Moving to another country can be daunting at times, especially when trying to make friends and integrate yourself into the culture. In Italy especially, which is constantly flowing with tourists and study abroad groups, giving way to a large expat community, it can be very easy to get by with little interactions with Italians. In many other countries, America for example, it’s common for people to change town or state multiple times during their life, Italian people 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 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 very, very 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 your obstacles.
There are so many online forums for expats and internationals abroad. 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 or people who may 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. While you may be moving here for a short time, learning the language is something essential to integrating into the culture. In the big cities, you can get by with English but there’s a barrier there that inhibits you from mingling with locals. You don’t have to be fluent, but a true obvious effort speaks loads 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 think they are helping you feel more comfortable from a customer service point of view but if you want to break the barriers and become friendly, you’ll need to be upfront from the beginning that you’re willing to learn and 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 because it’s an almost essential business need to speak English well. However, even at the markets and speaking with various people before you’re ready to speak Italian, ask them to answer you in Italian. 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 on the language, it can be very frustrating to listen to a conversation. Italian’s speak faster than is physically possible so you can easily become lost in the beginning. Just politely ask them to slow down. They will appreciate you effort more than anything. Additionally, if you don’t understand something, just ask. This also goes for you! When speaking English, speak slow. 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.
The easy part in making friends with Italians is they are very warm people. Once one has a good relationship with you and develops a connection, they usually will introduce you to their larger group. Those in the group already see you as a friend and will welcome you with open arms without the need to 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
Speaking of a warm culture. It’s a great idea to develop a routine. The barista at a local cafe could be a great morning conversation. If you begin going to the same places, you’re bound to make friends with staff. They will usually ask your name and what you down, polite conversation without being intrusive is normal coming from people you normally wouldn’t speak to. If you’re open to being friendly, you’ll receive the same treatment in return.
Just do it!
No, not in a Nike sort of way. 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!