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Expat Advice: Culture Shock in Florence, Italy

Oct 05, 2016


An experienced expat provides amazing insight into life in Florence, and how unpredictable the settling in process can be - even for someone who has lived all over the world! From the beautiful countryside to struggling with the health care system, read about the experience of moving to Florence, Italy.

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


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


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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 am in the process of learning Italian, which is super necessary if you want to deal with anything official, including the healthcare system. I have had government healthcare providers hang up on me because my Italian was so bad and they did not want to slow down to allow me to understand.

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

Not at all. I have lived in 10 different countries in my lifetime - in Asia, North America, Europe & the Middle East. Culture shock is a natural process and I knew it would not all be honeymoon, though I thought being a European country it would be much easier than other places I have lived. Unfortunately this left me totally unprepared for just how difficult things would be.

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

Very significant. I was pretty shocked by the way I was spoken to in supermarkets and treated by the municipal healthcare providers. Getting my residency was especially tricky because I kept providing them with the documentation they requested, and they would then come back and put another barrier in place. Until I had an Italian friend come with me I was unable to to get my residency, when she did come with me they said everything was in place and they didn't actually need the last document they had requested.

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?

The honeymoon phase lasted about a week, which is unusually short for me. I know in a few months time I'll get past it, but Florence is a very lonely city for an expat, which makes it harder to settle.

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.

Definitely anger and depression, feeling so helpless.

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

I love the history, art, food, wine. The whole city and surrounding countryside are a feats for the eyes. And being so much closer to home as well really helps.

What are the most challenging aspects of the new culture?

Trying to accept that as long as I have an accent I will always be treated as a second rate citizen

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

not that I'm aware of but I am sure they happened :)

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

Every place I have lived has been so different. Before I moved to Thailand I expected to experience huge culture shock, yet the transition was amazing and easy. Before moving to Italy, I expected less culture shock and experienced the most I have ever had! Just go anywhere expecting culture shock and know it's a natural process. If it's still unbearable after a year or two it's probably not the place for you.

On the Italy Expat Forum

Join our Italy Forum and talk with other expats in Italy who can offer you insight and tips about living in Italy. Here are a few of the latest discussions on the Italy Expat Forum:

Italy expat forum topic
Health Insurance while waiting for Italian ID Card (17 replies)

Hello all My wife and I are living in Lombardia, having entered on an elective residence visa a short while ago. We have been to the local questura, who sent us to our local post office where we filled out and mailed in a set of completed documents there along with the required fee. We have an appointment at the Questura for fingerprints etc. about 5 months from now, and hopefully we will receive our ID cards thereafter, but likely not for some additional months. I am 75, my wife is 34. I have had medicare plus a good supplemental plan when in the US. My wife has had private health insurance we paid for in the US. Both my supplemental health insurance plan and my wife’s private coverage will expire the end of December 2018. I understand we cannot get into the public Italian National Healthcare system until our ID cards arrive. However I don’t know if we can buy into the private healthcare system in Italy before that time. Can we? If so, what’s the best way to go about it? If we can’t get into the private Italian system, I assume we will have to get private coverage from companies outside Italy. I have checked a couple of firms online, but I am beyond their age limit. So in spite of my excellent present health and excellent health history, the only figure I have been able to get for me – for fairly limited coverage -- are around US$ 600/month. Quotes for my wife are, of course, less. I’m not sure whether or not I should continue my supplemental plan in the US, at about $250/month, which is, of course, only valid for treatment in the US. What is your experience and your suggestions about the above?

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Italy expat forum topic
Language School in Rome (3 replies)

We are going to be in Rome for 3-months and was wondering if anyone knew an inexpensive (or free) language school? We are now Italian Citizens so not sure that is a plus or negative? Also, during the year we will be in a few places for 1-2 months. Would it be worth it to take lessons for this short a period of time? Thank you!

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Italy expat forum topic
retaining an English speaking lawyer (2 replies)

Hello, Need advice on how to retain an english speaking lawyer and how to handle fees. thanks

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Comments about this Report

Nov 23, 2016 23:59

The worst two years of my life!! I as well had lived in the Middle East, Africa and Asia before living there. Italy doesn't have to be so difficult, Italians just seem to enjoy making it that way. They'll tell you no just to watch you squirm. They'll enjoy putting road blocks in your way to getting things done and smile with sick pleasure. I loathe that place and will never step foot there again. Italians only like other Italians. They are not open, kind or helpful people.

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