Studying for a semester in Rome, I have encountered a culture shock--noticing great differences.
As a student who resides in Miami, I yearned for a kind of history that south Florida lacked. While Florida is about 170 years old with fairly modern buildings, Rome holds historical monuments such as the Pantheon--about 1,890 years old. Upon my arrival, I noticed not just the physical differences between Miami and Rome, but also the huge cultural differences in food, fashion, social life, and technology.
You can’t find an American city that has this much rich history
Rome’s history can be seen everywhere through its elaborate buildings and fountains. I love being able to walk into a city and see how historical sites coincide casually with modern life. Every site has a significant story and a complex timeline. Reading about the landmarks was amazing, but viewing it in person was breathtaking. For the first time, I found myself in awe of the architecture of places like the Trevi Fountain, the Colosseum, and the Borghese Gardens.
Italians are more physically social than Americans
While Americans build their social life through their phones and social media updates, Italians barely go on their phones on a night out. Living in the moment, they gather around bars and hold casual conversations amongst their family and friends. One of the most common gatherings is a night of apertivo, which I found to be a great way to enjoy food and a nice drink while chatting with friends.
I have never tasted this much delicious food
American food relies more on efficiency than taste. The cost of great food ranges between $15-$20 for a main course meal. In Rome, I can order delicious pasta for under 10 €. Not only are they less pricey, but the moment I tasted an authentic Italian dish, I noticed how rich and fresh the meals were. Italian food in America takes on a different spin than authentic Italian food, like the making of Alfredo sauce.
Technology and transportation is not too reliable
In America, and especially in Miami, Uber, a mobile application that allows one to order rides within minutes for a reasonable price, is commonly used. When I arrived in Rome, I noticed that the main form of paid car services is myTaxi--which can be extremely expensive, especially for a college student. Throughout the semester I relied on public transportation but found myself frustrated on multiple occasions as some trams and buses would arrive exactly on time, while others an hour or two later.
Restaurant service in America vs. Europe is totally different
American waiters and waitresses rely on tips because the pay is so minimal. To boost income, many provide exceptional customer service in hopes of obtaining a good tip. In Europe, many waiters do not seem concerned about this. They are not rushing the customer to take the check; it is on the customer to catch the waiter’s attention and pay the check on their own time. It was important for me to be mindful not to take offense as there is less pressure to impress the customer.
Fashion in Italy is more formal than American wear
No matter the occasion, Italians seem to always dress well, while Americans usually dress up in casual leggings and sweatshirts. Outside of formal events and nights out, Americans dress for comfortability. Even at the grocery store, Italians always dress for style. I found myself reinventing my daily style to immerse myself more in the culture. While Miami style is filled with more colors and patterns for the tropical climate, Italian street style leans towards more solid tones and darker colors.
Rome is a homogenous city
As a black girl with naturally curly hair, I had to grow accustomed to the constant stares. Every time I went out to a bar with friends, I expected at least one person to compliment my hair and grab it without permission. I’ve even had one person ask to take a picture with me. As time went by, I realized my hair is really out of the ordinary, especially as I tried to buy hair products. Most products in Rome aren’t marketed for African American hair. I found myself buying hair products online that were three times the cost of what I would pay in Miami. Rome has been my best travel experience by far and I will definitely miss it. Being immersed in a city rich with culture and history, I can’t help but stare in awe at the city’s simplest things, like the sun setting on Rome’s tall and ancient buildings. Although I’ve run into many difficulties navigating the city through public transportation, the experience of living in Rome remains unique.