MON. JUNE 22: Day 14
Fare Amici Italiani (Making Italian Friends)
“Are you in love with an Italian boy yet?”
This is the first thing my mom asked me when she picked up the phone.
No, mom, I am not in love with an Italian boy. I temporary and sporadically fall in love with many boys as I walk around the city every day (Italian people are gorgeous) but no, I unfortunately won’t be running off with a European man any time soon.
But does that really matter?
No, I haven’t fallen in love romantically, but I have fallen in love, definitely. The people of Italy have captured my heart.
I’m not entirely sure the exact moment it happened, but I befriended an entirely male restaurant staff: Saeed (who speaks only Arabic and Italian and doesn’t understand a lick of English), Simone (who only speak Italian and knows only a few words in English, Guglielmo and Luca (who both speak Italian and decent English).
*Guglielmo is William in English. His name is pretty difficult for a non-Italian to pronounce, so Saeed calls him Diego. Random, but I love it.
It started out as me seeing one of the chefs of the restaurant sitting outside (Saeed) which turned into him giving me broken directions back to my apartment (I get lost easily. Really. I live down the street) which turned into “You’re from the Middle East too?!” and ended with an invite to his restaurant.
I now am referred to as Saeed’s little sister (la sorella di Saeed) and am treated like a family member: free food, free wine, free coffee. Their hospitality is overwhelming. I kind of awkwardly stumbled into their lives and they all treat me like I have been here all along.
Their restaurant is my go-to hang out spot. You can find me there every single day–poking my head in to say “Ciao! Sto andando a scuola! Ci vediamo a dopo!” (Hi! I’m going to school! We will see each other after!), sitting in the back doing schoolwork and saying “Come si dice….in Italiano?” (How do you say…in Italian?) one too many times, or stopping in during closing hours to sit with them and to enjoy their company while they have a smoke.
Luca is dating a wonderful and sweet girl named Martina who works at Lush next door. She quickly became my first Italian girl friend and introduced me to Sofie and Merica, two equally wonderful and sweet girls she works with.
I look forward to seeing my group of friends every single day. They have taught me more than I could imagine about Italian culture and way of life and I know my language skills wouldn’t be as sharp as they are without their assistance.
Being in the country of the language I am learning is extremely helpful, but in order to truly learn, I must practice. The best way to practice is by speaking with the native speakers of the language. My friends correct me when I make a mistake, answer my questions, and are patient with me when my brain takes a while to form a sentence.
I have started to speak much quicker and I am able to hear phrases and words in context, especially when I sit back, munch on some appetizers that Saeed or Simone always place in front of me, and just listen to them have conversations with one another. I like to call it Carbohydrates and Conjugations.
Buh dum tss.
Before I came here, I read somewhere online that “making friends with locals in Florence can be hard, especially for an American, because the city center is full of American tourists and students that are here for a few days or a few months. Italians learn to think about English-speaking foreigners as temporary guests and don’t invest much time in getting to know someone they’ll have to say goodbye to soon.”
I wanted to prove that idea wrong. I am an approachable person. I have a knack for making acquaintances and fleeting but memorable connections wherever I go.
So I jumped right in. I speak as much Italian as I can and often explore the city alone instead of hanging around with English language speakers. Even if I can’t speak Italian perfectly, making an effort is highly admired. It’s as simple as getting in the habit of going to a bar every morning for coffee starting to be recognized by the bartenders.
Making Italian friends has entirely transformed my experience. Think about it: if I came to Italy but continued to exclusively associate with my fellow American citizens, what have I changed besides my surroundings? By making Italian friends, I have learned about a new world, which transcends mere culture.
I wish I had taken Italian before arriving because I feel horribly limited, but I am studying it here and it is helping tremendously.
I will not know Italy by watching a film, nor will I know Italians by seeing them on the street. To know Italy, its culture and its people, I must know Italians.
Do you want to make friends in Italy?
Exchange contact information: Add them on Facebook. Carry your cell phone at all times. When you meet someone who you find interesting, ask for their cell number. They will take it as a compliment. Throw in a “Dai, organiziamo qualcosa la prossima settimana.” (Let’s get together sometime next week) and you will have made a new friend.
Organize an outing: Italians need no excuse to go out with friends. Find a new place for an aperitivo (Stay tuned for my upcoming blog post on apertivos). Visit a museum or go see a film. Go to a piazza at night and sit on the steps with a glass of wine.
Smile: If you see someone you like, smile at them, and they will come. This has always worked for me.
Be friendly: Greet people when you walk into a building. In fact, not saying hello or good day to someone when you walk into their establishment is considered extremely rude. Ask people “How are you?” In America, “Hi how are you?” is considered a speedy greeting. In Italy, when someone asks you how you are, they genuinely care, and don’t mind if you spend the next five minutes telling them about your day. Say please and thank you. Compliment the chef (Complimenti al cuoco). Go out and speak to people, even if you only know a few sentences in Italian.
Enjoy yourself: If you are having fun, people will want to be in your company. If you cannot make yourself happy, no one will offer to do it for you.
I can say that making friends in Italy is not impossible. In fact, Italians adore making friends and meeting new people!
Positive energy is contagious. Smile, meet people, and exchange contact information. You will find yourself with a multitude of amici (friends) and your biggest problem will be remembering which Francesco is which. 😛
P.S. These photos were taken Settignano, a hillside northeast of Florence, Italy.