While culture shock is definitely very real, it does wear off as you get used to ‘the rules’ of daily life. Once you find out milk is considered bad for the digestion, for example, it starts to make sense why stranieri are sniggered at for ordering a cappuccino alongside pizza. Other things, though, continue to baffle me.
I’ve lived in Italy for five years and I have questions.
Why are painkillers so expensive? For better or worse, it’s cheap to get your hands on paracetamol or ibuprofen in the UK. What’s more, over the counter medicine is readily available not just at pharmacies but also supermarkets, newsagents and even petrol stations. In Italy, painkillers are expensive, costing around €5-10 a box. Plus, it seems like no one has ever challenged this pharmaceutical monopoly.
“Bancomat o carta?” Ok, I get that the shop assistant is asking if I want to pay by debit or credit card but why are they asking me that? What difference does it make to the machine? What happens if I say bancomat but then really pay by credit card? (Disclaimer: I used to work in credit cards so maybe I’m a nerd and no one else cares).
Fette biscottate. Why these dried out old biscuits/dehydrated bread slices/fake toasts exist will forever be a mystery to me, especially when other delicious breakfast foods – not to mention actual fresh bread – are available.
Why isn’t savoury breakfast a thing? Yes, a cappuccino and cornetto is delicious but I don’t want to eat it every day. Don’t get me wrong, Italian cuisine is change-your-life amazing but food is such a big deal here that I don’t understand why the most important meal of the day is so neglected.
Why can’t Italians queue? Please don’t make me write a disclaimer on every tongue in cheek post I write. Yes, #notallitalians queue jump but those that do, do it well and without shame. I have no difficulty in calling out people who push in but sometimes I don’t even see it coming. It’s an art.
Where is the washing machine kept, in the bathroom or the kitchen? I’d never seen a washing machine in the bathroom before moving here but apparently some folks feel very strongly about where the washing machine should live. Argue it out amongst yourselves.
The bidet. I’ll admit to coming around to the Italian way of thinking – if you had poop anywhere (other than the obvious place) on your body, would wiping with toilet roll be clean enough for you? – but I still feel like there’s some big secret that people won’t talk about. Bidets are not commonplace in other countries and us outsiders want to know the official rules.
Why do you ask how many people live in my hometown? Before moving to Italy, literally no one had ever asked me the population size of my hometown but now it happens with enough frequency that I actually Googled the answer.
Why can’t I drink tap water in a restaurant? Or, more specifically, why is ok that restaurants refuse to serve tap water? I can deal with a €2 charge for bottled water but when places charge €5+, I start to get irked. For the most part, tap water is safe to drink here, let me have it.
Why is it called plum cake? There’s no plum in it.
Rome bonus: Why is Termini so badly designed? I imagine the design process went a little like this: “Ok, so passengers from the B line get off and change for the A line here. Let’s put the escalator on the far side so those with suitcases have to fight through the mass of people taking the stairs. Oh, and we’ll stick a column in the middle of everything too.” *kisses fingers*
Do you have your own mysteries of Italian everyday life? Add them in the comments below. And if you have answers to any of the above, share your wisdom with me!