The Process of Blending in Abroad — and When It’s Really Hard to Do So

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Since studying abroad in Rome and living here for about a month now, I feel as though I can pass as a local. I ignore all the street vendors, know where the good gelato is (the most important part), and usually have an idea of where I am without using a map. I recognize that this is likely the bare minimum for not looking like a tourist, but most of the time I can get by without my actions screaming, “I am from America!”

I feel really proud of myself for this, but there are still a few habits that I have carried with me from the United States that I cannot seem to drop. Here are two main ones.
My Obsession with Dogs

At home and where I go to school, there are constantly dogs all around. It is normal to stop to ask to pet the dogs, receive a key few facts about the dog, and finish up with one last “goodbye!” in your most embarrassing puppy voice. This is the norm.

However, as silly as it sounds, the dog culture here in Rome is extremely different. Dogs are rarely on leashes, are welcomed into every public space (grocery stores, cafes, the post office), and stopping to pet dogs is not a common occurrence. I have yet to see one local pass a dog with googly eyes. This is how I stand out as a tourist. I might be able to not use maps to get somewhere, but when I pass by a dog, I lose all sense of coolness while projecting my best dog voice.  

Grocery Shopping

Going to the supermarket is another example. The food in Italy is fresh, the produce is really inexpensive, and the markets are smaller — making it easy to get a shopping trip done quickly. But, checking out at the grocery store always seems to be an intimidating, unplanned activity. When it is my turn to check out, being prepared is a must. I need to simultaneously grab my items out of the cart, bag the items, and have the exact amount of change ready. When I don’t do that in a timely manner or have an insufficient amount of change, or the cashier needs to break a bill, the cashier becomes irritated. There might be some eye-rolling. And at the end of the shopping trip, I look like a frazzled tourist more than ever.

So, shopping is a leisurely activity in the United States, but in Italy it is far more fast-paced. Dogs in the United States are looked at to be a fluffy getaway from real life, but in Italy they hold a less public and relevant title. As trivial and elementary these situations sound, it has helped me recognize the simpler cultural differences, reminding me that I do not have Italy completely figured out yet. Little things I do that I am so accustomed to at home keep me on my toes and still curious about the culture here.

Each market trip becomes a little smoother as I keep a mix of change in my hand at all times, but I don’t think I will ever stop showing my extremely American dog obsession while I am here.

This post was contributed by Devin Story, a student from the University of Alabama who is spending her spring semester studying abroad with AIFS in Rome, Italy.

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