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I'm a 21-year-old journalism student. I spent last semester living in Florence, Italy. These are my adventures.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Diversity Diary #1

Something professors here are big on: journals. I have to keep a journal for two of my five classes.
For Intercultural Communication, we are to write a "diversity diary" reflecting on the different customs here and any culture shock we may experience.

So here we go.

Most things, I can get used to.

  • No heat? My body already seems to be adjusting. The apartment feels less frigid every day.
  • No dryer? Sure my shirts are stiff and towels are literally crunchy after air drying them, but they soften up after a bit of use. My towel not so much, but its roughness will become an exfoliant.
  • Only one electrical appliance at a time? OK so just use the washer at night, stove during the day and check the two before I turn on a hairdryer, which I usually don't anyway.
  • Short showers? Well that's already been taken care of. I've been showering in 5 minutes for the past two years since I am eternally late to something.
  • No car? I like walking, and my tennis shoes are incredibly comfortable.
  • Coins for everything under €5? No problem. I'm just pleasantly surprised by how far a little change in my pocket goes.
But what I can't get used to yet is the sidewalk etiquette.
For one, I like to smile at people. Back home when I walk down the street, I always try to smile or at least acknowledge the presence of people around me. If I'm at a park, I'll even say hi to passersby. But here that doesn't work. Not only does it immediately peg me as a foreigner, but it also gives the wrong impression. Apparently even a split second of eye contact with a man will tell them I'm open for business. Not exactly what I'm looking for. So step one: avert eyes from everyone passing.
That makes the second step particularly difficult. Step two: watch out. People don't step aside to let you pass until you've forcibly repeated "permesso" several times. But most of the time, you have three options: walk ahead like you own the sidewalk, flatten yourself against a wall or step around them and onto the street. I usually choose the final one, which hurls a whole new set of problems at me.
The streets are narrow and the cars are tiny, undetectable and fast. I had hoped my insane taxi ride from the airport to my apartment on day one was just a poor example of Italian driving. He sped around cars on roads I would consider one lane, one way. We merged with equally crazy cars missing bumpers by inches. It turns out he may have been mild. Essentially Italians seem to drive as if they think they have snow plows attached to the front of their tiny cars for all those darn pedestrians. The other day a moped brushed against me as it turned.
So let's throw another contradictory precaution in the mix. Step three: keep an eye on the cobblestone. I think you have to walk on these sidewalks for years to be able to gracefully maneuver this city. I saw a girl who was probably around 8 years old walking across cobblestone in rather high wedges as if the place was a runway. I envy her. Being as naturally uncoordinated as I am, even in tennis shoes I'm constantly twisting my foot on the uneven paths.
Once you master steps one-three, try to get a handle on the last one.
Step four: read the street signs. In the end, it won't matter how well you can pass people, avoid cars and hopscotch over the sunken cobblestones. Who cares how gracefully you can walk along the sidewalk if you don't know where you are?

I may look calm as I walk down the street, but look closer. My eyes are darting every which way and all of my rules are running through my head. Don't look at people, watch for traffic, mind the cobblestone, keep track of street signs.
Oh, and make sure your bag is in front of you. Getting pickpocketed didn't quite make my list of things I must do before leaving Florence.

I'm mastering the sidewalks though, and if this is one of the bigger adjustments I've had to make, I'd say I'm doing pretty well.

Please enjoy this video Nicoletta showed us during class.
It's hilarious, and the driving part is all too accurate.

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