I recently completed an eight month tour of Italy working for an English Language company on their Theatre in Education Tour. I was one of their actors, though that wasn’t half as exciting as it may sound. What it meant is living in hotel rooms, eating tuna salad daily, sharing rooms (and sometimes even beds) and an overwhelming sense of loneliness. Having said that, the tour was an experience I regret in no way. Thanks to it I’ve made friends for life (largely because they know way too many secrets!), learned how to truly appreciate food in the Italian way and also how to not let all of that glorious food expand your middle too much! On top of that, my confidence as a performer has increased more than I thought possible.
But this article isn’t really about any of these things, this article is my break down of Italy, a crash course if you will, for those wishing to explore this beautiful country.
Whilst some of you may already speak the language, I’m sure there will be many looking to explore Italy without it. To you, I highly recommend you at least try and get the basics down. In the bigger cities, yes, most people will have some level of English but if you plan on really experiencing Italy,away from all that, English isn’t going to be something you can rely on. The people are incredibly friendly here so make an effort. And since we’re on it: pronunciation. Italians very much seem to have selective hearing so even if the only words you know are “birra” (beer) and “per favore” (please), really roll those r’s or you may be left pointing at pictures.
If words aren’t really your thing, no worries, Italians talk with their hands as much as their mouths. The US Consulate in Milan have put together a rather humorous, and helpful, video to get you started.
Italian’s take meal times really seriously. This, in my experience, is because meal times are when the family really get to communicate. They’re grand affairs simply because it lengthens the time you’re all together. It’s rare that a meal won’t consist of at least two courses; the first is the pasta course, the second is the meat. And because they take meal times so seriously, don’t expect to find anywhere open around lunch time. More often than not, shops (supermarkets included) close 1-3:30pm because lunch shouldn’t be rushed. Oh and since I’m mentioning shop closure now, I may as well include here that Sunday’s are still very much a day of rest. Plan ahead.
First things first, drive on the right!! Coming from the UK it took a while to really get used to that. There were a lot of near misses, swerves and accidental punchings of the door in a bid to reach the gear stick. When you’ve got all of that down, then you really need to start paying attention because the only word to sum up Italian drivers is crazy. And I mean that. Here are a couple useful translations to help you on your way:
Flashing = “Get out of my way!”
Beeping = “In case you didn’t see me, because I know you didn’t check your mirrors, I’m right here.”
Hazards whilst stationary = “Yep, I’m parking right here.”
Signalling = “I’m not Italian.”
Lastly, where driving is concerned, the rules of the road are really more like guidelines, unless, of course, the Carabinieri (Military Police) or Polizia (Police) are around!
A note to the pedestrians among us, zebra crossings. You may be used to waiting patiently at the side of the road for the cars to stop but you’ll be waiting a long time in Italy. If you don’t want to spend more time than necessary crossing the road, as soon as you see a car has enough stopping distance, walk. Because otherwise you’re going to be waiting a while!
And that’s it, my brief, yet more useful, tips and pointers for those wishing to fully experience the history, scenery and cultural quirks that make up some of Italy’s most endearing qualities. Enjoy, and happy travels!