I have now officially lived in Rome for three full days and am already picking up on some unexpected cultural differences between Italy and the United States. My roommates and I ventured into the heart of the city earlier this week on a mission to find the Trevi Fountain and the Spanish Steps. I’ve never realized how much I take street signs for granted. Forget about those convenient poles stuck in the ground at every American corner with two street names listed. In Italy, most street names are posted on the sides of corner buildings. These names are very Italian and very beautiful and sometimes change halfway down a straight road. Consequently, yours truly (who can and has gotten lost within five miles of the house she has lived in her entire life) promptly realized the importance of being alert and paying attention to surroundings in this still-foreign country.
We did eventually find both the Trevi Fountain and the Spanish Steps and I was amazed at how crowded these sites were. While the Liberty Bell and Independence Hall aren’t exactly popular among native Philadelphians, both Italians and tourists congregated at the Trevi Fountain and the Spanish Steps. Who can blame them? Both places were breathtaking and the realization that natives do appreciate the gorgeous city they live in completely disarmed me. We plan to go back early in the morning one day this semester to snap pictures and really enjoy a non-jetlagged version of these very touristy, very cool locations.
Taking the metro for the first time proved to be doable even for first-time users. Buying, using, and getting on the correct trains were not difficult tasks, but I learned an interesting fact about Italian public transportation; buses (more so than the metro really) are run on a sort of honor system. On the metro, the gates don’t open unless you insert a ticket, but on buses and trams, drivers don’t collect tickets. Instead, you have to “validate” a pass by having it electronically stamped with the time and date. Consequently, it is possible to utilize public transportation without paying for it. However, if you don’t have a validated ticket when an unannounced collector boards a train or bus, you are fined at least €50. This “honor system” speaks volumes about the relaxed Italian lifestyle, which is further illustrated by the fact that most businesses are closed for a couple of hours in the afternoon for siesta time. I love a siesta as much as any Italian so you won’t catch me complaining about this cultural quirk.
So far Italians have presented themselves as generally more unhurried than Americans. They take their time speaking, eating, and walking, but driving is the exception to this otherwise laid-back attitude. The whole waiting for someone to let you cross the street thing doesn’t work here. The tense, stop-and-go pace of the cars and scooters was the first thing that I noticed on the way to the residence from the airport. Drivers are extraordinarily alert and very speedy in Italy. Vespas and motorcycles weave in and out of cars in traffic and drivers utilize their horns more frequently than they do in the United States. The traffic was overwhelming at first, but after a couple of days someone pointed out that the huge streets are not nearly crowded as they were built to be.
Apparently, we arrived for the program during the Italian holiday. Many Italians vacation in August and school doesn’t start for children until September so the metro and the streets have been comparatively empty. I’m grateful for a couple of weeks to familiarize myself with Italian idiosyncrasies, like street signs on buildings, public transportation that trusts you more than SEPTA, and drivers of little Fiats who could care less about a pedestrian’s right of way, before all of the Romans return home. These past few days have been good practice for the post-holiday residential influx. I’m eager to see this stunning city really come to life. Bring it on, Roma.
Ciao for now!