I feel like I’m in an Italian fairytale.
I couldn’t help but think this the moment I stepped outside of my dorm for the first time. I was greeted by the warm, shining Roman sun on my face. After more than 20 hours of traveling, I was itching to explore my new home.
I began my journey through the Roman neighborhood of Trastevere, where I would be spending most of my time in the next four months. I headed down the cobblestone streets, passing by buildings that would soon become familiar — buildings painted in warm yellow and orange hues, aged with time and history.
In the following four weeks, I grew more adventurous and discovered the maze-like streets that led the way to corner cafés with the best cappuccinos I’ve ever tasted, pizzerias that served hot, homemade pizza and my favorite mom and pop restaurant where I had pasta carbonara for the first time.
On my first day, I walked down the main street in a dream-like state, taking in the sounds of piano music floating down from a window above, watching the locals walking their tiny, chipper dogs. I walked by the gelateria shop on the corner, passing the owner who I would come to know as Ivan (and who would come to remember me as the girl with “occhi belli”).
But when I crossed the street, I was jerked out of my daydream by a blaring horn. I looked up just in time to see a car hurtling toward me at full speed with no sign of stopping. At that point I scurried to the other side of the street with an audible shriek, only to hear another blaring horn and realizing that I barely missed a Vespa zooming past.
At that moment, the Roman sun turned up its heat. Jetlag suddenly overcame me. The noise of the street became deafening, and I was convinced that all the locals’ eyes were on me.
I definitely was not in America anymore.
I would love to say my transition from my small hometown in California to the bustling, busy city of Rome was easy, but I would be lying. In reality, my transition was full of many little bumps in the road. I experienced culture shock full-force; the simple things I took for granted back home are done very differently here.
For example, in the weeks following my arrival I became very familiar with the concept of Roman traffic. The lesson is simple: I have no rights. Stop signs are not always obeyed, left-hand turns are made at red lights, crosswalks usually get breezed through and crossing the street is an issue all by itself. It was definitely a change from San Luis Obispo, where cars usually stop for anyone and crossing the street can be done without a second glance.
After being brushed by numerous moving motor vehicles and almost getting my foot run over in the first week, I quickly learned to give up my small-town Californian ways and submit to the Roman driver.
And if the seemingly simple task of crossing the street was a major eye opener, so was grocery shopping Roman-style.
By my second day, I had to face the fact I needed groceries. My goal was to get in, get out and do so in the most inconspicuous way possible. But, of course, that would be too simple. After trekking around the windy streets of Trastevere and asking about 10 people where the grocery store was (using the only full phrase in Italian I knew), I was told in broken English it was just around the corner.
Relieved, I turned the corner only to be greeted by several mannequins dressed in business attire. I was in a department store. On the verge of defeat, I flagged down the nearest passerby. “Dove Billa?” (or, “Where is the grocery store, Billa?”) I pleaded. They again pointed to the department store.
After wandering through the displays of the hottest fall fashion trends, I finally ran into some stairs leading to a rather sketchy basement. I was in luck.
I managed to complete my shopping without a hitch, so by the time I reached the cashier I was feeling pretty proud of myself. But when the cashier reached my bag of zucchini, her smile turned into a frown. She started talking really fast, raised the bag and shook her head. At that point, the people behind me started to chuckle. I could only imagine what they were saying about the young, clueless American trying to buy groceries. I learned my lesson, and from that day on, I always double check (and even triple check) that I print out my produce label.
All the little quirks aside, I am definitely living La Dolce Vita here in Roma. Stay tuned, Mustang Daily readers. Arrivederci!