LIFE/Katherine Dudley: lessons that Italy has taught me


So, I’ve been living in Italy for almost two months now, and while I still stumble over even the most basic of Italian phrases, I feel like maybe, I’m finally starting to get the hang of living here. But, even more importantly, being in Italy has taught me some very important new skills, which I never would have learned, or ever imagined I’d need back home. So even if I never do manage to master Italian, at the very least, I can cite the following valuable lessons and skills should anyone ever ask me what I gained from my study abroad experience…..

1-Don’t ever forget your umbrella. Even if you think that there’s no way you’ll need it, you may be surprised. To be fair, maybe I’m not the most prepared person when it comes to being ready for the weather, because I never check what the forecast is, (hey, come on, nobody’s got time for that, plus the wifi doesn’t work in my apartment anyway), but I’ve gotten caught in more surprise downpours than I can count by now. Some of which occurred when less than ten minutes previously, the sky had been clear and blue. And don’t try and blame it all on my not checking the forecast either-I’ve seen plenty of people equally surprised, and unprepared. After one memorable afternoon, where in the interest of protecting the electronics in my backpack, I used my jacket to cover my bag instead of myself, and got completely soaked, I finally broke down and bought an umbrella, but despite that, I still never seem to have it when I need it, so I’ve started just carrying it around with me every day. I might look like a complete fool dragging it around everywhere, but hey, better safe than sorry, right?

2-I perfected the art of the intimidating stare. Even if you’re not in a typically touristy area like Rome, in Italy, it’s pretty much an inevitability that people will come up to you trying to sell you things. In fact, in Viterbo, some salesmen are so brazen they even walk into café’s to try and peddle their wares.. In fact, at this point, if a day goes by without a vendor trying to approach me on the street in a bar, something just feels off about the entire day. As a foreigner, I was a prime target. The first time I was approached, I was completely caught off guard, and sucked into a lenthy conversation with a very determined man who was trying to persuade me to pay him five euros for a pair of plain white socks. After that encounter, I vowed to perfect my brush-off strategy for next time. Thinking I had it down, the next time I was approached, I assumed a fake identity, trying to deflect the vendor by pretending I only spoke Russian. However, my fatal mistake was engaging him in any way, because in spite of the assumed language barrier, the vendor seemed to jump on the fact that I’d even acknowledge him, and began going to great lengths to communicate through gestures and simple Italian that his umbrellas were the best and I needed to buy one immediately. But finally, I learned how to deal with it. I went from simply ignoring the vendors, to perfecting the perfect steely glare, so intimidating that sometimes, they don’t even bother approaching me anymore. Definitely a skill I can imagine coming in handy later in life as well.

3. I got very good at dodging cars. In Italy, driving is hard. The tiny, winding, cobblestoned streets of Italy make me wonder every day how cars even fit down them, and I’m constantly impressed by the extraordinary ability of Italian drivers to navigate them so well, without any fatalities or damage to their cars. Every tight corner, and uneven cobblestone only serves to remind you that these streets were obviously never designed for motor vehicles, which makes it all the more impressive whenever a driver manages to whip around a hairpin turn at what looks like almost fifty miles per hour and avoid hitting anything. Somehow, Italian drivers manage to maintain terrifyingly high speeds, but also extremely fine coordination, and are able to, incredibly, zip around the city at lightning speed. However, as impressive as their driving is, it’s also terrifying. The first time I stepped out of my apartment, only to find a car barreling towards me at a speed that would’ve gotten the driver arrested in a heartbeat had they been traveling with such speed in any residential area in the United States, I narrowly avoided being flattened, and I practically fell back, deer-in-headlights expression on my face. Though it took some getting used to, and at times it still feels like I’m living in a real life version of a ‘Grand Theft Auto’ video game (though with significantly less fatalities and police chases, I will admit), I’ve gotten very good at dodging cars. No more do I cower back in terror, barely avoiding death at the hands of a motor vehicle. These days, I nimbly dodge each car and motorcycle with grace, my composure never slipping. Bring it on!

4. I learned how to light a stove. I remember the first time I ever tried to use the stove in my apartment. I turned the knob, and nothing happened, except a rather unnerving hissing sound. Confused, I glared at the stove, as though I hoped that might inspire it to work, or at least offer some sort of explanation, but to no avail. I turned every knob repeatedly, and even jiggled them, and poked the burners with a wooden spoon, but nothing. It wasn’t until I found a lighter in a cupboard that I realized my mistake. And felt like an idiot for taking ten minutes to catch on. However, I realized that my problems were only beginning when, upon finally managing to light the stove, the flames leaped from the burner much farther than I’d imagined (actually I hadn’t really imagined anything, because I had never used a gas stove before in my life), and I ended up leaping back, waving my singed fingers in pain, and looking at the stove with a new apprehension. Though it took a week or so of practice, and buying a new lighter with a longer handle, I am now able to light the stove without risk of serious injury, which I consider to be a plus any day. While I seriously hope that the technology of stoves will continue to improve, and eventually, gas stoves that you have to light yourself (while risking fiery explosions) will become nothing but ancient history, it’s something to tick off my list of life experiences at least!

So, thank you, Italy. I sense that this is only the beginning of great personal and professional growth, and I can only imagine what lessons the next two months have in store!