Have you ever visited a foreign country and thought “I could live here”? A lot of international travellers, who visit Italy every year on business or leisure, have that precise thought. Those who follow through with it though, get to experience a much greater complexity than any casual visit could have prepared them for. Which, of course, is the case with every relocation experience. But what can you really expect when you move to Italy from abroad? What aspects of Italian life are more likely to surprise you? Of course, that depends on where you come from. We have asked several expats, living and working in Italy and coming from several Countries in Europe and from the US what surprised them about the Italian way of life.
What to expect when you move to Italy
The bureaucracy is not really more complicated than you thought. It’s just in Italian
The intricacies of Italian bureaucracy are a national joke and any Italian will tell you without the shadow of a doubt that no other Country has such a byzantine and incomprehensible bureaucratic system, with enough red tape to strangle anyone who dares to approach it. In truth, however, the system is no more complex than most of its European equivalent. However, official documents and regulations are often expressed in a language that proves obscure to anyone who is not a fluent and highly proficient Italian speaker. Much like its German and French counterparts, Italian bureaucracy is puzzling more than it is actually intricate. If you aren’t confident in your ability to decipher official documents in Italian or read through the regulations that pertain to your field of work, simply hire a professional translator or an interpreter: the actual procedures will prove easier than you thought.
Most people will go the extra mile to help you
If there is one thing Italians are not good at, is colouring within the lines. And that, in some cases, is a good thing. There is one thing, in fact, that can prove endlessly frustrating to Italian expats abroad: the shocking discovery that, in public offices and workplaces, or even on the street in most Countries, most people won’t go out of their way to help you. You find yourself in the ER and unable to explain yourself in Italian? An English-speaking nurse or doctor from another wing or department, or even another patient, will come and translate for you. Is that their job? No. Do they have somewhere else to be? Absolutely. But they will still do it because you need it at that time. Chances are that, if you go to the wrong office or present the wrong document, you will be faced with an employee who will take a few minutes out of their day to help get you on the right track. Does that hold up queues? It does. But anyone who grew up around this kind of generosity will miss it enormously when faced with the standard not-my-job-not-my-problem approach.
You really can’t get by just speaking English
English might be the Lingua Franca of the world, but, unless you live in central Venice or Florence and are prepared to live your whole life as a tourist, you can’t expect the majority of the Italian population to speak it fluently. Therefore, if you move to Italy, you should give learning the language a go. Unless you want to confine yourself to living in an expat bubble – and therefore miss out on most of the culture and social interactions in your Country of residence – you will need to master Italian.
Dubbed films and tv shows are awkward
We know, we are sorry about that, most of us don’t like dubbing either, but that’s somehow still a thing. Foreign movies are dubbed in Italy, just like they are in Germany and Spain. And no, the voices almost never feel “right”. Nowadays, streaming services allow you to view content in any language in the privacy of your own home, but if you watch normal TV you can’t expect any content to be in English. Moreover, the number of cinemas showing original versions of international movies is still relatively low – but thankfully growing.