50 Signs That Rome Is Really Home

Your walk to work might look something like this, for starters.

What’s living in Italy really like? Here are some of the ways you’ll know when you’ve lived here for a while—and that Rome has changed you (…for better or for worse!).

1. You walk into oncoming traffic without blinking. And you’re impatient with others who don’t do the same.

2. You know that living in the “Ghetto” isn’t dangerous or cheap. It’s luxurious. And expensive.

Ghetto ruins for web
The “Ghetto.”

3. You set aside whole afternoons for tasks you used to think of as simple, like mailing a package or getting passport photos taken. (Every once in a while, these tasks take 15 minutes or less. When that happens, you’re so astonished, you waste the next two hours by calling your friends to tell them about it, anyway).

4. Foods you used to find normal, like chicken with pasta or carbonara with peas and cream, now turn your stomach.

Carbonara in Rome
This, my friends, is what a carbonara should look like.

5. You don’t go outside with a wet head—not because you really think you’ll get the colpo d’aria (and die!), but because you can’t stand the looks from everyone around you who does think you will.

6. Wi-Fi and bagels are a big deal.

7. Ancient ruins and Renaissance art are not. 

8. Wine shops in your home country give you sticker shock. This is a shame, since you’ve gotten used to having a glass of wine with dinner—and since, even though you don’t consider yourself a wine “connoisseur” or above three-buck chuck, your Italy-spoiled palate has determined differently.

9. Your “local” is a pizzeria, not a pub. And yes, it’s where everyone knows your name. (Okay, you might have a local enoteca, too).

Living in Italy
Ai Marmi, a popular pizzeria in Trastevere

10. You’re often in tobacco shops. You don’t smoke. This no longer strikes you as strange.

11. You’re anxious to always pay for things with exact change. When you have to pay for something with a bill larger than 20 euros, you are extremely apologetic.

12. You drink single shots of coffee, standing up, at bars.

Cafe antico brasile
Locals drinking coffee (and standing!).

13. Also, you know a “bar” is not for alcohol, but coffee. A “caffe” isn’t just a place to drink coffee, but the coffee itself. A “latte” isn’t a coffee with milk, but just milk. And a “caffe americano” isn’t a drip coffee, but an espresso with a little water added… which in the U.S., of course, would be called an espresso.

All of which helps explain why you now have trouble placing a simple order at Starbucks.

14. You don’t think a motorino is sexy, or romantic, or exotic. It’s just a way of life. Well, mostly.

15. You’re used to keys like this one.

Living in Italy
This is normal, I swear.

16. You know that, when someone calls you “bella” or “cara,” it’s more likely to mean that they don’t know your name than that they really think you’re “beautiful” or “sweet.”

17. When you visit home, you’ve started sitting on your hands. Otherwise, you get made fun of for gesturing nonstop.

18. When you hear “Monti,” you think neighborhood, not politician. Even though you’re a reporter.

Rome expat life
The “real” Monti.

19. You’ve learned that you’re not just small (piccola), but really tiny (piccolissima). You’re not just beautiful (bella), but really beautiful (bellissima). You’re not just good (brava), but incredibly good (bravissima). Actually, until moving to Italy, you didn’t realize just how special you really were!

20. You do all your shopping in the twice-a-year saldi.

21. You can wax ecstatic about the perfect amatriciana. Or mozzarella di bufala. You also may or may not have stronger feelings about where to find Rome’s best gelato, pizza, or carbonara than you do about Rome versus Lazio.

Living in Italy gelato
One of the perks of living in Italy.

22. A phone call doesn’t really feel complete unless you’ve said “Ciao… ciao ciao ciao ciao ciao. Un bacione.

23. You don’t think twice about offal being on a menu. You do, however, still giggle at the English translations (“calf bowels”?).

24. You time your errands to take place before noon or after 4pm. If it’s lunchtime and you didn’t have time to go to the pharmacy to pick up, say, contact lens solution, you just wait until the evening.

25. To you, a strike is something that’s announced in advance, usually planned for a Friday so workers can have three-day weekends, lasts only a day, doesn’t run during rush hour, and often applies to only a few of the bus and metro lines at a time. Which might be part of the reason why they happen so often.

26. If you ask for a raise at your job, you know that your employer will say no. They will use the fact that then they have to pay more taxes for you as the excuse.

27. You watch where you step to avoid the two main vagaries of Roman streets: potholes, and poop.

28. Even so, you walk a lot. You don’t think twice about walking 20 minutes or a half hour to get somewhere.

living in italy
Walking everywhere makes a lot more sense when you get views like this one while running errands.

29. In a store in the U.S. or U.K., it takes you 15 minutes to pick out shampoo, cereal, or toothpaste, just because you’re floored by having that much choice.

30. As a woman, you are used to the fact that even acquaintances will greet you with a kiss on both cheeks—and then, promptly, say something like “You’ve gained weight!,” “You’ve lost weight!” or “Your shoes are ugly”. If they’re men. Or masseuses.

You’ve come to realize that this kind of sexism unasked-for honesty is (just a little bit) cultural, and not meant to be insulting.

Living in Italy
Umbrella pines in Villa Ada

31. Umbrella pines. They’re everywhere. And you still haven’t figured out if they really grow that way, or if some team of unsung Italian heroes come out only at night to trim each and every single one in the city.

life in rome
More umbrella pines. Because, really, you can’t get enough.

32. At any given moment, you either feel profound irritation or appreciation for Italy’s ability to bend the rules.

33. You’ve realized you totally don’t need a microwave. Or clothes dryer. You cannot, however, live without a Moka pot.

34. Or without that spray-on miracle powder that takes out olive oil spots instantaneously. Seriously, it’s saved half the shirts in your closet. How did you make it so long without it? (Update: Okay, everyone is asking me exactly what this is! Although I’m sure there are other brands, the one I found was Bio Shout Smacchiatore. I discovered it after, um, twirling my pasta in a way that wasn’t quite bella figura enough at a restaurant and splashing oil on myself. The server immediately rushed over to save me with this powder. I’ve since learned that almost every restaurant in Italy will have it on hand, and it’s also sold in the laundry aisles of most Italian grocery stores. You’re welcome!).

35. You’ve seen motorino drivers actually stop their scooters so that they could have conversations… on their cell phones… because without stopping, they couldn’t gesture—i.e. really “talk.”

36. When an Italian says “sensitive,” you know they usually mean “sensible,” and vice versa. (“False friends!”).

37. When you hear a saint’s name, you don’t think of the saint, but the street or neighborhood someone is referring to (San Lorenzo, San Giovanni…).

Living in Rome
The piazzetta in Monti, a favorite local hangout

38. You have lived in either Monti or Trastevere. Or are currently saving up to do so.

39. You’ve started saying strange things in English, like “What are you doing in these days?” Since all of your other native English-speaking friends do, too, you only notice this when you go back home.

40. When it rains, you don’t leave your house, even if you had plans. And since all of your friends will also bail, you don’t feel guilty about it.

Rome rain web
Empty streets in the Rome rain

41. You can pontificate on the precise differences between gelato and ice cream.

42. You expect to be able to get anywhere by train or bus. Well. To get there eventually.

43. You call your local 24-hour alimentari the “Bangladeshi shop,” even though the owner is Greek. And when you need something cheap, you go to the “Chinese shop,” which you suspect is actually run by Koreans. Your politically-correct friends back home would be appalled.

44. At first, when people tapped you on the shoulder on the bus, asking anxiously “Scende alla prossima?” (Are you getting off at the next stop?), you got annoyed. After all, there’s plenty of space around you for them to make the exit easily. Why were they so gung-ho? Then, you started moving aside without thinking about it. And now? You’ve found yourself “Scende alla prossima”-ing too.

45. You spend winter days pulling on sweaters and taking them back off, even if you don’t leave your apartment, because when the heating is turned on is controlled by the building—not by you.

46. If you leave your house, even for five minutes, and nobody calls you bellayou think you must be having a really bad hair day.

47. Your drycleaner knows you by name. So does your butcher, banker, cobbler, pharmacist, and hardware store guy. And the owners of your local pizzeria, fruit and vegetable stand, wine bar, and trattoria.

You often run into one of them in another neighborhood place (your drycleaner at the bank, your cobbler at the pizzeria), and each time, you’re a little taken aback.

Rome life
How can you not love this city? No, really. How?

48. You love Rome.

49. You hate Rome.

50. You know Rome—the good and the bad. It infuriates you, it enchants you… and it’s a place that, no matter what, you’ll never, ever forget.

If you liked this post, you’ll love The Revealed Rome Handbook: Tips and Tricks for Exploring the Eternal City, available for purchase on Amazon, or through my site here! I’m also free for one-on-one consulting sessions to help plan your Italy trip.

Also: the 5 most overrated things to do in Rome, how to start planning your trip to Rome, and 11 etiquette mistakes not to make eating in Italy.

If you liked this post, you’ll love The Revealed Rome Handbook: Tips and Tricks for Exploring the Eternal City, available for purchase on Amazon or through my site here! I’m also free for one-on-one consulting sessions to help plan your Italy trip.

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8 comments

  1. There is no difference between a gelato and an ice cream – in Italian, the commonly used translation of ice cream is gelato (there are other words that refer to similar, ice-containing desserts such as semi-freddo, ghiacciolo…)… Gelateria is where you buy the home made stuff that gets dolloped on a cone. Tabacchi or bar is where you buy the commercial ice creams, which are also referred to as gelato.

    1. Ah yes, the age-old debate! 🙂 You’re completely right that Italians say “gelato” to refer to any old kind of ice cream. But it’s only relatively recently that commercial, American-style ice cream (with its higher fat content and lower temperature, as well as its whipped-in air and water) came onto the scene in Italy. Italians may call both things gelato, since they’re both “ice cream” after all — but there’s a demonstrable difference between the two. Click through to the post I wrote in gelato for more, but in sum, that “ice cream” vs “traditional Italian gelato” difference is why artisanal gelato makers in Italy insist on not whipping air into their gelato, for example. So in English, we say ice cream when we mean the American style, gelato to refer to that traditional Italian style (with its lower fat, warmer temperature, smaller batches, etc). I hope that helps clarify! Of course, at the end of the day, it’s all frozen sweet stuff… but I know which kind I’d rather have 😉

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