Meeting new people
Making friends was easy when we were children and then things got complicated along the way. We wanted certain types of friends who had similar likes and dislikes. That list grew until we realized that we had very few friends left. People with a lot of friends know that it is not necessary to agree on everything. Italy is the perfect place to test this out.
Do you want an Italian experience? If you answered, “Yes”, then you must learn Italian. Otherwise, you risk turning Rome into Little Italy, USA. I continually see Americans, British, Australians etc., who only socialize with their fellow countrymen with few exceptions; there will always be some token Americans, Irish or Australians with the English and vice-versa. It is nice to have friends from your native country. You need people who will understand you on levels that go beyond language. You need people who will listen to you when you vent about Italy. Italians will naturally get defensive, but other expats in Italy will know exactly how you feel. However, if you do not learn Italian nor make Italian friends, you will be cutting off your possibilities at the bud and limiting your experience tremendously.
Broadening your mind…
Making Italian friends while you live in Italy can change your life as any new experience can. If all you ever knew was your country and you move to Italy but continue to exclusively fraternize with compatriots, what have you changed besides your surroundings? If you make Italian friends, you will learn about a new world, which transcends mere culture. It is opening the door to the unknown, the infinite, that which is completely diverse from all that you know.
If you learn Italian prior to your arrival, you will open yourself up to the natives, rather than your fellow visitors. Italians are extremely friendly and enjoy meeting people from other countries. My first month in Rome made me dizzy as I was spun all around Rome every evening by the few Italians I met during my first week. After finding an apartment, my outings tripled as did my friends.
Friends vs. Acquaintances
Friend is a vague term used loosely in Italy. While a friend in NYC was a person I could count on, depend on, talk to when I was feeling blue, this was not always so in Italy. Buddy, is a much more appropriate word. The Italians I met became instant buddies. These were people who took me out dancing, to get an aperitivo, who had passes to private events and who were always available. It takes time to make real friends, which is true for any location around the globe. However, I was not accustomed to having so many buddies. New Yorkers were usually too preoccupied with their careers and therefore, were not continually available in large groups, as I found in Rome. After some time, I became aware of which buddies had grown to be real and true friends.
There are Italians who speak English who you can befriend, but once you go out with their friends, you may get lost in translation. Learning Italian will give you freedom. I learned it on my own, without a teacher and for free. Learn how I did it: Learn the Language!
What I have gained through Italian friendships:
- Support: There came a time when my non-Italian friends had all moved back home. Difficult situations showed me who my real friends were.
- Excitement: Italians are dramatic and when you are having fun, their drama turns into adrenaline. A hum-drum evening becomes a joyous event.
- Understanding: You will not know Italy by watching a Fellini film, nor will you know Italians by seeing them on the street. To know Italy, its culture and its people, you must know Italians.
- Opportunities: Italy is a country run by ‘raccomandazioni’. It is who you know that counts more than what you know. However, it is obvious if you befriend people for their contacts, as it is also noticeable if you are a false friend. Be honest about networking. Carry business cards and use them. Meet all kinds of interesting people and do not hesitate to help each other out. Become an asset to them as well.
- Cross-Culturalization: Visiting the home town of your Italian friends will fill you with an inside view into their culture. Whenever I go to my boyfriend’s home town, I experience his mother’s cooking, their way of speaking, how he grew up, their manners and customs. I have noticed that at restaurants Italians will always offer a taste of the food on their plate to everyone at the table. In Italy, this seems to be appreciated, whilst in America, it would not be considered elegant to offer everyone your food. In America, we greet people with a wave and if we miss someone, it is not anything to worry about. Greetings are taken seriously in Italy and a missed one is considered extremely rude and a topic of conversation. There are many other interesting differences and nuggets of precious Italian insight that you will only discover through making Italian friends.
How to begin:
- Exchange Contact Information: Carry your cell phone at all times. When you meet someone who you find interesting, ask for their cell number and e-mail. They will take it as a compliment. Throw in a ‘Dai, organiziamo qualcosa la prossima settimana.’ (Let’s all get together sometime next week.)and you will have made a new friend.
- Facebook: Add them to your friends on Facebook. Having a Facebook account will help you now more than ever. I have recently met a couple who met on there. They have now been together for a year.
- Throw a dinner party: Once you meet several people, throw a pot-luck dinner party or aperitivo. Having people over can really spruce up a new friendship. Thanksgiving, Independence Day or any of your national holidays are perfect excuses to have an event. Italians enjoy learning about other cultures, especially when a giant roasted turkey is involved. I once invited 40 people to Thanksgiving diner. I could not decide amongst them, so I invited everyone at the last minute. 23 people came with dish in hand.
- Organize an outing: Italians need no excuse to go out with friends. Find a new place for an aperitivo in Rome. Visit a museum or go see a film. As you get to know your friends better, start organizing day trips to nearby towns or a weekend in Tuscany. Read about possible daytrip destinations and start packing your bags.
- Smile: I am sometimes very shy. I had a friend who noticed this. She advised, “You know, if you see someone you like, smile at them, and they will come.” I garnered all the courage I could muster and beamed the warmest smile I had. “Ciao”, came the voice of the guy who flew over to me like Superman. This occurred on my first vacation in Rome. It has always worked ever since.
- Enjoy yourself: If you are having fun, people will want to be in your company. If you cannot make yourself happy, no one will offer to do it for you. I know that it is not always possible. I have spent some of those evenings when I was in an unfriendly mood, in a corner at a party. I occupied myself by deleting old messages on my cell. I was not in the mood to have fun, but I did not ruin it for my friends by moping around. I let them have their fun and kept myself busy. Those occasions were very few, however. I have made up for them numerous times over, chucking those rare occasions to PMS.
- Go out and speak to people. If you are shy, get a part-time job at a bar, club, bookstore or shop where you are forced to talk to people.
- Join as many Meetup groups as you can. Meet Up is a website where you can join groups based on activities, mindset or situations. For example, the ones I was attracted to most was for wine lovers, jazz lovers and art lovers. This is not a dating site although there are groups for singles, single parents or singles of a certain age. There are also some just to meet like-minded people and may even be gender or age specific.
It is not easy to make friends in New York City. The same is true for many major English-speaking cities. It is the complete opposite in Italy. Italians adore making friends, meeting new people, learning about different cultures, backgrounds and lifestyles. You could not have it any easier. Positive energy is contagious. Smile, meet people and exchange contact information. You will find yourself with a multitude of amici and your biggest problem will be remembering which Francesco is which.