Sarah Murphy has worked in Dublin for the last two years as a blogger, web content manager and marketing coordinator. A journalist by training and traveler by nature, she frequently travels to Italy for the business and pleasure of Touring Florence, where she mostly spends her time scavenging the ruins or gallivanting across the countryside.
1) Adjust your understanding of time
If you're from the United States—especially a big city like New York or Los Angeles—then you'll probably realize very quickly that life in Florence operates according to a schedule that is very different from the one you're used to. Many shops and restaurants in Florence have business hours that most Americans would consider irregular. Many stores are closed on Mondays, for example, and many restaurants are closed during the afternoon hours between lunch and dinner. The best way to avoid potentially frustrating scheduling situations when exploring Florence is to think like an Italian when scheduling your day.
2) Practice Your Italian
Many Americans who visit Florence are afraid to practice their Italian with native language speakers. They're afraid that they'll be misunderstood, or that they'll make an embarrassing mistake. In all honesty, this does happen, but it's not the end of the world. Most Italians aren't going to judge you based off of your ability to speak Italian—they'll be happy to see you making an honest effort to learn their language. If you're traveling with a native Italian-speaker, insist that you be allowed to order for yourself in restaurants or that you are the one who asks people for directions. You might mispronounce a word or get a little bit lost, but making mistakes is one of the fastest ways to learn. Keep in mind that, depending on where in the United States you live, you probably won't have a lot of opportunities back home to practice your Italian.
3) Know When to Shut Up
As a foreigner in Florence, you'll obviously be considered something of a curiosity. Naturally, there will be many Italians who ask you questions about what America is like. While it's perfectly acceptable to tell a story or two about life in the Yankee homeland, people will get bored quickly if you habitually compare everything you encounter in Italy to something you've already seen back home. Try and remember that you're in Florence to learn about Italy—not to advertise for America.
4) Don't seek out other Americans
Why would you travel thousands of miles to a foreign country, just to have a conversation with someone you could have just as easily have run into at the McDonald's back home? You came to Italy, so take the opportunity to make friends with the locals. At the very least, you'll have someone with whom you can practice your Italian. If you're lucky, you'll also earn yourself a de facto tour guide who can take you to secret local hotspots and show you a side of Florence that many tourists never get to see.
5) Pay attention to dining etiquette
Italians and Americans are very different from one another when it comes to dining etiquette. Many American dining habits are considered rude in Italy. For example, it's considered impolite to bring a piece of bread up to your mouth and tear off a bite with your teeth. Instead, tear a corner of the bread off with your fingers and put that piece in your mouth. Do not ask for Parmesans cheese on anything that it doesn't already come with and don't cut your spaghetti. Instead, learn how to twirl it on your fork, like a native. Don't order coffee before or during your meal. Coffee is considered a digestive aid, and most people don't drink it until after they've eaten. Paying attention to Italian etiquette is the best way to avoid accidentally offending your waiter or other customers. Remember—when in doubt, watch the locals carefully and do what they do.
Want to be a guest blogger for SmarterTravel? Read up on our Guest Blogger Policy, and then send your story pitch to firstname.lastname@example.org with the subject line "Guest blog submission." If we like your idea, we'll ask you to write the post!