I came to Florence armed with an inbox of detailed itineraries that mapped anything that made everyone I know fall head-over-heels in love with the city. Advice included anything from where the best panino was, to where to get peanut butter when you just needed it, and most helpful of all, “BRING A LOT OF BUGSPRAY” (thank you, thank you, thank you, Hannah), because I would soon know how relentless Italian mosquitoes could be (I literally just looked down for a second to see one bite my arm…COOL). Now of course, as to fulfill every study abroad cliché known to man, food suggestions and sightseeing locations were met with wise words that would make fortune cookies proud. This list goes as follows:
- “Try something new in every country you visit.” – Paella in Barcelona, check!
- “Don’t be afraid to spend money on adding to your wardrobe.” – Two (or three, or four) new scarves, check!
- “Say yes more.” – “Want to get gelato?” is something I hear almost every day…needless to say, this scenario and gelato shops all over Italy have benefited from this bit of advice.
Aside from a reason to run an extra mile or two at the gym to make room for my third aforementioned point, this idea has become important in a few other moments that I’ll come back to in a sec.
I mentioned in my last post that I’m from a small, seaside town in New Jersey called Point Pleasant Beach. What I didn’t mention is that my tiny little town is packed to capacity from Memorial Day to Labor Day by tourists from near and far. If spending these months waiting tables of customers asking for the direction of the beach hadn’t caught me on to the touristy nature of my town, coming to Saint Joe’s and hearing “Point Pleasant Beach? I go down the shore there” certainly did. As a firm believer in September beach days and shoes only when necessary, I’ve learned that the best things about my town are never the things that my dinner tables ask for directions towards.
Similarly to Point Beach, Florence is TOURISTY – like how-many-selfie-sticks-can-one-piazza-contain, get-stuck-in-mobs-of-tours-on-your-way-to-class touristy. So like I focus on when I’m home, I came to Florence anxious to find my September beach day equivalencies. “Immerse yourself in the culture as much as possible” my Yoda-like predecessors advised me. And with that, saying yes to immersion in Italian culture has not only brought me to terms with some serious appreciation for things that we have in the US (general kindness, smiling at strangers, etc), but also brought to light some important points that we Americans can learn from our friends over here.
Don’t let my kindness comments fool you – there are some really, really incredible things about this culture. My favorite of them all is going out to dinner here in Italy – but not for the reason one may think. Whereas I am proud of how committed I’ve been to pesto (my favorite food), the best thing to me has been that after sitting there for four courses, you still have to go out of your way to ask the waiter or waitress for the check. Why doesn’t this trigger the PTSD from working in a restaurant that had an hour wait every single night of the summer? Because I get to sit across the table from my roommates, and ask them how their days were. Because I get to joke with my childhood best friend about how we’re still stuck together after somehow ending up in the same study abroad destination. And if we want to do that for another two or three hours after we’ve finished eating? Then that’s quite okay. I’ve found my September-beach-day in Italy, and the best part? Not one second of it requires me touching my cell phone.
Two weekends ago on Sunday, we spent the day in Pompeii – another very touristy destination in Italy. Wandering into a packed restaurant, I assume we must’ve looked overwhelmed by the crowd – because the hostess hurried over to explain that, there was another dining room in the back, and as the real hook that was supposed to keep us from choosing a different lunch spot, “do not worry, there is also Wifi out there.” Now I don’t know about anyone else, but I cared much too much about the pizza we were about to order for lunch to even think about Wifi. And later on, as if I was stuck in a bad scene loaded with American stereotypes, I boarded the bus home for my ears to flood with a unpleasing symphony of phrases like (and these are real, I wrote them down out of incredulity) “did you see so-and-so’s snap story? I can’t believe they got pizza with her instead of coming with us” and “wait, what time is it at home? Is it a good time to post my Insta?” from my fellow American students. In order to not get carried away with writing down more comments, I put my headphones in and tried to tune out the picture-filter debate that was happening next to me.
This is the time to admit it – I, like many other twenty-year-olds of my generation, have and actively use a Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Snapchat account. Not only do I maintain my own personal pages, but I also spent the eight months before I left for Florence interning in a social media position. So believe me, I am no stranger to conversations about posting on various social platforms.
But despite all of that, and no offense intended to my Snapchat pals or my Instagram followers, there is no way in heck you guys could appreciate the Italian man rowing a boat and singing at the top of his lungs as he steers us into the Blue Grotto in Capri. And it doesn’t matter how much Instagram training I have (I actually do, courtesy of my internship), and whether my picture is filtered or not, it is in no way going to do that cave any justice. Nor would it do me any justice to spend the one minute they give you in there to try appreciating the crazy blue water through the lens on my phone, camera, OR GoPro.
So that being said, in addition to gelato on the reg and embracing Italy in more sunsets at Piazzale Michelangelo (another September beach day) and sitting at dinner for hours…
Yes, to taking/posting that picture of Capri that’ll also make its home on my wall in Philly, and make me miss Italy every single day.
Yes, to taking some time to Facetime my six favorite people (hi Matt/Matt/Ben/Brendan/Ant/Mike) because I miss them more than I ever could’ve imagined.
Yes, to picking up my phone to email my parents and tell them how thankful I am for this experience.
But more than that, yes to letting my memory do the appreciating. Yes to putting the phone down. And yes, yes, absolutely yes, to taking pictures and capturing moments, but YES to mostly appreciating this crazy, wild, wonderful adventure with my phone turned off in my backpack, my eyes wide open, and my jaw on the floor.
Alli DelGrippo is a junior with majors in Entertainment Marketing and Leadership, Ethics, and Organizational Sustainability. Aside from studying a mouthful of majors, you can find her walking backwards on tour, social-butterflying on the first floor of the PLC, and instagramming Barbelin more than her fair share.