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Expat Advice: Culture Shock in Florence, Italy

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What is the name of the city or town that you are reporting on?

Florence

Did you receive any cross-cultural training for your move abroad? If yes, was it before or after the move?

No, but I took it upon myself to read up on culture, customs, and history of Florence and Italy. I have lived in Africa, Asia, and the Middle East

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If they speak another language in your new country, do you speak the language? If yes, did you learn the language before you moved or while abroad? If no, are you planning to learn the language?

I tried to learn some italian before moving to Italy. I took Italian lessons once I got here. The italian style of teaching and speaking goes all over the place and spirals around the main idea you want to get across. My tutor taught in this same manner and I got frustrated and quit after 3 months. I learned more on my own with a dictionary and trial and error on my own. Am I anywhere near fluent.... heck no! ....but I get by now.

Were you worried or concerned about culture shock before you moved abroad?

No, I expected Italy to be a fairly easy transition compared to other places I had lived. I was also aware of the stages of culture shock and expected to still go through them.

How significant was the culture shock you experienced when you moved abroad?

Awful! I was basically dropped here by my employer and expected to find housing, get a bank account, health care, etc. on my own. Only when my attempts failed a few times would they find a way to send somebody to help. Nobody affiliated with my work is really interested in helping new comers much. Most foreigners are married to Italians and just worry about their own lives. When asked for help, they usually have a million excuses to not be available. These people are very friendly, but not willing to help.

Expats often talk about going through the "stages of culture shock." Examples include the honeymoon phase, the irritation-to-anger stage, the rejection of the culture stage, and the cultural adjustment phase. Do you feel like you went through these or any other stages as you settled into the new culture?

I had so much difficulty initially settling in that I never experienced a honeymoon phase. I have been frustrated from day one. Every day is a challenge here. Italians make things much more difficult than need be. It's almost like they intentionally do it to foreigners here in Florence. I am here almost 2 years and leaving in June. I have never gotten out of the irritation, frustration phase.

What, if any, were some of the changes you noticed in yourself that might have been caused by culture shock? These might include things such as anger, depression, anxiety, increased eating or drinking, frustration, homesickness, etc.

All of the above and experiencing depression like never before. Most foreigners here are married to Italians and there is no real expat atmosphere. It has been very isolating. Sure, I have my regular group of friends to go and do things with and I get out and have fun, but it is a small group and, quite honestly, this town gets stale quite quickly (unless you're a barfly). I have done quite a bit of reading since I have been here.

What are some things you appreciate most about the new culture?

Italians love to be outdoors and there are often outdoor markets and festivals to go to. Italians dress very well and they are amusingly stylish and make for great people-watching at any time. Small shops are great for establishing a regular rapport with owners. A medieval building with modern decor inside is always amusing. Florence is a place where you can walk around and actually picture what life could've been like in medieval times. The countryside is beautiful and definitely picturesque. The wine is fantastic and sitting in cafes can be a leisurely past time. Sitting in ancient piazzas and seeing beautiful works of art can be breath taking. I do like the shopping here as well.

What are the most challenging aspects of the new culture?

Most Florentines are not friendly and do not care for foreigners. Nothing here has to be as difficult as they actually make it. If it's not Italian, it's not as good. Italians have a lot of pride in themselves and are some of the most arrogant and racist people I have ever met. They are also the most self-centered I have ever encountered....Italy starts with I! If there is a line, one will always jump to the front and ask questions, etc. There is no consideration if there are people waiting behind them, they will take their time to get their stuff done first (b/c it's all about them :0)) Itlians are VERY loud and unaware of when they are yelling in your ear or on their phones in a contained public space (ie bus, office, etc.). There are museums, cafes, restaurants and shopping; however, after a month or two, the novelty wears off. I prefer big cities and a wide variety of entertainment options. Florence doesn't have this.

Did you "commit" any embarrassing or humorous cultural blunders? If you did and you'd like to share them, please do tell!

Drinking cappuccino after 1pm, not having coffee after dinner, wearing my gym clothes outside of the gym, trying to flag down a taxi (call or go to stands instead).

Do you have any advice or thoughts about culture shock you would like to share?

If you like cities with a variety of culture and entertainment, skip Florence as a living post. Visit here and you'll love it. Living here (for me) has been very challenging and cold.

More Expat Advice about Culture Shock in Italy

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Comments about this Report

guest
Aug 16, 2010 21:58

I live in Torino and find some of the same things. The frustration stage just continues on and on. So true they don't have to make it as hard as they do. And it's so dirty.....

guest
Sep 4, 2010 05:04

I have not "lived" or moved to Florence, so I am not an expert in this area. I have been staying in Florence with my husband and 2 young boys for 3 months (we leave in Oct). I do agree with Florence getting a bit stale, after you have been to all of the museums, galleries, churches etc... there is really nothing else to do but wonder the streets. We have had the ability to leave Florence and visit other cities (on holiday) because obviously that is why we are here. But I chose to stay (base ourselves) in Florence thinking it would be a place we could live one day. It is not a great place for children, not many playgrounds are in good order and the museums and galleries are not (lets face it) for children to be amused. In our trips out of Florence we have been to Siena, Venice and Rome so far and if we were to move to one of these I would have to say it would be Rome for me. The people there were more relaxed and friendly and happy to help out. Don't get me wrong they are still very much into themselves in Rome too, especially driving and being in queues. But I found it easier to get around and ask questions. Also we have been in Florence for almost 2 months now during school holidays and my children have not had anyone to play with, we have not met any other families with children and the expats we met before coming here have also not been available for "play dates". The expats become just like the natives in Florence, especially if they are married to an Italian. I love Florence and it's beauty and the fact that it is central Italy but I think if I (personally) were to move to Italy it would be more south and definitely have to have a job worth going for. Please if you are moving to Italy, really try to learn Italian this will be one thing that helps a great deal.

guest
Sep 8, 2010 16:29

I totally agree with this report on Florence--and although I LOVE visiting Italy and have been north to south--I hate to say it--but the 'locals' response to outsiders is as presented--even if you speak passable Italian! We have also travelled and lived abroad(Middle East, Switzerland, Turkey, France) and are currently back home in Canada--out of everywhere we went, I did find Italian people the least helpful--even those in designated work positions(i.e. railway clerks,airport staff, etc.)almost to the point of rudeness. I love history and the food--Italy has so much to offer--but I'm not sure if the Italians really want to share it!

guest
Sep 9, 2010 03:22

So true. Unfortunately. Things don't have to be anywhere near as difficult as Italian's make them. It's comforting to hear someone else going through the same situation!

guest
Sep 20, 2010 14:02

All Very True. I'm living in Torino now and will be leaving next month. I have been here one year. My husband is Italian and that makes it a little easier. However, people are rude, loud and yes, always jump to the front of the line. Actually, they don't have lines, especially at the outdoor markets and forget about airplanes, boarding time is run and push time in Italy. It's really exhausting. The plus great handbags, shoes and food.

guest
Oct 7, 2010 03:54

My experience some italians are rude and arrogant but i do not understand why. In Abruzzo, some of their homes are falling down because many young italians do not want to live in the small historical villages. Foreigners are buying these houses and restoring them to look medievel. Foreigners appreciate the italian history more than the italians. So why are they snobs to some foreigners. Italians women do not have many children. So italians will need more foreigners in the future. Being arroagnt is down right stupid. Tourism from foreigner is important for job in Italy. If this arrogance get around to travelers, Italy will have a problem. Personnally I think people who are arrogant just want to feel they are better. It is just pure insecurity. I have met nice italians who do not think this way. A lot of the italian women are cold and bossy. I have been lucky to meet some nice italian women friends. My friends from South america do not like italian women. They think italian women are the meanest women they have incountered.

guest
Oct 24, 2010 11:23

What a shame none of you have been able to appreciate the splendour that is Florence or should I say Firenze, and its people!! Have lived here, because I want to, for 4 years now with my daughter and husband. My daughter speaks fluent Italian, goes to Italian school, has lovely Italian friends - as do I. I don't speak fluently but can get by well now. I find the Florentines friendly, interested and welcoming. What a different experience I am having. Florence is like no other city in Italy and this is what makes it a favourite of expats and groups. You have to give to it to get back, you don't get anything for nothing.

guest
Jan 13, 2011 06:22

Ok I agree to some extent to what you have said about Italians, they definitely can be rude, unhelpful, unfriendly, loud and sometimes arrogant. But thank God they aren't all like that. I have lived here for many, many years and can see the southerns are different from northeners but there are certainly some nice ones. Maybe I have been lucky, but have always received help in my job when I asked co-workers. For the women who live in Florence, I know there is a very large and active women's group and if you join one of the Anglo/American churches the members are very friendly and helpful. Give it a try.

gazelle
Jan 27, 2011 12:19

Been there and DOING that to all of the above. I live in Livorno and I am still in the irritation stage of culture shock. I really wish I could have met you, because I've been here for three years.

guest
Aug 15, 2011 03:04

..'do not care for foreigners. Nothing here has to be as difficult as they actually make it. If it's not Italian, it's not as good. Italians have a lot of pride in themselves and are some of the most arrogant and racist people I have ever met. They are also the most self-centered I have ever encountered....Italy starts with I'... ................ ................ YOU ARE SO RIGHT..!! COULD HAVE WROTE THE EXACT SAME LINES ABOUT THEM.I WAS WITH MY WIFE THROUGH ALL MAJOR CITIES (ROMA, FLORENCE, NAPOLI,VENITIA, MILANO AND THE ADRIATIC COAST) A FEW YEARS AGO AND GOD O GOD ARE ITALIANS SELFCENTERED, ARROGANT AND RACISTS (AS WELL AS THIEVES IN THEIR COMERCIAL ACTIVITIES..) IT IS SO OUT OF PROPORTION THAT IT BECOMES CHILDISH. I THINK THAT THERE REAL PROBLEM IS THAT THEY HAVE A HUGE INFERIORITY COMPLEX. WHAT A HUGE DECEPTION THIS COUNTRY WAS FOR US AFTER ALL THESE YEARS WE WANTED TO GO AND VISIT. AS A COMPLETE CONTRAST, WE WERE IN ZURICH (= GERMAN SWITZERLAND) IN FOLLOWING MONTHS AND WE JUST LOVED THE PLACE ALTHOUGH WE HAD PLAN AT FIRST TO JUST PASS BY.

guest
Aug 31, 2011 19:10

I spent 2 months living in catania in Sicily and it was amazing, they have no ( i mean absolutely no) manners of any sort, I have been brought up to be thankful for everything I have and when someone makes you a meal you eat it dont complain if you dont like it and say thank you, and everyone I know does the same. But here they just snatch grab the last things on the table and leave me (who out of manners waited till everyone was sat down and told i could eat) nothing. and they just park their car blocking you in a parking space and you think am i going mad this isn't normal can you not see what you have just done, and it genuinely never occurs to them to think about other people. I took 5 18 year old kids who were staying in England with me and friends ( they were family friends , the Italians) out to Stonehenge and then to Cornwall for the weekend for their benefit and all they could do was winge about how cold it was ( In the summer!) and that how they were always bored and then when we got back and not a single thank you guys for taking us all that way all we got was a shrug and a it was nice.

guest
Sep 9, 2011 03:40

I have been living in Impuneta some 44 years now, I'm 84 and handicapped, and my wife who is 74 takes care of me now, but as much as we like our privacy, we realize we'll eventually need outside help, for now daytime, later livein. We were hoping to hear from others in and around Florence, of their experiencs. Recently we had a very negative experince with a Filipino. Any ideas on day help, for me and house cleaning, would be welcome.

guest
Oct 18, 2011 05:56

Dear guest (who wrote on Sept 9th) I am sorry to hear you have struggled to find help here in Florence. I might have some ideas, if you drop me a line. Cristina Koohills@hotmail.com

guest
Apr 28, 2012 09:57

Hi there, I am a woman currently staying in Rome. Have been here for nearly 6 weeks (was in Italy visiting a number of its cities last year as well - 2011). My experiences have been similar to those posted here. I abhorr selfishness, which makes being here extremely trying, to say the least. I have experienced breathtaking rudeness to the point of craziness. The woman are cold (at least to other women who are not Italian, probably less so to men who are not Italian since simpering around men, any man, seems the first rule of their lives). However, of course, with a huge, huge effort on my part (for example I always speak in Italian - which I have only been learning, on my own, for about a month before leaving Australia), I have managed to break through in a few instances. Therefore I have made a few friends here. Men though, not women. One woman I thought was a friend (or at least going to be a friend) decided I was going to be competitioin with the men she obviously had her eyes on (she's 46 and single, I'm 41 and single). So for me, making friends with men is a lot easier. They seem to find my non-coquettishness refreshing. As well as the fact that I wear little or no makeup and am extremely down to earth with a quick smile and ready humour! All of the things I notice Italian women lack (at least, most of them in my experience). In Australia I have many, many women friends I adore. And have no difficulty making women friends. Here, however. Nope. No chance. Rudeness. yes, yes, yes. But again: I succeed in bringing them around most of the time. But god, they really make it difficult (not all, but some). And they throw their rubbish on the ground. And unfortunately like all machismo driven countries, men (who are really at the end of the day only caring about themselves) rule the roost. Which of course, explains the bitterness of the women. They are being constantly shafted in every way. Glad I was born a woman in Australia! Beautiful city Rome though. Love its peachy, golden, apricot, salmon pink buildings...etc.

guest
Jun 30, 2012 10:32

I have been living in Italy since the 90's, speak Italian fluently and still get mad with the Italians even now. Though I have met decent, intelligent and respectful Italians they are sadly in the minority! Bad manners seem to be the norm. From what I often hear from expats in Italy it seems extremely difficult for foreigners to adapt to living in Italy, and without wanting to fall into the trap of talking clichés, it sometimes feels as though no other European nation can equal Italy in terms of ego-centricity and rudeness. The only way to adapt is either to be thick-skinned about things or be somehow overcome the problem with inner strength and extra tolerance, otherwise you leave and return home. Even though I married an Italian and optimistically remained in Italy after my separation (it became increasingly difficult to deal with his selfishness and ego-centricity as time went by). I am "too northern european" to be able to adapt even after all this time. I live in central Italy (Umbria) where the locals seem territorial sometimes to the point of hostility as though they were resentful of the foreigners who buy, cherish, restructure and rebuild the buildings they have left in a state of ruin and abandon. They jump queues, park in spaces designated to the handicapped, don't seem to care about anything that is outside their front door no longer being technically their property, so they will drop litter, stop and have loud late-night conversations on their mobiles or in noisy company regardless of whom they may be keeping awake at all hours, they blatantly let their dogs soil the streets even if this is right on someone's front doorstep. I have even had lovely flowering plants stolen (regularly) which I place outside the entrance in an effort to make the spot look nicer (for everyone) and they seem to think that they have the right to steal them since, after all, anything outside the front door is apparently "nobody's property"yet this is a really small yet charming town where one would expect more civility and good manners in the interest of neighbourly rapport since we all share the same town. There is a deficit of parking places so you have to park where you can and there is always someone who feels a certain parking place (preferably the one nearest to their own front door, to be their own designated property and that they have the right of slashing tyres/scratching the paintwork of anyone else who uses the place. In short, though Italy has a lot of good points, I am still left feeling disappointed not with Italy but with the majority of Italians, their apparent low level of education and wondering whether the countless expats I have known and who returned home with similar feelings of disappointment were right after all but I am always hopeful that the next generation will be more educated, more civilized.... I have been here for so long that I think that if I did return home I might find myself disappointed with the way things and customs have changed in my own country.

guest
Jul 2, 2012 11:23

When bad things happen to you and a place makes you so unhappy you need to ask yourself the real reason why. It's not the culture, place or the people that create unhappiness, but how we chose to deal with the differences.

guest
Oct 10, 2012 12:37

RE: The LOUD thing; Americans are just as loud, except in New England.

giorgia
Aug 9, 2013 09:47

This is because you never lived in France....here's is soooo hard (I've lived in Barcelona and UK...I miss Italy so much now!). Onesuggestion: try to enjoy ti good things....

guest
Sep 7, 2014 12:55

I haven't had as many problems as you have mentioned since I've lived in some much more difficult cultures, including in developing countries of Asia and the Middle East. So I've not had problems with loudness or disorganization -- I probably complain even less about some of things than locals do. However, I have noticed here a couple of things which are quite hurtful. I suppose my problem is not about adjusting to culture differences, since I'm very used to them and I myself come from 3 different English cultures and have travelled all of my life so I probably don't really notice many things. But what I have noticed is that many Italians do show a great amount of pride (to the extend that I feel much of it might be due to feeling some low confidence, or getting in first in case we feel negatively about them, etc -- I've noticed similar things in some other places). However, compared with most other places where I've lived, it's very difficult here to get close to local people to make "real" friendships. I also find that some of the pride and arrogance, strangely enough, even comes in the form of their feeling they "know more than we do" even in terms of the country's supposed problems, as they see it. I mean, they are focused themselves much more than we are (I after living in developing, authoritarian countries hardly noticed these things at all; I'd hardly been in the West for a few years and only felt relieved to be back) on the negatives in their country, mostly related to its economic issues and governmental disorganization. But since they are more familiar with their own complaints and reasons for them than newcomers here are, no matter how knowledgeable we might be, they even become arrogant about their knowledge of this as well. I do feel that much of this relates to a fear that we might not see as many good things here as we claim to, coupled with a stereotype that if we are from countries doing fractionally better economically than their own, then we might also be naïve and not realize what is really going on here for that reason, so they have something to look down on. As I'd said though, I don't fit that stereotype since I'd been living in much less developed, authoritarian countries in a very different part of the world and hadn't even seen the West for a few years, and I'd been aware of much greater problems than one can see here -- plus, in those of those countries, the people were much more welcoming. I live also in the north of Italy at the moment (I lived in Rome before, which was a bit friendlier, but not really much; it was still superficial in its friendliness) and I have felt quite alone here despite that I make friends very easily with locals in so many other countries. I also noticed the arrogance, rudeness, entitlement and so on. It does not apply to everyone, and is not always immediately noticeable either; it often crops up when you get to know the person a little more -- maybe a defense mechanism. And yes, it also involves racism. I actually didn't notice some of these things in France, with seemed a bit more open and less insular, but I'm sure if people see it differently based on actually living there they might be on the right track.

guest
Sep 8, 2014 09:22

Incidentally, I'm also in Tuscany (I'm the one who posted the previous comment), so if anyone with similar experiences here would like to be in touch, they can. I've also not been able to get to know anyone here on anything beyond a very superficial level, which is weird for me too since I'm quite a social person.

guest
Jun 10, 2015 06:52

This report is so supportive for me, as I'm still in my frustration phase and am so happy to see - I am not alone. I appreciate the fact it's a personal experience and some people just love it here. I don't. I find Italians to be narrow minded, captivated in Middle Age way of being, thinking and behaving. Anything which is out of their norm is perceived simply unwelcome. I have met beautiful souls here, I do speak about the majority. It really feels like italy is for Italians. Or for those who are happy to adopt the way of frustration as part of life, where you do nothing about it but laugh at it and forget about it with a good glass of wine.

Piccalilli
Nov 5, 2015 08:23

Thank you so much for expressing some of the difficulties I'm also experiencing here in Milan. I moved here 5 months ago and while I try to keep saying to myself every day 'Oh well, the people are just culturally different...they're not really rude'...the truth is, they absolutely are. Unquestionably. I've learned a few things so far. Italy is all about bureaucracy, which would be okay except for the fact that their bureaucratic system is from the 1970's (no exaggeration - they don't use email, only faxes (not kidding!) and most public offices still work with card index filing systems. I lived in Moscow for a while and there's the same kind of communist feel to the state run offices here. The smallest thing from a phone contract to a bin contract is excruciatingly protracted. There are reams of complicated paperwork for the most insignificant transaction and you must queue in crowded public buildings (but only on certain days of the week, between certain hours - as Italians deign to work ). All this would be 'okay' if the Italians who work in these places were good humoured or even semi-sympathetic to the customers, but no. They are indolent, gruff, curt and for the most part almost all of them behave like sulking menstruating teens (men included). They absolutely will not give you any help beyond what they are paid to give (sometimes you won't even get that!) If you have ever watched the movie 'The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy' and recall the ridiculous scene where they are trying to fill out paperwork...then that describes Italian day-to-day business. It's unnecessarily tricky and you will get zero assistance. You absolutely WILL experience at least one whole day where you queue for hours, only to reach the top of the queue where they tell you in the most unhelpful way 'No, you need a different form'....and that's it. No help beyond that and because the Italians don't 'do' queues, manners or personal space, you will have the next person almost climbing on your back to get to the top of the line. ARGHHHHHHHH!!!! All in all, I have spent the last 20 years travelling around the world and I 'get' culture differences. But for me, Italians are profoundly selfish and ethnocentric. To them, there is only one country - theirs. They are like spoiled adult-babies in a permanent state of sulkiness. They have zero tolerance for anyone who isn't...well...'them' basically. To end on a good note however, I will add this. Once you become friends with Italians, they sort of treat you like true family. You will see a very considerate and loyal side to them then. They will do such wonderfully kind things which, will make you question why they behave so intolerably to strangers. I now understand there are aspects to their culture which makes it difficult at times to see just how wonderful they truly are. I do love living in Italy and the good really does outweigh the bad.

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