A few weeks ago an article popped up on my Facebook newsfeed that was titled, "45 Things You Probably Didn't Know About Fort Worth". That, along with a comment from a friend (thank you Mark C.) got me to thinking about the things I've learned while living here and I realized that unless you do live here, there are a lot of things that might come as a surprise. I'm keeping my list limited to Northern Italy because Italian culture varies greatly depending on where you happen to be. Before I begin my list I need to give credit where credit is due. We have a Facebook page dedicated to the company expats living here and I asked for help in coming up with this list. I only came up with about a dozen things and the rest came from my expat friends so a big thank you goes out to Gary, Jen, Russ, Carlene, Joann, and Sunny! You guys gave me so many great suggestions and I really appreciate it. So here are 36 things you probably didn't know about Northern Italy...
1. Driver's licenses are very difficult to get, even for Italians.
2. There are many rules but they are largely regarded as suggestions. That coupled with the difficulty in obtaining a driver's license might explain the crazy driving here.
3. The Polizia (local police) and Carabinieri (military police) don't need a reason to pull you over. Mostly they stand by the side of the road and hold out a round reflector (we call it getting lollypopped) if they want to stop you. There are many different penalties, everything from fines to getting your license or your car taken away if the offense is serious enough. They can fine you for something as trivial as not having your required safety vest and triangle in your glove box.
4. So you got lollypopped and receive a fine. Where do you go to pay it? Why the post office of course. While the Italian postal system isn't exactly reliable the post office does a booming business. You can go there to pay fines and utilities, receive paperwork for citizenship and even buy books and school supplies.
5. Stamps however are purchased from the local tobacco shops (called Tabacchi). You can also buy bus and subway tickets there.
6.Parking lots can be very confusing. There are a lot of barriers and one way signs and parking is extremely limited in some places. No worries though, most Italians make their own parking spots, even if it means their cars block some or most of the road.
7. Going somewhere? Better not be between the hours of 12:00-3:30 p.m. The majority of businesses still observe siesta and will likely be closed during those hours. The exception is usually grocery stores although some of those close as well.
8. If you are going to a grocery store be sure you have a 1 euro coin so you can get a shopping cart. This is actually a better plan than most American supermarkets if you ask me. Return your cart to the corral and you get your money back. It keeps people from leaving their carts all over the parking lot. Also, bring your own bags unless you want to pay for them.
9. Going somewhere in August? Better check to see if it's open. August is the holiday month for most Italians and it's not unusual for the majority of businesses to close for the entire month. This may also include gas stations although the self -serve pumps may still be open.
10. I hope you don't get thirsty when you find someplace that's open. Drinking fountains are nonexistent here.
11. But bars are everywhere, including in stores. Mostly they serve caffè, but it is sometimes possible to get a bottle of water. Just don't count on a cold drink with ice. Once in a very blue moon you can go to a fast-food place (McDonald's and Burger King are the only choices here) and get ice in your drink but it's only a few small cubes that melt in the first few minutes.
12. Caffè is consumed at all hours of the day and by caffè, I mean espresso. It's very common after lunch and dinner as well as an afternoon pick-me-up.
13. Cappuccino is usually served at breakfast. You can order it after 10 a.m. but they look at you really weird if you do.
14. Care for a gelato? Italy has the best anywhere but flavors are seasonal so don't expect to get Mango in the winter.
15. Going out for dinner? Expect very limited choices. I've learned that Americans as a whole are spoiled when it comes to variety in restaurants. Here the choices are usually, pizza, pasta or hamburgers. You can also get steak or grilled chicken at some places.
16. Hope you're not hungry before 7 or 7:30 p.m. Most ristorantes don't open for dinner before then.
17. Ordering a steak? Hope you like it medium-rare because that's the way you're getting it no matter how you order it.
18. If bread is brought to your table before your meal arrives it will not be served with butter or olive oil. Most Italians eat bread during the meal and to sop up what's left on the plate. Do not expect it to be served with a little plate for dipping.
19. If you order a pizza don't expect it to be sliced. Pizzas are served whole and are eaten with a knife and fork.
20. If you like pepperoni pizza don't order one here or you'll get a pizza with peppers. The closest thing to what we think of is pepperoni here is salami picante and it will either be very mild or very hot.
21. Dogs are allowed everywhere, including restaurants.
22. After your food is brought to your table don't expect your waiter to return with a "how is everything?" or "does anyone need any refills?". If you need something you can flag your waiter down but other than that they will not return to your table until well after your meal is complete.
23. And don't expect to have a quick meal. Service us usually very slow as mealtime is looked upon as something to be savored and experienced.
24. Speaking of slow, if you need something repaired or a service provided I hope you have plenty of time. They'll get to it when they get to it.
25. If you need a prescription for something go to the pharmacy. A lot of prescriptions can be purchased "over the counter" from the pharmacist.
26. If you need an over the counter drug like Tylenol (not sold by that name here) go to the pharmacy. You will not find it at the grocery store.
27. Shopping malls are very different here. If you're in a bigger city like Milan there are some similarities to American malls but most "malls" are just grocery stores with a few other stores and a bar attached.
28. The sales tax rate here is 23% and is added to pretty much anything you buy.
29. The price of gas is by the liter and is equivalent to paying around $9 a gallon.
30. Everything is more expensive here. The dental floss that I pay around $1 for at Walmart is 5 euros here. That's about $5.50!
31. While everything is more expensive, most things are smaller. For instance, my washing machine holds about 1/4 of the load my American one does.
32. Speaking of washing machines, most of them (including mine) are in the main bathroom.
33. My washing machine is also a "dryer". I put it on quotations because it doesn't work like the dryers in America. My clothes are usually pretty damp when I pull them out so I put them on drying racks and use a dehumidifier to complete the drying process. Not unusual at all around here. Most people don't even have dryers.
34. For all the emphasis the Italians put on cooking, most Italian kitchens are very small.
35. Most refrigerators are very small which can make food storage a little challenging. I guess they make them that way to go into the small kitchens.
36. Italians love fresh food so they usually shop more than once a week. The food containers are smaller as well. We buy milk by the liter not the gallon which is a good thing since the gallon containers wouldn't fit in the small refrigerator which is in the small kitchen...
So there you have it. Thanks again for those of you who helped compile this list! These are the things that make living here interesting to say the least.
Arrivederci for now!