After a month and a half in Florence, I can’t say I’ve completely shrugged off the title of ‘tourist,’ but I’m on my way to becoming a sort of ‘adopted local.’ On my way, being the operative part. To Italians, I most likely sound ridiculous, but I have improved. Unlike my first few days here, I now have a heap of words, and a handful of questions at my disposal. Unfortunately, my brain doesn’t work at lighting speed, so I stand gormless for a minute or five, but the important thing is I can get there in the end – most of the time.
I have fallen in love with the language. It rolls off the tongue, in a beautifully melodic way, that just doesn’t happen with english. It’s also pretty logical. Once you know the pattern for conjugating verbs in, say, past tense, you can work out how to conjugate most regular verbs in the past. There are a few irregular ones, but no way near as many as English. For someone who has never learnt a language properly, and by this I mean beyond GCSE level, it’s been a real confidence boost. For me, it’s proved that learning a language, after you’ve been through education, is possible. Having regular classes every morning definitely helps too, especially when your teacher only talks in Italian. Plus, my school holds a whole host of other events to help you improve; from morning classes that go through the week’s newspapers, to evening lectures and films in Italian (at the moment they’re screening Bernardo Bertolucci, one of my favourites).
Apart from the language, I think I’ve adjusted fairly quick to the rest of life in Florence. Everything goes at a much slower pace, people are relaxed, and I think this is why everyone is so incredibly welcoming. This takes a bit of getting used to, even though I’ve been living the very relaxed student-life for the past four years. It pays off though, because people here seem to have a much better balance between work and their personal lives. Most mornings, I have a coffee before heading to Italian classes at the B.I.F. I’ve learnt to never drink cappuccino after 11am (this was tough to achieve for a coffee addict). I also rarely get lost in the city. My navigational skills probably equate to those of a brick, but Florence is the perfect size to get to know inside and out. I’ve explored my local area, and have sussed out my favourite grocers, supermarkets and bars. It’s a testament to the city’s size, that I’ve begun to recognise a few regulars in the streets around me. Lastly, in true Italian style, every meal includes carbohydrates in one form or another.
One thing I do miss though, is variety. You probably think I’m a heathen for saying it, but I would kill for some food that isn’t Italian. Being able to choose between Thai, Indian, Mexican or whatever cuisine, depending on my mood, is a luxury not easy to find in Florence. I’m talking more about cooking at home, than eating out, as I think it’s great that the restaurants stay true to Italian cuisine. Still, it would be nice to be able to cook whatever I felt like, but certain ingredients are hard to come by in the teeny supermarkets. As problems go though, this is minor.
After my first week or so, I wrote about all the mistakes I made. This list has gradually shortened, which I’m going to take as a sign of my gradual cultural immersion. I still get things wrong, but I’m less afraid to give it a go. In another post, I think I really stressed how practice makes a difference, and it has honestly been the most valuable thing I’ve taken from the whole experience, so far. Greet everyone in Italian. Whenever you find yourself in a cafe, try ordering, even if you just point and use single words. Then, ask for the bill or to pay. Say thank you in Italian. Try and book a taxi over the phone. If you don’t know the word for something, ask how to say it in Italian. Just keep trying, until you can say one or two words, then this will become full sentences.
I’m not saying everything has been smooth sailing. I have always struggled with nerves, and there are times when shyness overcomes me, and I simply can’t give it a go. That’s completely fine too. We call it a learning process for a reason; it takes time, and you’re going to have setbacks, but that isn’t the end of the world. Speaking one sentence a day, is better than nothing.
More than anything, the chance to live abroad in a foreign culture, and country, is something really special. Sometimes it pays off to put on your “tourist hat,” as you make the most of visiting the sites that made the city famous. I’m very lucky, as I have a little extra motivation to do so, because I accompany the B.I.F. History of Art course on their site visits. These have taken me to places across the city, but it’s easy to do so using your own initiative too.
What I’m trying to get across with this post, more than anything, is that you have to embrace the experience in every way possible, because time flies by.