An Opinion Piece by Alexandra Ahlbeck
When I decided to study in Italy, I braced myself for culture shock, particularly in adapting to a new language and attending school in a foreign country. Yet, some unexpected aspects caught me off guard upon my arrival in Perugia. Conversations with fellow Umbra Institute students highlighted cultural differences that stand out for American students in this Italian city.
A significant change for us was the different meal times, especially for dinner. In the U.S., dinner typically happens between 5:30 and 7:00 p.m. However, in Perugia, restaurants don’t start serving dinner until 7:30 p.m. They close at 3:00 p.m. after lunch and don’t reopen until later. This schedule differs vastly from what we’re used to in America, prompting many students to adapt and eat dinner much later than usual. Others choose to maintain their usual dinner times by cooking at home.
Another surprise was Italy’s reliance on cash for everyday small purchases. Most American students are accustomed to using credit cards or mobile payments, even for small transactions. In Italy, despite the fact that card payments are accepted everywhere, cash is more commonly used on a regular basis. This caught many of us off-guard, especially those who arrived with limited Euros.
The Italian Style
The clothing style in Italy also stands in stark contrast to that in the U.S. While Americans might run errands in casual attire like leggings or sweatpants, such a dress code is rare in Perugia. Here, women and men dress more formally for even casual outings, navigating the city’s cobblestone streets in stylish outfits. This difference in fashion norms means that wearing casual, sporty clothes in public can draw curious glances from locals, depending on the occasions.
Coffee Culture: An Italian Ritual
Our shared love for coffee highlights another cultural difference. American coffee, typically lighter and served in larger portions, differs from the stronger, smaller-sized Italian coffee. More than the coffee itself, the culture surrounding its consumption is distinct. Americans often grab a coffee on the go, whereas Italians usually enjoy their coffee seated at a café or standing at a bar. In Italy, coffee is less about convenience and more about enjoying a daily ritual.
Embracing the Differences
These are just a few of the cultural differences that have surprised me and my peers at the Umbra Institute. While initially challenging, these nuances have gradually become a part of our daily lives, helping us immerse deeper into the unique culture of Perugia.