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21 Tips for North American Women Visiting Italy

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Having never been to Italy before, I wasn’t sure what to expect aside from the things my parents, who are from Sicily had told me. I had never left Canada before, was 2 weeks away from turning 26 and going to Florence on my own to work as an au pair. The things I learned and will pass on to other woman in my position were never mentioned in the guidebooks I read; hopefully they’ll be helpful to you.
1. they have button stores, glove stores, door knob stores but no stores where you can buy any of these things in the same place. If you want a wal-mart type deal, stay in north America.


2. you can't return purchases so buyer beware! The only way you can return anything is if it is electronic (like a curling iron) and even then you don't get the money back, you get a new one or they actually fix it for you.


3. if you can't speak Italian, TRY. Even if you know one word, use it. If you have to ask someone whether they speak English, ask them in Italian ; they will find you less annoying.


4. If you tell anyone you are from Canada be ready for them to guess Toronto then Vancouver. If you are from America, it’s Los Angeles or New York. Most people won't guess anywhere smaller unless they have a personal connection there.


5. When you go into an internet cafe, be ready to give up your passport. I use my provincial I.D. because my passport is my baby, but in any case you will need some form of I.D. and if you don’t have it, you cant use the net or phone. They have strict terrorist laws here.


6. Cell phones are extremely cheap. If you are here for over a month in a stable residence I suggest to buy one for 30euro and you get 5euro airtime included with that. No contracts, no sign up fees, just 30 euro and you're set. Calls are 9 cents a min within the country and so are texts. You can reload your charge card at any corner store.


7.Don't ride the bus without a ticket! If you do and get caught you will pay a 45euro fine within 5 days or they'll come to your residence looking for you. I doubt it’s worth the risk.


8. Sizes here are not the same as they are in North America so it's a good idea to look up your shoe size on a conversion chart online. Nothing is worse than going into an Italian shoe store and telling them your size is uh… I don’t know". For clothing it is a bit different because they generally go by S,M,L but lots of places use another system, so be ready or just try on clothes and have fun!


9. Know that everyone you meet will ask you these things : Where are you from? Do you understand Italian? (why not?) How long are staying for? How long have you been here? Are you studying, working or on vacation? They will most likely as you these things in Italian.


10. If someone tells you they speak a little Italian, they mean it. It is best to find someone around 20-40 years old if you want to have an unbroken conversation. I found middle aged businessmen were my best bet because their work must require the necessary relations; they never let me down.


11. Men pray on foreign women ; not all men but many. Don’t be scared or worried ; lots of North American women come overseas to live it up so if these men think you’re one of those women, they will ask. Be prepared to hear something along the lines of " but you’re in Italy, have fun!" if you decline.


12. The scenery and history is so beautiful you won't believe it is actually 2009


13. The gelato is amazing. You will never find it better anywhere else.


14. With cars parking on meridians and driving on sidewalks, the disorganization of traffic will likely scare you, but you get used to seeing accidents nearly daily.


15. Some of the friendliest people you meet will be the storekeepers in the shops you frequent. I go to the same places several times a week and they know me when I come in and even speak English for me.


17. When you take money out of your bank account remember two things :
  • There is a minimum charge of approx 5 euro (plus whatever you pay back home)
  • It's costing you nearly one and a half times more than CDN dollars so when you take out that 200euro it's actually about $345.00 which equals $145 in the trash.


18. You are here to have fun so go ahead and spend that cash. Just remember that if you see something at the street market and want it bad, you will get it. Barter with the vendor and he won’t let you get away. I got 3 pieces of jewelry for 15euro when they should have cost me 30euro.


19. Beware of birds overhead! I have seen many a sued jacket and nice up-dos ruined without warning..


20. You will most likely not get robbed! People scared me nearly to death with horror stories about this. You do not need a money belt in Florence. All you need is confidence and common sense. Walk around like you were born there and you will be fine. Just don't flash your $5000 camera while wearing your I LOVE NYC shirt at the train station at night and you'll be fine.


21. Florence’s public washrooms leave much to be desired. Avoid places like Mcdonald's because you may find a stall with toilet paper and you may find a stall with a locking door but you will never find both. The best places to go when you're desperate are the tariff WCs which cost 50-80 cents upon entrance. They are cleaned and re-stocked regularly. Well ladies, I hope you learned a little bit from these inside tips. Be safe and awesome travels!


About the author


Laura Valoroso is a 26 year old Italian Canadian who first ventured out to Florence on her own in fall 2008. An avid lover of food, friends and entertainment she looks forward to all that Europe has to offer.