Moving to another country can be daunting at times, especially when trying to make friends and trying to integrate yourself into the culture. In Italy though, where there are many tourists and study abroad groups, and a large expat community, it can be very easy to get by with few interactions with Italians. In many other countries, such as America, it’s common for people to change town or state multiple times during their life. Italian people however typically grow up in an area and remain fiercely loyal to that area. While they may leave to work in one of the major cities, they focus on the end goal of going back. That place remains as “home” always and they visit every chance they get.
It’s much easier to connect with other expats in the same situation as you than to try to fit in with locals of course. In general, the Italian culture is a more closed one than others. However, while there may be difficulties when trying to make Italian friends, it’s definitely possible! Just get out there and be yourself! You will find plenty of friendly natives if you’re simply willing to try. We’ve outlined some important things to keep in mind in order to overcome some of the obstacles.
There are so many online forums for expats and internationals. There’s just about every group on Facebook imaginable so find them before leaving for Italy. Attempt to join groups that will give you access to people in the area and people who have been living there for a long time. If you have the time and access to these online communities, why not use them and get a head start before even getting on the plane! Plan a lunch for your first week or find out about some local hangouts by talking to people online. A little bit of interaction can go a long way.
I cannot stress this enough. Even though you may be moving here for a short time, learning the language is essential for integrating into the culture. In big cities, you can get by with English only but that creates a barrier that inhibits you from mingling with locals. You don’t have to be fluent, but a true effort speaks volumes to Italians. Once you show you are willing, Italians will help you, correct you, and share slang and dialects with you. You just need to be willing to try.
When you are out and about and people begin speaking English to you (even when you try to speak Italian this WILL happen) tell them you are practicing and to please speak to you in Italian. They might think they are helping you feel more comfortable but if you want to break the barriers and become friendly, you’ll need to communicate in the language THEY feel most comfortable in.
Have you ever heard the term Spanglish? It’s essentially the same concept. When in doubt, hold a conversation any way that you can. Stay engaged, show interest, make friends. Many opt for a sort of language exchange. On the international Facebook groups or something of the sort, post and try to set up a language exchange. Speak Italian with a local while they speak English. Italians are usually looking for ways to practice their English because it’s important for work and business and for communicating with foreigners. However, even if your Italian is not very good yet, try to speak in Italian with locals to improve. If they understand English but don’t speak well, speak English and allow them to answer in Italian but slowly. Practice, practice, practice.
Everyone slow down!
Do not be afraid to ask people to slow down. When you start to pick up the language, it can be very frustrating to listen to a conversation. Italians talk really fast sometimes so you can easily become lost at the beginning. Just politely ask them to slow down. They will appreciate your effort more than anything. Additionally, if you don’t understand something, just ask. This also goes for you! When speaking English, speak slowly. If there’s a word you use a lot, ask for the Italian translation. Integrate Italian into your speech as soon as possible and slowly you will improve.
Italians are very warm people. Once one has a good relationship with you and develops a connection, they usually will introduce you to their larger friend group. Those in the group will already see you as a friend and will welcome you with open arms without the need for the whole relationship building process again. You already passed the filtering phase when their friend liked you enough to bring you around!
Embrace the day-to-day
It’s a great idea to develop a routine. The barista at the local cafe could be great for a morning conversation. If you keep going to the same places, you’re bound to make friends with staff. They will usually ask you for your name and offer polite conversation without being too intrusive. If you’re open to being friendly, you’ll receive the same treatment in return.
Just do it!
Just go out there and be yourself. If you are open, you will meet people and begin the process of integrating yourself. If you sulk around and keep to yourself, you won’t get anywhere. And Italians appreciate effort so literally, it’s as easy as that, just try. The rest will follow!