The first time I arrived in Rome, I knew nothing about this city or Italian culture beyond pizza, pasta, the colosseum and the Vatican. I knew all the stereotypes about Italian lovers and how romantic they were, how Italian American food was definitely not the same as food from Italy, and how everyone spoke with their hands and sing song voice.
Since I’m the type of person who likes to be prepared, I googled everything I thought I needed to know. What should I pack? How do people dress in Italy? What are the people like? What was the experience of other expats/students, especially the ones who were black? Did I need to learn Italian?
I consumed so much information it made my head spin. With everything I had read, I still had no idea what to expect.
My parents were the first ones to experience Rome with me. Before classes began, they decided to take a vacation and explore the city with me. For two weeks I saw all the major tourist destinations, ate Italian food and to be honest not everything was impressive. A lot of the food we ate was terrible and way too expensive. We were tourists, we didn’t know better. Not all Italians were as warm as we assumed they would be. My dad was especially disappointed in their attitudes.
But I was going to be in this country for 4 months so I had to keep an open mind. I pulled my rose colored glasses off and tried to see Rome for what it was.
First thing I noticed is that no, Romans are not friendly… at first. I chalk it up to them being city people who are bit tired of the amount of tourists pouring into the city. I learned that once I became a regular face in any establishment and stayed persistent in my pitiful attempts at Italian, people were really kind.
Rome is not very clean. Which at first, was hard to believe. There’s so many beautiful images of this city but when you’re walking the streets there’s graffiti everywhere, and I don’t mean street art. It’s just ugly scribbles.
I also realized that yes, Italians are super romantic but as an American girl who is not used to men saying that ‘my eyes sparkled like the moon’ I found most of it to be endearing but corny as hell. Pro Tip: Don’t take the men seriously at first, flattery is just a part of the game here.
My last impression of this city was that life in Rome was always beautiful and relaxing. I later learned, after visiting multiple times that this city has a lot more problems than I realized. People are struggling to find work, young Italians are leaving the country in droves, and the government continuously fails to implement growth or change.
In the end, Rome is so much more than what you’ve heard at face value. It has a heart and a culture that is more complex than you can imagine but all of its beauty and all of its faults can easily capture you. Try not to judge Rome for what you hoped it will be, but give yourself the chance to love it for what it is.