Practical Italy: Managing Expectations


Dinner DisastersI’ve noticed that people come to Italy with high hopes and wrong hopes. I should know, I was one of them. I told you about it here.

How can hopes be wrong? They’re personal! You disagree.

Ok, let’s call them unrealistic hopes. Unrealistic expectations. That better? Good.

Ricominciamo da capo. Let’s start over.

People sometimes come to Italy with unrealistic expectations and are sometimes sorely disappointed when the Italy of their dreams isn’t quite the Italy of their reality. Starry-eyed travellers thinking that vintage red Vespa is everyone’s principal form of transportation here and that they’ll be the only ones trying to throw coins in the Trevi fountain at 10pm on a Saturday.

I hate to break it to you, but no.

Not all of Italy looks like Tuscany, you won’t magically learn Italian in two weeks and you’ll probably never escape the hordes of other tourists at major sites.

But how will I know this if it’s all new to me? You ask. How can I be realistic if I have no idea what to expect?

Here are some pointers:

Do. Some. Research. Use your Google machine. Talk with other people who have been to Italy. It’s no big secret what Italy is like. People have been there before you and they’ll probably be happy to tell you about it.

happiness equation

Really though, it’s not even so much your expectations that will determine whether your time in Italy is magnifico or orribile, it’s your attitude towards things when your expectations aren’t met.

Scenario: You order a pizza in Italy and it doesn’t have globs of gooey processed cheese all over it like at home. You like globs of gooey processed cheese and were really craving those cheesy, gooey globs after your long day of sightseeing. You look at your practically naked (cheese-wise) pizza and you have two options:

1. Complain, turn your nose up, whine and be a general nuisance to your travel companions and anyone within 50 feet of you. Snivel, pout and ask God why he just can’t make the Italians do things like you do back home. Especially the pizza! Refuse to eat it. Fantasize about that cardboard, cheese-laden pizza from home. Go hungry in Italy.

2. Cut your pizza, stick it in your mouth. Chew. Repeat. Enjoy it for what it is: different from the pizza you’re used to at home, but probably marvellous in it’s own right. 

Now, which do you think will make you feel happier?

If you chose answer #1, just stop reading here. You’re a lost cause. If you chose answer #2, bravo!

Take it from me: you need to start off your trip to Italy with the general expectation that “everything will be different. But even that little maxim needs an “and I’m OK with that” chaser.

Add in a touch of “and if things aren’t as I expect, I will be open and flexible about it” and really you can’t go wrong. Control-freakishness does not lead to happiness. Not just in Italy, but anywhere. Mi raccomando! 

If you honestly think you can’t stomach that, then stay home per piacere, and leave the Italy-enjoying to the rest of us. Really. The milk here doesn’t taste the same. McDonald’s doesn’t taste the same. Coca Cola doesn’t even taste the same. Brands are different. Systems are different. Chaos is the prevailing form of organization. Customs are different. Ideas are different. Traditions are different.

But that’s why you wanted to come to Italy in the first place, isn’t it?

So when your shower suddenly turns icily cold after 15 minutes and you’re used to 40-minute showers at home, steel yourself against the frigid water (or turn it off quickly) and think “this is what I came here for”.

I’m not talking about the cold shower; don’t be too literal on me. I’m talking about difference. That’s what you came here for. To see how other people live. To see how other people, in my humble opinion, live pretty well.

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12 thoughts on “Practical Italy: Managing Expectations

  1. Great graphic to go along with the write up, which was rather amusing. Aspects of this remind me of what it’s like to visit Mexico – the “real” Mexico, away from the tourists, where you get authentic food; where the tamales aren’t slathered in some weird mystery sauce, where tacos don’t come on a fried tortilla, where you can take your freshly caught fish and have it prepared for you in the local restaurant. And between that and your pizza, my tummy is rumbling! Great reticle with an oh so important lesson for traveling and life.

  2. Good advice! Anyone who wants things to be just like at home should stay home. I love your pizza example! it made me laugh because I thought of the scene in ‘Big Night’ where the woman orders spaghetti and meatballs. Enjoy Puglia-it’s amazing! Ciao, Cristina

  3. “Chaos is the prevailing form of organization” ~ perfect description!! Truly, anyone planning a trip to Italy really should read up on the culture, spend some time on Trip Advisor or better yet explore any number of blogs written by people LIVING in Italy. Being flexible is the number one prerequisite to enjoying your Italian vacation. Learning some of the language goes a long way also and will open doors to experiences you otherwise would not have. I don’t understand why so many people expect countries outside of the U.S. to be “just like home”. Why people get excited about eating at a McDonalds instead of a family owned and operated trattoria!! Each visit we learn more about the culture and that always serves to enhance our experience.

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