Moving to a new country can be tough for anyone, but it’s especially hard if you don’t know the culture. Adapting to living in Italy can be a rollercoaster of emotions and experiences.
Italians are labelled as being loud, expressive with their hands and late to appointments, but guess what – expats are stereotyped too! We’re seen as being awkward, unfashionable, and even a bit superficial. Like all misunderstandings, a lack of communication and comprehension is to blame.
This is why when moving to Italy or any new country it’s important to know the culture, traditions, and social cues.
We have put together a fun guide to help you feel more at home in your new Italian environment by learning about how to adapt to Italian Culture.
Dress like an Italian
Italian style is all about looking good without going to extremes.
Italian style, or more precisely Milanese style, is different from other styles, as it’s not about being flashy or showing off your wealth. It’s more subtle and understated. One of the most defining features of Milanese fashion is that men and women dress stylishly even for work, wearing tailored clothing with little patterning or embellishment. Italian women’s style is bold yet elegant, expressing freedom and mood. Whereas Italian men’s fashion has remained classic, but mixing casual with elegant has become more mainstream.
Update your wardrobe with Italian clothing designers like Trusardi, Liu Jo, Patriza Peppe Enrico Coveri and more which can be found at the Scalo Milano Outlet, just 15 minutes from the city center.
Put family first
In Italy, a family is more than a group of relations, it’s a unit which gives meaning and roots to an individual.
Unlike the expat cultures we may come from, where you are sent out into the world on your own at the age of 18, Italian families nurture the nest for longer and children remain at home even well into their 30’s. But not all Italians are mammone (mamma’s boys) or figlie di papà (daddy’s little girls), there are also Italian parents who encourage their kids to become independent and live on their own early on.
Surprisingly, employers in Italy are more understanding about family emergencies and hardships. In some respects, finding a work-life balance while living in Italy is easier than back at home.
Learn about food, cooking and wine
Alessi cooking utensils / @ScaloMilanoOutlet
Italians take great pride in their food and wine. Italy is rich in agriculture and Italians are proud of their local produce and regional dishes. Italian cuisine also has an amazing sense for harmony when it comes to flavors which is something that’s reflected not just in what they eat but how they cook as well. For instance, Italians will know if you have put too much salt into a dish.
Food is a favorite topic of conversation. If you ever find yourself in an uneasy social situation just start talking about the homemade pasta you tried or the new kitchen utensils you’ve just bought. You will be amazed at how easy it is to talk to a stranger!
Become a local in the neighborhood you live in
When the barista already knows your order, it really makes you feel at home
Living in a new town or city can be very exciting; you get to explore and experience new things. But, as time goes on, it can be hard for newcomers to feel at home.
One thing that will make you feel more at home is to become a local in the neighborhood you live in.
It can be as simple as going to the same cafe for breakfast every day. After a few days, the barista will already know your order which will make you feel part of the community. Supporting the small, local businesses also helps. Going to the neighborhood greengrocer or newsstand and making conversation is a great way to make connections and learn more about the neighborhood.
The day that someone asks you for directions is the day that you have become “a local”.
Learn to be expressive with your hands
Italian hand gesture meaning “What do you want?”
When you don’t know the Italian language, it is natural to use hand gestures to point to things or mime what you want. You will be pleasantly surprised that Italians will gesture and mime back! Hand gestures are an important part of the Italian language and communication.
You can easily convey difficult abstract expressions like warmth, affection, admiration, confusion, or apology.
The use of hand gestures helps verbal communication but can also be used on its own without any verbal support. Studies have shown that the amount of hand gestures used by babies was an important indicator of the size of vocabulary they’d have at 42 months. The more they were able to communicate non-verbally increased their verbal efficiency.
These are just a few tips that will help you “feel more Italian” and less like an outsider. Although this guide is light-hearted in nature, if you are really struggling, it may be a good idea to talk to a professional. Feel free to contact us for more information.
This guide was made possible by Scalo Milano Outlet & More who support and advocate the Easy Milano mission of helping expats integrate and learn about Italian culture and society.
Getting to Scalo Milano Outlet is easy; there’s a free shuttle bus from P.zza della Repubblica (in front of the newsstand) or from Porta Romana (in front of Corso Lodi, 2) which takes about 20 minutes, or take the S13 train which stops in front of the outlet at the Locate di Triulzi station, or going by car, a 15-20 minute drive from the center of Milan. There is ample parking and a recharging station for electric cars.
Click here to learn more about Scalo Milano Outlet & More
Article by Celia Abernethy for Easy Milano
Easy Milano, Ask an Expat in Italy
Easy Milano offers private coaching and consulting for expats planning to live in Italy. Save time researching and ask someone who lives here. Get practical tips that will help you prepare and plan out your relocation to Italy. Learn about key information and essential insights about living in Italy that will help make your transition smoother. Schedule a call.