Pictures for this blog post: This past Friday my study abroad program hosted a free excursion to a city about 15 minutes away by bus called Lucca (population 85,000). We went on bike tour which made me feel like a little kid. The city was once entirely surrounded by military walls because aparently Florence was trying to conquer Lucca by cannon–didn’t expect that. Florence was also once surrounded by military walls to keep out invaders, that is why both cities are so compactly arranged–for so long they could only build within the walls. On Saturday I went with a friend to Fiesole, a city hanging on the mountains just outside of Florence. It is a small town and was captured by Florence in 1125. There were Roman ruins to see, but we weren’t prepared to pay for a museum entrance. Instead we hiked up the steep hills and found great views of Florence in the valley below as well as a couple of Romanesque churches to explore.

One of the study abroad coordinators brought her dog along to Lucca. I love dogs, but Italians make it obvious they LOOOOOOOOVE their dogs. Dogs are welcome in bars, trains, buses and pretty much anywhere. One day I was in the grocery store and someone tied their dog to the inside handle of the door. It was wagging its tail and occasionally barking and its presence seemed very commonplace for the locals. The cashier at the line I was standing in and the customer being waited on were chuckling and pointing to the dog. People let their dogs run and play in piazzas and parks and people are always happy to see the dogs just be dogs. I love it when a dog isn’t cooperating on a walk–standing in firmly in protest–and the Italians (often old women) calmly talk to the dog, urging in her mother tongue for the dog to budge. Anyways, I mentioned to one of the coordinators that I’ve noticed how Italians love dogs more than average. Americans love their dogs but Italians LOVE their dogs. She completely agreed. She said the people in her office send pictures of their dogs to each other at the end of emails and treat their dogs as if they were their children. She laughed as she went on to say that when they hear other people’s dogs are sick people basically mourn and wear black for days. I asked if they feel the same way about cats. She said of course it varies from person to person, but for her there is no other animal that gives back love quite like a dog. She told me she loves all animals though–she won’t even kill mosquitoes because it would make her “feel sorry”.

Another small thing I’ve noticed is that Italians whistle a lot and I now whistle more when I’m walking on the street. One time I was whistling and I turned the corner and there was a guy reading a newspaper who whistled back. That totally made my day. Speaking of making my day: a week or two ago an Italian-speaking woman asked me for directions. With my complexion and fashion sense (or lack thereof) I never expected to be asked for directions. Luckily I knew where to direct her. That was very exciting.

A few weeks ago I went to dinner with my roommate, Kait and two of her Italian friends (I should have taken a picture, but I had just met them… oh well. Hopefully I’ll see them again). I asked the girls some of the questions that have been eating away at my brain. I wanted to blog what I learned before I forgot.

One thing I was surprised by is the dominant presence of American pop culture in Italy. I never realized it was so global. Not only our pop culture is popular here, but the American flag decorates a lot of clothing and merchandise. In the United States, I don’t see a lot of people wearing the flag unless it’s July–but here I see Italians and other Europeans wearing shirts with the American flag on it, sunglasses, shoes, backpacks, etc. Sometimes it’s just the flag, but othertimes it’s distorted in a way that is hard to decipher. For example, I have seen a few shirts with skulls replacing the Stars next to the Stripes. Does this mean they think the United States is like death? Not exactly knowing what to expect, I asked Kait’s friends to tell me what the Italian attitude is towards the United States and they smiled brightly and said they love Americans. I explained how I had seen our flag displayed and how it confused me and they said Italians may gently tease the United States, but overall they have warm regards for the U.S.

Italians are more physical in general. One day a friend and I were looking for a place called Gusta Pizza because it has a very good reputation. All we could find was Gusta Panini and they didn’t have pizza on their street menu, so we went inside to ask someone. I asked the man behind the counter if they served pizza and he laughed and slapped my shoulder and then shook me saying: “Ah! That’s’a miye brother! Down’a de street’a!”

On Saturday we needed to buy a bus ticket back to Florence from Fiesole. It was 2pm and of course, not a lot was open at that time. We saw where our bus was sitting–the bus was wide open–the driver was no where to be found. Some American tourists were standing outside the vehicle curiously inspecting it as if it were a UFO, unsure what to do. My friend and I trotted over to a food stand to ask where we could buy a bus ticket and the man directed us to a Tabbachi shop across the street. With no indication when the bus driver would return, we booked it across the street and up the block to the shop. When I asked the woman for “biglietti del autobus” she leaned over the counter to point out the door: “Okaaaye, you go a’down de block’e…” and we were already out of breath from hiking through the hills and now running around for the bus, our faces just dropped. Then she smacked my shoulder and started laughing “Ahahahaha! I’m’a just’a keeding!” If I had a euro for every time an Italian slapped my shoulder while I’ve been here…

Tara Lovdahl is studying abroad at Florence University of the Arts in Florence, Italy.