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Expat Advice: Culture Shock in Florence, Italy

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.

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