Where has the past week gone? It’s all a bit of a blur, but at the same time it feels like I’ve been living here forever. I guess the first week in any new place is always hectic with unpacking, settling in, and buying useful things like washing up liquid. Plus, you always try to throw yourself into meeting as many people as possible.
Speaking of people, those I’ve met so far have made the whole process of moving so enjoyable. Not just my classmates (all looking lovely in the photo above) or staff at the British Institute of Florence, but the shop assistants, grocers and bartenders I’ve encountered on my adventures around the city. There’s a warmth, genuineness and willingness to help that seems rare in British cities, even if here it’s hidden behind an initially gruff, and often bearded, Italian exterior. I say ‘initially’ for a reason: if you try to use what little pigeon Italian you know, it goes a long way. Remember, this is a city constantly swarmed by tourists, but it’s also many people’s home. In a way this is a god-send for students like me, trying to pick up what Italian they can, as you can practice your probably bizarre sounding sentences on lovely people, who actually understand English, and can guess at what you really want. So practice, practice, practice. Order that drink at the bar, ask how to say ‘bag’ in Italian at your local supermarket, and greet shop keepers with ‘ciao.’
Forcing myself to speak has been hard, but I’ve felt the benefits from one weeks practice already, so I thought why not include all the other things I’ve learnt about life here, mostly by making mistakes. In this context mistakes are completely positive, as you can learn from them.
First things first, once you’re through those security gates at the airport head to the nearest Superdrug or Boots and stock up on ALL toiletries (especially sanitary products and suntan lotion) and medicinal (paracetamol, bite cream, hay fever tablets) necessities. Or if you’re organised and have space in your suitcase, cram in as much as possible beforehand. These products are incredibly expensive in Italy compared to the UK, and often the snazzier brands are only sold in pharmacies which are very pricey. Some cheap options can be found in supermarkets, but it’s always good to have a few supplies with you when you first arrive.
If you decide you’d rather pack more clothes than these things, I completely understand. In this case, once you’ve arrived and unpacked get out on foot and scout out your local area. Find your nearest supermarket, fresh grocer, pharmacy and just generally get a feeling for the area. From my past experience, walking around a city is the only way to truly discover all it has to offer. Given Florence’s size, large supermarkets aren’t really a thing. Instead, find a greengrocers or your local open-air market, and use these to stock up on fresh produce. Beware though, DON’T touch the fruit yourself! Wait for one of the owner’s to ask you what you want, they’ll handle all the produce themselves. If you’re getting vegetables from a chain store use the gloves and bags provided, and weigh anything you bag up at the scales nearby. I’d recommend these shops mainly for cupboard items like pasta, spices etc. If you do need help finding a supermarket, here’s a link to a handy page which has a map of many of them: Which Italian Supermarket Gets You More For Your Euro?
Lastly, your nearest garbage disposal can be a nightmare to find, and there are many coloured variations, each for a particular type of waste. I’ve included two links I used, which explain how this works in Florence in detail: Commune di Firenze – Waste and Recycle, and the more interestingly named Where to Dump Your Garbage in Florence!
All in all, this list may seem rather disjointed, but these are genuine issues I came across. As my stay here progresses I’ll update you all on the other ‘mistakes’ I make, which might help some of you appear like any other local.