How To See The “Real” Florence

firenzeby Alexander M. Salazar, Marist Italy BA, Class of 2014

Florence, Italy the birthplace of the Renaissance. It is a city rich in history, art and tradition.  Every year millions of tourists and students flock to this historic city to get a taste of Italian life, but do they actually experience true Florentine culture?  According to local, Emilano Dore, “Florentines do NOT exist in the historic center!”  In fact, beyond the American bubble that many students and tourists have acclimated to, lies a diverse and beautiful culture.  Want to know how to integrate yourself in the “real” Italy?  Here are a few suggestions.

1. Stay in Florence for more than a semester!

My first suggestion is to stay in Firenze for an extended period of time!  Quite frankly, you will not have time to adapt to Italian culture within one or two semesters. After your first 3 months abroad, you will have a basic understanding of the historic center; however in order to meet locals, learn the language, and navigate through the outskirts of Florence, you need patience and time.

2. Learn the Language:

Having the ability to communicate in Italian will not only impress the locals, but will also make it easier to form lasting friendships.  Most Italians speak some English, but prefer speaking in their mother tongue.  They also appreciate that you are making an effort to learn their language and culture.  Afraid to make mistakes?  Don’t worry!  I have made plenty of embarrassing errors while speaking Italian.  For example, one day I blurted out to a friend, “Sono puzzo!” In my failed attempt to express that “I’m going crazy”, I instead shouted, “I’m stinky!”   Making mistakes is the quickest way to learn.  Lorenzo de’ Medici offers to students (intermediate level and above) an exchange program in which you are paired with an Italian student from the University of Florence.  You teach your Italian partner English while he or she teaches you Italian through conversation and activities together.

3. Spend time away from the city center:

After your first few months in Florence, you will grow tired of seeing hordes of tourists in Piazza del Duomo and creepy men in discos like Twice.  Florence has much more to offer than its crowed center.  Have a picnic in Cascine Park, go bowling in the Uci cinema center, journey across the river to Firenze Sud, or listen to jazz music in Santo Spirito.  Spending free time where the locals go will give you more opportunities to interact with Italians.  Too lazy to walk to these locations?  Google map is your best friend.  Just click on the bus icon to indicate which buses to take.

4. Venture outside the American/LdM bubble:

You can only learn so much about Florence from Americans and foreigners; don’t be afraid to spend some time away from your American and school friends.  Florentines are more willing to have a conversation with you when you are with one or two other friends.  I will warn you that making friends with people from Florence is difficult.  They are quite reserved and will exclusively converse with their close, long-held friends.  However, there is a loophole.  I first made friends with Spanish, Swedish and French students who speak Italian.  Because they speak slowly and with a simple vocabulary, I was able to understand and practice my Italian.  My foreign friends then introduced me to their friends from diverse parts of Italy.  Through my friends from Milan and Naples, I then made friendships with Florentines.  Once you are in the “Florentine Circle”, it is rather easy to meet other locals.

There are so many opportunities to make your study abroad experience one that you will never forget.  I remember arriving in Florence as a timid freshman regretting this decision to study 4000 miles away from home.  However, through making connections with Italians, stepping outside of my comfort zone, and keeping an open mind, I have had the best three years of my life.    So what are you waiting for?  Visita la vera Firenze!

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