Moving to Italy can sometimes be fraught with difficulty… AND I have realized on the way into “la dolce vita” that there are some common assumptions foreigners make when they move to Italy. Let me introduce you some of mine:
Assuming things will be open at lunch time
In the beginning you learn it the hard way; like when you go to the bank at lunch time and you see the sign at the door: chiuso 12-14. Or you want to go shopping in town just to discover that almost every shop is closed at lunch time! Pretty annoying… especially because you keep forgetting it all the time in the beginning.
Showing up early to parties
“Fashionably late” is always a good idea for parties the world over. However in Italy it is a practical necessity, unless you want to be standing on your own, waiting for everybody else to show up. For informal evenings with friends, anything up to half an hour after the invitation time is on the polite spectrum. But if your are a very punctual person, like myself, it is very difficult not being on time. Ones it turns out to be even a bit comically, when all the mums from my sons Italian school were suppose to meet at a pizzaria at 20 o’clock. I arrived around 19.50 and as it was an evening in autumn I decided to wait inside the pizzaria instead of freezing outside. I waited and waited and as no one had showed up yet I looked outside and finally after 30min some of the mums from school arrived and stood outside. They were talking with each other at the “piazza”. And inside I was still waiting and waiting. Finally at 20.45 they all enter and when they saw me they said a little bit annoyed: “There you are. We were waiting for you”. I did not mention that I had been waiting for them about 1 hour!
Assuming fresh skimmed milk will be available
In Denmark you can buy fresh skimmed milk literally everywhere. So I was surprised to discover that in Italy, you can not buy fresh skimmed milk everywhere. In the matter of fact I only found it in one supermarket, when we arrived 5 years ago. And unfortunately they did not have many (maybe only 3-4 liter at a time) which should last a few days since the supermarket only got fresh milk every third or fourth day a week. So here I was literally running in the supermarket to get the few skimmed milk available before my Danish expat friends got their hands on them.
Thinking you can use your credit/debit cards everywhere
By the letter of the law, businesses in Italy are legally obliged to let you pay with your debit/credit card for any item costing more than 5€. However Italy is a country of small and medium sized businesses, which has implications here too. Most independent shopkeepers have either so-far refused to buy a chip-and-pin machine for their premises or simply will not accept cards for small transactions as it is not worth them losing part of your fee as commission. So here you are in a shop giving the shopkeeper your credit card as the most natural thing, when the shopkeeper refuse to take your card… which can be pretty annoying, when you do not have any cash AND really need to buy the items in the shop.
Assuming the Christmas tree can be bought the whole December
Yes – they do have Christmas trees in Italy. And yes – they do decorate Christmas trees like we do (or almost). But if you think you can buy trees from around the beginning of November, you are going to be very disappointed, when you realize that you can only buy Christmas trees from the beginning of December AND more important… what you see (in the shop) is what you will be able to buy – that is it! No extra trees in stock and they are not going to buy more trees. So you have to know the exact time when the Christmas trees arrives and immediately go to the ONLY shop in the area, in order to secure yourself a Christmas tree, if you want to have a tree for Christmas.