “UNA HOHA!” he repeated loudly.  “VOGLIO UNA HOHA HOLA!”

As I saw the words written down, I suddenly wished that the floor would open up and swallow me whole.  For the past 20 minutes, this poor Italian had been trying to order a Coca Cola from me, not knowing that I had no idea that Florentine Italian pronounces all words with the letter “C” as a soft “H” sound.

“Ohh!” I said stupidly.  “You want a coca cola!”

“Yes! Si!” The man exclaimed.  “Finalmente!  Una hoha!”

………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………..

Now obviously, my entire knowledge of the Italian language came about much later than the Coca-Cola incident of 2009.  But the more that I think about it, it was this unsuspecting Florentine that actually opened the door to my entire ability to grasp the Italian language.  You see, language is more complicated than just grammar lessons and vocabulary.  Language is a fluid, ever-changing thing that is impossible to grasp 100% if you don’t adapt to its changing tides.  As a writer, language is an incredibly important aspect of my life, and for most Italians, language is the door to a vast array of cultural exchanges, experiences and emotions that it takes a lifetime to grasp.

As for me, once I had understood that the accent of my city had a definitive sound, I was able to go into my Italian class the next week and smile when I saw the innocent red can of Coke sitting on my professor’s desk.  I was finally learning how to speak Italian.

Want to hear more stories of how other expats learned Italian?  Check out C.O.S.I–a collective experience of bloggers whose debauchery has only just begun.  Here are some of their experiences: