Surviving the city

Learn to live like a Florentine

Beatrice Quiddlesticks
September 23, 2010

If you're studying abroad in Florence this semester and come from the States, you're going to notice some differences between your hometown and this one. America: land of convenience, high-speed wi-fi, Walmart. Florence is not the same-nor should it be. So life here may take some getting used to. Cognizance, in this sense, is key. Be prepared and have realistic expectations and you will be happy (or at least not nastily surprised!).


Adapt to the local norms. For example, I am often on the receiving end of complaints from students who claim to be freezing in their apartments. Yet,  when the landlord or handyman arrives in the apartment, he discovers (in early December) its residents clad in tank tops and Soffe shorts. Utilities in Italy are expensive, and you don't need to run the gas 24 hours a day to stay warm. If you're not home during the day, turn down the heat. Keep the windows closed. Put on a sweater! And put on some pants!


There's a good chance your water will kick the bucket for a few hours. Or just the hot water. Or maybe the water pressure in your apartment goes from drizzle to monsoon in a matter of seconds. I promise, your acqua troubles are no different from those of the average Florentine. You'll just need to grin and bear it! If your water is out for more than a few hours then call your landlord, but chances are it's just routine construction or maintenance and things will be ‘normal' soon enough.


The same goes for your Internet access: it will likely be slow and unlikely to efficiently stream that latest episode of 'Dancing with the Stars' you've been dying to watch. Widespread wireless Internet access is a very recent development in Florence. Those regal marble floors and yellow plaster so characteristic of Renaissance architecture are not super convenient for wi-fi signals. Yes, it's frustrating when your Skype drops 10 times in 10 minutes, but take it as a sign to go for a walk, see an exhibit, people watch. Take advantage of the opportunity to leave technology behind and observe!


Along with utilities come other charming aspects of Florentine living. Those of you living in the city center may have frescoes and funky rooms shaped like parallelograms. Appliances are different, and likely smaller than what you're used to. This is not just characteristic of Florence, but most cities with limited space. If you don't have room for clothes, get some collapsible storage, maybe for under the bed or on a shelf. IKEA, with its free weekend shuttle, is the place to stock up on inexpensive storage.


Keep in mind that local ‘quiet hours' start at 11 p.m. I've seen (rather heard) this rule be violated by locals, too, but if your neighbors decide to call the carabinieri on your impromptu midnight karaoke party, don't be aghast when you are hit with a hefty fine and a firm reprimand. This will also aggravate your landlord, which will aggravate your school, which jeopardizes your status as a student here. Try to be respectful of your neighbors-for their sake, and yours.


I understand the urge to eat Nutella for dinner with a side of baguette, and I'm not suggesting you eat twigs and barley for four months, but it's important to stay healthy and active. Your body will go through an adjustment period as you adapt to your new routine and lifestyle. You'll probably be walking more than usual, up a lot more steps (ever seen an escalator in Florence?) and the climate may be different from what you're accustomed to. Buy some giant bottles of water or a Brita and stay hydrated. Walking around in a dusty city will drain your energy. Take advantage of the numerous markets and produce stands and enjoy whatever is in season.


Have a wonderful stay in Florence and remember that you'll get the most out of living here by, well, living here. Find yourself a daily coffee place, a regular vendor at the market and others who recognize you as more than a fleeting visitor. You are in a place where many people are here one day, and gone the next. Make your stay into an experience by which you are remembered fondly.



Need affordable student housing in Florence for your Italian adventure? or need place for friends and family to stay when they visit? Centrally located rentals are available now. Check out this flat and its awesome views of the Duomo.

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