Whether just arrived or a veteran foreigner in Florence, life in our beloved city can get pretty challenging sometimes. We’ve all surely asked ourselves at some point, ‘What on earth am I doing here?’ The culture we live in is different from the one that we grew up in and this causes a gap between what we think is normal and what is actually happening around us. This phenomenon is called culture shock and sometimes it can leave a dark espresso stain on our experience abroad.
A place where you can see this most is probably the foreigner-in-Italy Facebook groups. You can read all about how much people miss what used to be normal to them. Whether that be organised traffic, respectful queuing or drinking cappuccino all day long without feeling weird, they’re all things we tend to label as ‘right’. So everything that is different from that, like crazy driving, non-existent queuing systems or strict coffee rules can make us feel uneasy.
We like order, we like things to be ‘normal’ and for them to be predictable. That’s just human nature. It allows us to make sense of what’s going on around us and therefore to feel safe. Surprise! Living abroad isn’t anything like that—and that’s exactly what makes it both fun and unsettling at the same time.
So how best to deal with culture shock? There are two ways to respond to it: resist or accept it. Only you can decide what your attitude is going to be.
Resisting means focusing on everything that’s different from what you’re used to and letting it get to you on a daily basis. You find people that are as unhappy about living in Italy as you are and together you have entertaining rant parties. You scowl at everything that goes wrong and you only manage to see what’s bad about this country. Except for when the sun is shining and the weather is tolerably hot, then Italy is passable. For the rest it all sucks and everyone should know.
Here’s a question for you: what on earth are you doing here? It’s your choice to be here and you’re the only one responsible for making the best of it. Take a closer look at your negative feelings and explore what’s underneath them. Is it fear or uneasiness? Or is it something that you value greatly which is missing in your life? Playing the Italy-is-to-blame game only drives you further away from being happy.
So how can we be happier while living with the occasionally irritating things that life in Italy brings along? The magic word is acceptance. Nota bene, this doesn’t have anything to do with giving up and being a silent victim of your situation. It’s about accepting the things that are outside your control (in other words, the things that make Italy Italy) and focusing on what is within your control.
You don’t have a satisfactory job? Create as many opportunities to find another one. Can’t get along with your in-laws? Try to reduce seeing them to a minimum and accept that it’s just the way they are. Constantly fighting with your Italian partner about what’s right and what’s wrong? Accept the differences: you grew up in different cultures, so you’re bound to have different points of view. Feeling lonely? Call your family on Skype, go to social gatherings like The Florentine events, join a sports team, go out and see people, get a pet or try talking to someone. The bottom line is you’re the only one who can do something about it.
So, ask yourself, ‘What part of your situation is under your control and what can you do to make it better?’ You’re responsible for your life, not the place you live in. And changing that perspective can completely change the way you live your Florentine life.