An important aspect of coming to Italy is learning about the culture. The best way you can do this is to immerse yourself into the Italian lifestyle. Those of you who make this effort will be compensated at the end of the semester with the feeling that you’ve grown a great deal.
Your hosts will be of great importance in the process that you’ve started, that of temporarily (and perhaps permanently) acquiring a new culture. They will help you understand how Italians live and think, and how they express likes and dislikes. It is essential that the relationship with your host be one of mutual trust. The best way for them to trust you is for you to respect their rules and regulations. A household, as you all know, is very different from a hotel: you are expected to treat it accordingly and respectfully.
Initial adjustment period
Observe a lot the first days and try to adapt or fall into the host’s way of life; eating times and habits, sense of humor, and household behavior. Most students expect to “feel at home” from the very first moment they walk through the door. This is a legitimate expectation, but can be reached only if you give yourself time to overcome initial stress and a certain amount of “culture shock” before feeling comfortable. Remember that most of the effort must be made by you because your hosts are already “at home.” Their routine life goes on with jobs, school, worries and joys, and they expect you to just fit in. They will be flexible and understanding because they have seen these initial difficulties often before. (Don’t be annoyed if they refer to other students who lived with them. This is not meant as a comparison, but just to show that they know where you’re coming from). The best source of suggestions and advice is other students’ experiences:
“It is definitely a two-way effort, and I felt that I had to make a lot of the effort. The customs were different, and there was no way to avoid stepping on a few toes by accident.”
“Don’t wait for them to ask you everything. Ask them too.”
“Don’t be bothered by first reactions or tone of voice. Italians have expressions (body and facial) that may seem rude or abrupt by American standards but are not in this culture.”
From a young age, Italians are used to seeing wine on the table at meal times. Italians enjoy their wine in moderation and therefore, binge drinking is not usually an issue here. If you have alcohol in your room or come home drunk, your host will be very concerned about your safety, your mental and physical health. You will hear about it and so will the housing office. In fact, it is prohibited to keep any alcoholic beverages in your homestay room. They may serve wine with dinner, but will have strict ideas about appropriate consumption. Your family may not be outspoken, but the expectation is that you will drink in moderation: one or two glasses are the norm. Public drunkenness, whether on the street or in a bar, is an arrestable offense. In addition to the legal consequences, there are cultural ones: too many drinks destroy your chances of a genuine relationship with Italians and makes you look bad. Do not embarrass hosts or create problems for them in this respect. Since you are their guests, they are responsible for what happens in their household. Any complaints regarding the aforementioned behavior can result in dismissal from the home and, depending on the gravity, dismissal from the program.
Your host will provide you with breakfast and dinner Monday through Friday. On Saturday and Sunday, only breakfast will be served. Since each student has different tastes, we suggest that you speak openly with your host right from the beginning about what foods you like. Take advantage of the bilingual food list that you will receive at the placement meeting during orientation and go through it with your host as soon as possible. Remember that during the Full Immersion weekend, the first weekend of the semester, you will receive breakfast and dinner on Saturday and breakfast, lunch and dinner on Sunday.
Breakfast (colazione) in Italy is light and simple, generally consisting of caffè latte (Espresso with milk) or tea, biscuits or brioche, and, on request, fruit. You may substitute biscuits for bread and marmalade, or yogurt, or corn flakes. Cereal for breakfast is not as common in Italy, and can be costly compared to in America. Your host may provide cereal for you; however, if you consume more than one box per week, you will have to provide for it personally out of your own funds.
Dinner (cena) can vary from pasta or soup, salad or a cooked vegetable, cheese and fruit. Meat may be a part of the above menu, or it may substitute the first course (i.e., pasta or soup). After dinner, stick around to chat (or watch TV) with your host family.
Dos and Don’ts:
- Do: Find out what time your host family normally eats and respect meal times. (Italians usually eat dinner around 8 p.m.)
- Do: Speak Italian with your host family and your roommate during meals. It is considered rude to speak English as your hosts do not understand what you are saying.
- Do: Let your host know in advance if you will not be home or will arrive late for a meal (you are not reimbursed for missed meals).
- Do: Dress neatly for dinner. Your hosts will be shocked if you walk around barefoot, if you wear ragged jeans or shirts, or wear pajamas at meal times.
- Do: If you have a field trip scheduled for a Friday and will therefore miss your Friday dinner, you can ask your host family whether or not it would be possible to have dinner on Sunday. Some hosts may not be able to fulfill this request. Please note that you and your roommate must agree to the same schedule: dinner on Friday or on Sunday. These requests should be made in advance.
- Do: You may request to keep some food or drinks either in the refrigerator or in the cabinets.
- Don’t: Do not bring friends or family members to meals unless your host has invited them. Guests should bring a gift such as flowers, wine, or dessert to the host. A follow-up card or letter of thanks is a polite way to say thank you.
- Don’t: Please note that kitchen use is not the norm nor is food to be taken from the house. Therefore, you are responsible for your lunches and snacks.
You will be given a set of keys and will keep them for the entire semester. For security reasons, your host may ask for them when you leave for semester break. Don’t forget that in the event of damage or loss of keys you will be held personally responsible for not only the copies, but also for the lock. The price to change the armour-plated door lock will cost about 225.00 Euro (Some may cost less. It will depend on the type of lock). Copies of keys can cost from 3.00 to 15.00 Euro, also depending on the type of key.
Your hosts are aware of the fact that you are a young adult and want to go out at night with friends. But remember, again, that you are not living in a hotel. It is not advisable to stay out late during week days, although you may do so on weekends.
Dos and Don’ts:
- Do: Let your host know if your plan to stay out for the night.
- Do: If you leave for the weekend, advise your host family ahead of time and let them know where you are going and when you will returning. This is for your own security, as well as simple courtesy. (You will not be reimbursed for missed meals or nights.)
- Don’t: Please, don’t come in making noise and turning on all the lights at three or four in the morning!
Fall and Spring Break
Your accommodation is not covered during the week of break, therefore you are responsible for your own board, lodging, and travel expenses during the vacation period. Your hosts expect you to be away during mid-semester break and to return on Sunday evening as this week is not covered in your program fee. You may, of course, leave your belongings in your room.
If you plan to remain in Florence during the ten days of break, you must discuss this with your hosts to make sure that you can stay in their home for the week (they may also have made plans to go away during this time). Should you stay with your host, you must personally reimburse them for any meals consumed. Not all hosts will have the possibility to provide accommodations during break week.
Your hosts will wash your clothes for you however you may be asked to hang them out to dry (dryers are not used in Italy due to the cost). Use of the washing machine is granted once a week. Please discuss details with hosts. We suggest that you set a ‘laundry day’ (for example, every Monday) in order to avoid misunderstandings.
Washing machines are much smaller in Italy and therefore loads are much smaller. Don’t think that you can hand over twelve pairs of dirty socks, ten blouses or shirts and six pairs of jeans every week. They only have to wash a reasonable amount of clothes once a week (i.e., one pair of jeans, five blouses or shirts, a daily change of underwear, one skirt and one dress for girls, and two pairs of trousers for guys). Do not use the machine for heavy clothes! (Coats, jackets, heavy sweaters, etc. must be taken to the dry cleaners and paid for out of personal funds.) Jeans, however, can be washed. Delicate clothes should be taken to the cleaners, but be aware that cleaners are more expensive here than in the States.
You do not have to pay for detergent, however, you do have to purchase your own soap should you decide to hand wash certain articles. Whenever you hand wash something make sure that you do it in the proper place and that you know where clothes should be hung to dry (don’t hang clothes to drip-dry over wooden chairs, parquet or marble floors!).
You are not allowed to use the telephone for outgoing calls under any circumstances with the sole exception of an emergency (i.e., illness or accident). You can, however, receive calls from your friends and relatives. Remind your friends and family to keep the calls short (10 minutes) and to call you only when necessary. Please ask your friends and family not to call too often or at inconvenient times (during meal times and never after 10:00 p.m. if it’s not an emergency). Keep in mind the difference in time between here and the US. We are 6 hours ahead of EST. A 30 min. phone call is considered a long call and unacceptable!
Dos and Don’ts:
- Do: You can buy inexpensive international calling cards to use to call overseas. Please explain clearly to your hosts what you are doing and that they will not be charged.
- Do: We recommend that you buy or rent a cell phone in Italy so that you can converse with your friends without disturbing your host family.
- Don’t: Please turn off your cell phone during family meals and please do not make or receive calls after 10:00 p.m.
- Don’t: Do not give your phone number or address to strangers or to people you just met. You are jeopardizing not only your safety but also your host families’.
Please keep in mind that there is less space in Italy. Homes and rooms are generally smaller than what you may be used to. Your host will supply you with clean towels and bed sheets once a week. You should air your room daily and keep it neat and orderly. (Italians have very high standards of neatness.) Hosts are not expected to pick up your clothes and books in order to clean it (usually once a week) – although you may find some host mothers who do so!
Dos and Don’ts:
- Do: Find out what day your host mother usually cleans your room to avoid misunderstandings.
- Don’t: Friends and family cannot stay for the night unless they are invited by your host.
- Don’t: Do not stick or nail anything on walls and avoid moving furniture.
The costs of utilities such as electricity, water, gas, and telephone are prohibitively expensive in Italy and will be watched very carefully in your family. So, you must learn to turn off the lights each time you leave a room and take brief showers (5-10 minute.) Please do not expect to take more than one shower per day as the bathroom must be shared with others.
Dos and Don’ts:
- Do: Please use the toilet brush that is located in every Italian bathroom.
- Don’t: Do not plug in American appliances without using an appropriate adaptor. The voltage in Italy is 220 and only 110 in the US.
- Don’t: Do not step out of the shower and walk around the house with bare wet feet as most floors in Italy are delicate (polished marble or parquet). Most Italians wear a bathrobe and slippers when they get out of a shower.
- Don’t: Do not put tampons, sanitary napkins, cotton balls, Q-tips or anything else down the toilet (you will be responsible for plumbing charges) and remove hair from drain after washing or showering to avoid clogging. Drain pipes are smaller in Italy and therefore water drains slower and pipes are apt to clog.
The concept of privacy and personal space are very different in Italy. As a matter of fact, there is no word in the Italian language for ‘privacy.’ It may seem strange to you how much everyone at home seems to worry and to be apprehensive about other family members. This caring initially strikes many of our students as a violation of their privacy but this is just part of being close and showing that you care about the others.
Don’t expect to be very independent. You will be considered part of the home unit. Don’t feel criticized when your family members ask questions or make personal observations. Don’t be insulted if they ask you to do or not to do something, if they move your things, clean your room, seem worried if you’re late, or if you don’t feel like eating. Always remember that this means you are part of the family and they are acting towards you as they would any other relative. One student’s view of this: “I sometimes get annoyed with how much they make me eat, but they just do that because that is how they express love. Food means care here.” If you feel that your freedom as an individual is seriously threatened, then you can talk politely to the head of the household, to the Housing Coordinator, or to the Assistant to the Housing Office.
We will help both parties and keep the channels of communication open. Most of the time, the problems that arise between students and their hosts are due almost always to cultural differences. The best way to solve these minor problems here in Italy is often through an honest, open discussion.