Five bizarre things about Florence from an English perspective

From how to pay for your coffee to a Florence without Florentines

Lavinia Butt
October 1, 2015

When living abroad for the first time, all the peculiarities of a place stand out to you. Florence is no different. Some of these quirky distinguishing details make you smile, while others make you want to hurl insults off the Palazzo Vecchio. But life is always beautiful, of course.

 ph. flickr user woody

1.     Paying at a café

For the easily flustered and confused types like me, paying at a café in Florence can be a stressful affair. This is because there are five ways of paying. Some bars offer table service, some make you pay your server directly, some send you across the café to pay that ‘other guy’ who frankly seems no more capable of giving you change than the waiter who has just served you, some want you to pay at another counter with another till on the other side of the café, and some want you to collect a receipt first to then give to the guy who will hand you your panino. Every time I shuffle between counters, it feels like when you meet someone head on in the street and neither of you know which side to pass; awkward and unnecessarily time consuming.

For more on How to Navigate an Italian Coffee Bar, see

ph. @marcobadiani

2. Florence without Florentines

If you ever need directions, finding a Florentine who can help you is like a game of Where’s Wally. In other words, there really aren’t very many Florentines living in the centre at all. Arguably the epicentre of tourism in Italy, now that I have witnessed the busy piazzas and city streets of the centro storico, it is no surprise that the majority of Florentines have sought calmer living in the peripheries. I learnt from some Florentine students that many of them never venture into town from their university campus in Novoli, northwest Florence, during the week. One of them even boasted to having never seen the inside of the Duomo.

3. Late-night gelato replace kebabs

The classic English student night consists of copious alcohol, getting aggressively shoved about on a dance floor and buying a kebab on the way home. Depending on who you go out with, a night in England and Florence can be similar excepting one thing: meat has been ditched for dairy! While post-drinking ice-cream is something that has rarely been done in the UK, gelaterie in Florence can stay open as late as 1 or 2 am and are often a popular choice. (Although, it does have to be said, kebab consumption is definitely on the up in Florence.)


illux. Leo Cardini


4. ‘Ladri di Biciclette’: Part 2

If you aren’t familiar with Vittorio da Sica’s neorealist film Bicycle Thieves, watch it; it will both entertain and prepare you for Florence. Biking is hugely popular here. As a small city, you can comfortably get from place to place in under 30 minutes by bike. So if a Florentine isn’t scootering, he is most definitely biking. Alas, bikes have a tendency of mysteriously vanishing. Sometimes the thief is kind enough to leave parts of the bike behind, the frame, a wheel or, in some bizarre cases, only the basket. Although a constant paranoia, all you can do is pray that, with the thousands of bikes dotted about the city, they won’t take yours…


Get your super cool How to Keep Your Bike Safe poster from The Florentine here:



5. The casino!

Florence is neither the calmest nor most organised of cities (nor is it the absolute craziest by Italian standards). Crossing the street here can at times feel like you are stuck in the middle of a very violent dodgem-cars ride at a luna park. But if it’s not Italian driving that kills you, it can be guaranteed that a bus journey will. Rarely expect ATAF buses to be on time or the timetable to be accurate. Plan to be kept waiting (45 minutes in one of my cases), for your stop to be ‘saltato’, missed or, worse still, to find out however many minutes later that the bus never actually set off. ‘Why does this happen?’ I asked an 80-year-old local one day. She shrugged and replied, ‘Siamo in Italia’. An acceptable response.

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