Since this is my first column in any newspaper, I feel some introductions are in order. I’m Katie Kline, a bisexual junior at Knox with a pixie cut and a lot of opinions. At no point will I guarantee that said opinions are logical, but at least I’m honest. This series of biweekly articles will be focused on my (mis)adventures studying abroad as part of the 10-week Florence program offered by ACM. To give you an idea of my view of things, I have moved seven times in my life, but I have never traveled overseas. The only country I’ve been to outside the U.S. is Canada, which feels like a mildly improved U.S.A. with more etiquette, hugs and hockey. As a result, my first week in Florence was evenly divided between slight culture shock, a sense of wariness and genuine awe at the beauty of the city.
Most of the culture shock I experienced seemed to stem from huge changes in eating habits. In the U.S., I get sick if I eat dairy, red meat, chocolate, certain preservatives and a host of other things. As a result, I live off of fruit and snack foods when I’m at Knox, usually on 4-6 small meals a day. In Italy, breakfast is tiny and almost always sweet. You will not have bacon with your toast and jam if you are relying on restaurants or hotels to get your food. Instead, you will find that coffee and bread are breakfast staples. Also, coffee here is mostly espresso with various add-ons like milk, chocolate and/or sugar. You will not find Starbucks-style coffee in most places, even if you ask for “un caffe Americano.” Lunch is a light literally after noon affair that most people eat while standing up at various panini shops. (It costs extra to sit at most restaurants.) Pro tip: One sandwich is “un panino”, a lot of sandwiches would be “molti panini.”
Finally, dinner is a long meal that takes up at least two hours. You receive a pasta course, a main course, some form of fruit or vegetable, and dessert … usually with a glass of wine. It’s a bit overwhelming at first, spending the day walking around all over with low blood sugar due to a lack of food, only to arrive at your host family’s house and see mountains of food, but you do get used to it. On the bright side, Italian cooking is mostly preservative free and low-fat, which basically eliminated any diet restrictions I had. Vegans, vegetarians and other people who eat unique diets can easily depend on Florence to provide a myriad of suitable dishes without charging huge amounts for them.
Another cultural difference that I want to address prior to signing off is the major gap in social customs. If you look an Italian man in the eye, it will often be taken as an invitation to talk. While a number of these men mean well, there are still enough incidents between the genders to make me write this warning: if an Italian man invites you home, it is a big deal; to accept that invitation is equivalent to saying you like the man in question, usually in a romantic context.
Whether you know this cultural note or not, to visit an Italian man’s house is often to put yourself in an uncomfortable, very touchy-feely position. And yes, I do know this from personal experience to some degree, for while I did not get into a car and go home with someone, I did allow a recent Florentine acquaintance to buy me dinner near his house. The aftermath was very awkward and resulted in a hasty cab ride back to my hotel, away from him. That being said, Florence is still a lovely city, and not all men are like this. Alora, ciao mie amici. Voi vedo tra due settimane.