Living in Florence: Italian Traffic, Gelato Flavors and other nuances

Italy is an easy country to get a handle on and the language barrier doesn’t really present many problems, except when you’re trying to talk your way out of a bus-ticket fine… My study abroad trip is approaching the three week marker and through a combination of being a tourist and living here with an Italian family, I’ve learned a lot about the culture, my Italian has improved vastly, and I’ve definitely eaten my weight’s worth in both gelato and olive oil. Here are some pointers for all you backpackers and Italian-culture connoisseurs I’ve picked up by talking to other tourists, my Italian host family and by learning lessons the hard way on my own.

Gelato Flavors, Food and Wine

1. If you can, avoid buying gelato from the gelaterias around the touristy places like the city center. It is often over priced and not even “genuine” gelato anyways.

  • I met an Italian who told me that any mounded gelato (like the gelato in the picture) has been infused with extra milk and dairy products. Instead, you can find gelato places outside the city center where you get twice the gelato for your Euro—and its real. If the ice cream is not elaborately decorated with fruit and whipped cream or mounded to stand very high above the tub itself it’s real gelato. Trust me, I’ve hit up almost all of the gelaterias in Florence and the best stuff I’ve tasted comes from little hole-in-the-wall places on random corners and streets where only locals go.

2. You can get a great bottle of wine at the supermarket for 2 Euro. Cheaper over here doesn’t necessarily mean worse-tasting like it does in the U.S. Getting glasses of wine and bottles of wine at restaurants is very expensive and unless you have a lot of dime to drop you’ll only want to do this on occasion.

3. Italians put olive oil on everything. I became a fan pretty quickly and am inches away from literally pouring it on my breakfast cereal, it’s that good over here. When you buy olive oil look at the year on the bottle—the more recent the better because it’s more fresh.

4. Italians eat dinner around 8:30 or 9:00 pm so it takes getting used to.

  • I was devastated to find out from my Italian host mom that chicken parmesan and chicken alfredo does not, in fact, exist in Italy. When I told her I love those “Italian” dishes she had no idea what I was talking about.
  • Italians eat a few courses, typically starting with salad and bread dipped in olive oil or balsamic, then a light pasta dish, and afterwards moving on to prepared meat or fish (seasoned with home grown herbs in their little tomatoes gardens) and ending with a piece of fruit and coffee. They don’t eat dessert often here.

5. There is no such thing as Starbucks in Italy. For a caffeine and coffee addict like myself, I thought I would pretty much die of caffeine-withdrawal headaches the first week.

  • Unlike America’s drinking bar, a “Bar” here is a coffee place where you can get a sandwich or a small pastry. There is no such thing as a “to-go” cup. When you order a café at a bar in Italy you will get a little tiny tea cup with a shot of espresso, sometimes with water or milk added, and you stand at the bar and drink it.
  • They don’t actually brew coffee so the closest thing you can get to an American cup of coffee is called “un café americano”. It is essentially a shot of espresso with hot water and steamed milk.

Italian Traffic

1. Stop signs and cross walks are optional for drivers in Italy. Don’t assume they will stop. However, if you aren’t also aggressive as a pedestrian you will wait for hours at a corner waiting to cross the street.

  • At the beginning of my trip I was on a run waiting to cross a busy street and cars just weren’t stopping at the cross walk. I waited for a few minutes and then this little elderly Italian man came right up, hobbled out into the street, threw out his hand palm up and (embarrassingly for me) traffic stopped dead until he was on the other side of the road. Since then I’ve followed his lead and cars let me cross right away. I always see groups of tourists in the city center waiting to cross forever, so don’t be afraid to be an aggressive pedestrian.

2. I’ve been to lots of big cities including Paris, London, and New York, and out of all of them Italian drivers are hands down the most aggressive and wreckless.

  • My Italian mom’s friend’s son has taken me for a few rides on the mo-ped and he drives fast. They all do. Double check for bikes and motor scooters before crossing as well because they are hard to spot and they whip out of nowhere on sharp corners at high speeds…Italians love to drive fast.

3. Don’t bike in an Italian city unless you want to die. Period.

  • I met an Italian girl last week who was born and raised riding bikes in Italy. She certainly knows how to ride in a big city with buses and mo-peds swerving in and out, but even she has been hit by a bus, a mo-ped and a few cars. At my surprise, she told me that it wasn’t uncommon for accidents and people on bikes to get bumped and hit by the rammy traffic. Essentially, Italian traffic is a blood bath.

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