Once your dream of living in Italy comes true, after all the bureaucracy is sorted out and taken care of you might ask yourself how do you make friends with Italians? Many expats forums and groups mention that it is very difficult, especially if you don’t speak the language. While I can’t stress enough how language is the key to really understanding Italy, you can have good friends even while you are still learning Italian. They actually can help you improve both your language skills and your deep understanding of the Italian culture. How? Read this post to find out!
1. Live with Italians
Even if you can afford to buy your own home, spend some time living with Italians first. Sometimes Italian families rent a spare room. In big cities like Rome or Milan cohabitation isn’t uncommon for people in their 30s and sometimes 40s. This is your chance to learn Italian habits and even notice the difference between Southern and Northern Italians.
You will learn to make “real Italian coffee”, your flatmate’s grandmother’s lasagna recipe, and lots of cultural references, like movies, TV series and books, just by living with an Italian person.
If you have an Italian boyfriend or girlfriend, this part will come naturally to you. If you want to have one, don’t be shy, try local Tinder or Bumble. Unlike many other countries, in Italy dating apps don’t necessarily mean “one night stand”. There are some particularities though, if you are curious, I can make another post about dating in Italy.
Beware of agencies that make you pay a fixed rate for a list of properties you call yourself, it is usually a scam. A normal price if you rent a place through an agency is 1 month of rent for agency’s commission, for a maximum of 10% of the annual rate.
2. Small talk is the key – food, weather, complaints
Unlike some countries in Northern Europe, small talk is very common and even expected in Italy. Italians are not comfortable with long pauses. What should you talk about?
If there is one theme Italians can speak about forever, especially in Southern Italy, that’s food. Your favorite recipe, what you had for lunch, or even what you ate while traveling to another city or country, all these will do. Possibly don’t say you had better food in another city or country, especially if you went to France. Italians and French can be quite competitive when it comes to food.
If you don’t speak Italian, you have some non-verbal ways to show your admiration for Italian food. Consideration is very much appreciated in any culture and can help establish the first contact.
Other small talk topics are weather and complaints. Be careful though. Italians often complain about their country but they also want to feel proud of it, so, as a foreigner, you’d better say something nice, if you want to bond with locals.
Coronavirus is the main theme of complaints lately. Since everyone is pissed off by it, it makes a great topic for small talk (if you still can handle it, of course).
Small talk is easy to learn even if you are a beginner in Italian, don’t be afraid to speak, Italians are usually glad when expats speak their language!
3. Go online and find language exchanges or other groups
Whatever your interests or hobbies are, there is an online community dedicated to this topic. Plants, gardening, business, flamenco dancing – just google it. You will learn the Italian terms for something you like and hopefully will contribute to the community or join their meetups.
Since this is something you are passionate about, your motivation to learn Italian will increase and you will be able to make friends who share your interests.
There are also many online expats communities if you miss home or just don’t feel like speaking Italian yet. Here are some:
Language exchanges are very popular in big Italian cities, you can make friends there. Just be careful, many Italians want to practice their English or Spanish with you but you should be practicing Italian too. If you see you are only speaking English, you should propose to speak Italian for half of your meeting.
Trust me, getting out of your comfort zone will be totally worth it once you will be able to appreciate the genuine Italian part of your friends, the one they just can’t show in English.
You can find the language exchange meetings on Facebook groups or on Meetup, they are usually done at aperitivo time.
Besides this, it is perfectly normal in Italy once a group is formed, to go out for aperitivo or dinner together. This can help you bond with locals.
Here are some ideas for places to look for friends once you start speaking some Italian:
- Dancing classes;
- Coworking places;
- Yoga classes;
- Wine tastings;
- Amateur theater classes;
- Universities – if you love to learn, you don’t even need to be an actual student, you can go to classes in all public Italian universities, they are free for everyone to assist;
- Classes with aperitivo included – there are many in the big cities if you search these events on Facebook, you will surely find some, even with the coronavirus norms. There are many art classes in Rome, for example;
- Church – even if you are not a believer, it gives a sense of community. They also organize flea markets, one-day trips, etc;
- Political parties – you can meet people who share your ideas and values;
- Volunteer associations – no matter what cause you to embrace, from helping rescue dogs to feminism or climate change, there surely are groups that need a spare pair of hands;
- Psychological and self-help groups – if you are having a hard time, you can join one of these groups that are quite common in Italy;
- Book presentations – local libraries organize events where you can meet the authors, so you might make friends and better learn the language through the local literature. As an expat, you might like authors who have mixed origins and speak about contemporary Italy, like Igiaba Scego and Ubah Cristina Ali Farah.
5. Watch local customs – especially in the countryside…
It will be easier to make Italian friends if you will “act like a local”. You don’t need to completely follow all Italian rules, but in more traditional places, especially, if you live in the countryside, it can help you connect to people faster.
For example, in some small villages, women go to the bar only during the daytime. After sunset, you can see there only men… and foreigners.
The good thing about the Italian countryside is that probably once locals understand you came to stay, it will be easier to befriend them. And since they don’t speak much English, your Italian will probably improve very soon.
6. …but also be yourself and follow your interests
The latest studies show that integration is better than assimilation. Yet, speaking Italian and the integration process are both important but your wellbeing has the priority as well! If you want to hang out with people from your country for a week or so when feeling homesick, just do it.
There is no need to follow Italians no matter what. You have experienced another culture(s) in a way Italians didn’t, you have so much to share with them! Many Italians, mainly the young ones, are curious about other countries, traveling, and languages.
So, you don’t necessarily have to be the one who has to accommodate, just be yourself!
7. Take it easy
There will be days when you will feel lonely or sad. It is part of the process. Even if you live in paradise, you might be homesick or blue sometimes. Be sure to take good care of yourself, you can speak to a fellow expat, journal or go see a therapist. This can be a normal part of the culture shock.
Remember it won’t last forever, try to make a list of the positive things that happened to you in Italy and remember why you chose it in the first place.
Read my Ultimate Culture Shock guide to know how to spot in on time and avoid it.
What other ways of making friends in Italy do you know? Comment below!
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