During my first week in Florence, I sampled a smorgasbord—or antipasto platter—of Florentine culture. I toured two cathedrals and one museum, tried 5 different gelaterias (ice cream shops), sipped cappuccinos from 6 different bars (cafes), and walked dozens of miles down cobblestone roads.
I thought it would be a few weeks into the program until I would be able to truthfully claim that when in Florence, I did as the Florentine do; however, the initial transition happened rather effortlessly and I have come up with a theory regarding the ease of my current experience: The lifestyle of an IU Hoosier includes many basic elements that are surprisingly similar to the important components in Florentine culture.
First, Italians begin and end the day at bars, that is, coffee bars. Here, espresso is a habit, not a drink. This came as great news because back in Bloomington, my friends and I need our morning cup of coffee to wake up and our late night Starbucks runs to fuel productivity.
Espresso in Italy is a more powerful eye-opener and less of a tongue-scorcher than it in the U.S. It is rarely ordered da asporto (to-go), in fact, many bars don’t even have to-go cups. Patrons stand at bar tables and sip basic drinks like espresso shots or cappuccinos. As my professor informed me, “Espresso is one sip, cappuccino is two,”—a Venti quad soy mocha would take far too long to drink.
Dolce Far Niente (the sweetness of doing nothing) is a way of life in both Florence and Bloomington alike. However, I have yet to spot a Florentine hanging out on a porch couch with a can of Keystone. The open-air seating at restaurants that surround famous landmarks like Il Duomo (Florence Cathedral) and Ponte Vecchio are prime spots to relax for hours with some friends, good conversation and a bottle of wine. The pure joy in an afternoon spent doing nothing is the second element of similarity between Florentine and Hoosier lifestyles.
Finally, a huge similarity between life in Florence and life at IU is the constant feeling of belonging to something bigger than just yourself, your friend group or your little community. The Italian people form one big, Italian family. I noticed this while practicing my speaking skills with locals, as I am taking my fourth semester of Italian while here. The encounters usually go something like this: I’ll stroll up wearing shorts or boat shoes or something else very American-looking, then place an order or ask a question in Italian—when I don’t sound as though I’ve just read the phrase from a “Common Italian Phrases” book, they notice my dark features and ask if I am Italian. And “Si, sono italiana” (yes, I am Italian) turns into a conversation: a feeling of belonging, in a foreign country.
On a similar note, an easy way to make conversation while out of the state or in an airport is to wear IU apparel. I have experienced, on at least 10 occasions, an IU affiliate who recognizes a fellow Hoosier by their clothing and initiates a conversation about sports, majors, post-graduate opportunities, or any other hot topics within the IU family. Both of these instances only scratch the surface of the examples that display an overall, unified Italian culture that is parallel to the cultural bond among Indiana University Hoosiers.
The experiences I’ve had in Florence, thus far, have presented brilliant opportunities for me to reflect my own pride in my roots. I look forward to my 5 weeks left in Italy, to the endless opportunities for reflection, and to the gelato flavors I haven’t yet tasted.