Culture, Italian language, Life in Italy

Funny little things about Italy: culture shocking

For the last few weeks I’ve had writers block not knowing which subject I wanted to hit for my next blog post. I didn’t want to write about another wedding, or food, but instead what I’m going through culturally right now so that my writing is alive and in real time. This time, I’ll be writing about Italian culture and the little things that make all the difference.

When I first moved to Italy I had a conversation on the phone with a fellow American woman who had been living in Italy for 20 years. She told me it officially takes 2 years to overcome culture shock. When I heard that I took it to heart because I was then a newbie and was enduring serious culture shock where every thing I looked at seemed upside down and backwards. Today however I have overcome the upside down and backwards seeing (which often caused anxiety and bitterness) and instead see things more slanted which ironically results in humorous experiences.

So, the first thing that became really humorous to me was the fact that Italian animals apparently make different sounds than the way I was taught. I noticed this one day as my husband was explaining to me something that happened with this dog when he said “you know, he said ‘bow bow.’ I looked at him and said “bow bow hahahahaha!” I then realized he wasn’t joking and that Italian dogs say “bow bow” and not “ruff ruff.” But I said “you really hear the dog saying bow bow because I don’t hear that at all…” Well I still don’t hear the bow bow and I have tried really hard.  Apart from the dogs barking in Italian, the birds also tweet “pew pew”. I double checked this with some Italian kids that I teach English to every week at my work. They assured me of the animal sounds. Apart from those two animals though, the others make the same sounds 🙂

Animals say funny things, but Italians say even funnier American things. I have repeatedly heard conversations about BMWs over the year but they don’t say BMW and this caught my attention. They say BMVoooo. I laughed really hard when I realized what they were saying and I actually think it sounds smoother this way. Ok, I know BMWs aren’t American, but still it’s funny.  The USA is also differently pronounced. I was in the grocery store a few weeks ago and I always run into the same old man who takes care of the vegetable section. He said “hey Jessica! Look, these oranges came from California, ewssuhhh.” I said, “ewsuhh? USA?” He said “yeah!” I laughed at that too and said “Gianni, I’m an English teacher, come on, it’s U.S.A.” What I find most funny is that old man probably never thought he would get an English lesson in his life in the little town he lives in!  Anyways, another funny pronunciation thing is when you say “oops.” Italians say “Ohps” and every time I say “oops” at my job everyone has a good laugh at MY accent. Cute. Who would have known that the littlest things are said differently in another language.

Some other little things I find interesting and almost culturally shocking is the fact that they make these pencils with no erasers. I just can’t get over it. Why on Earth would you make a pencil that doesn’t erase. Doesn’t that defeat the purpose of a pencil in the first place?

ImageIt’s so hard to find pencils with erasers, and when you find them you have to pay a lot for them…no fun. So, in my school a little girl told me she needed an eraser for her pencil, so I said “here take this pencil with the eraser” she looked at me and said “no, I need an eraser!” I just don’t understand what the difference is between an eraser on a pencil and a big separate eraser. Geez! hehehe (or in Italian “hihihi”) 🙂

Some other interesting things I’ve noticed in Italy is that they don’t use to-go boxes, and aren’t fans of billboards on the interstate. They do have billboards on local levels, but on the interstate it’s not the same as in America where every 2 miles you see a billboard.  With the to-go boxes I thought that was quite ironic b/c they are so in love with food you would think it would be second nature for restaurants to have to-go boxes. Contrarily, they are so in love with food that they believe in fresh food always, and therefore to-go means eating old food. They do however have to-go cups for espresso…as if espresso couldn’t be any smaller! That’s mind blowing to me because by the time espresso is made and put into its little barbie sized cup it’s already lots 1/4 of the heat, so why take it to-go so that it’s cold when you drink it? Funny Italians…hihihi

The last thing I would like to comment on today is the parking. There is so much to say, where do you start? Well, I will start by saying I will probably be writing an entire post filled with pictures of unbelievable parking jobs in the near future. It used to be mind twisting and annoying to look at, but now it’s just too funny to be upset about. Look at this guy.


He is parked, he is not in the car, he is not turning, he is parked there and gone. This is a curb with head on traffic that flows in his direction but he felt no need to park closer to the curb or perhaps even in a parking space. No, he felt perfectly comfortable parking right there instead. This guy has made me start bending the rules with my parking and driving in general. He has inspired me to just care less and take it easy, like a true Italian.


20 thoughts on “Funny little things about Italy: culture shocking”

  1. So hilarious!!! My mother (who moved to Italy from Canada) still can’t accept the Italian pencils “without erasers”! She keeps saying how hard it is to find them with erasers (after more than 30 years!!!) 😀

    1. I didn’t know about all the little differences either until after some time. It’s like the language learning just keeps going and going and never ends, even for the little things. Glad you like reading!

  2. What I find even more hilarious is that he has no parking violation ticket. So, it’s perfectly legal to park in the middle of the road!

  3. Jessica this post had my mom and me laughing hysterically in tears!!!! Please keep writing – I LOVE reading all your stories and discoveries. Thank you for the very very very good laugh!!

    1. I’m glad y’all liked it so much Sara! This is not even the beginning of crazy funny things I find here. I wasn’t planning to write on this at all so I never kept track until a few weeks ago when I couldn’t get over the pencils. I decided then that to convince myself that I’m not crazy or bitter I had to write about this and see if other people think some of their ways are strange and that it’s not just me!

  4. Jess, When I looked at the picture with the pencils the first thing I thought was “they sell their pencils already sharpened?” I didn’t even notice the erasers, but I bet I would if I lived there! I use my erasers so much that I have to buy packs of replacement erasers for my mechanical pencils!

  5. The thing with the pencils is that the small eraser at the top just makes a mess on the paper and doesn’t erase anything, just leaves black lines! So we prefer a separate big eraser that just does its job 🙂 As for espresso, we are not used to take-away coffee (it’s very American), so we drink it as soon as it’s ready and we drink it hot (that’s actually the meaning of its name, “espresso”). Italian coffee culture is much different from everywhere else. Hope this helps you understand us, funny Italians 😉

    1. Well, to be honest I may be slowly evolving into the Italian coffee culture because now I can only drink espresso in the afternoons, never long coffee like before. However I still prefer my coffee in the mornings b/c it is so relaxing to slowly enjoy something hot. But, I do love the espresso taste and how light it is! I always take an espresso when I go to a bar so that I can fit in 🙂 I remember the first time I tried espresso I flinched b/c it was so strong to me, but now it is getting smoother and smoother!

  6. Well, of course we don’t say “U.S.A”. You don’t say “Italia” in the US, right? You say “Italy”, the english version. So just as you say “U.S.A.” pronouncing the letter in English alphabet, we say “USA” using the Italian pronunciation of the letters.

    1. That’s true, didn’t think of it that way. I guess I was just surprised. For me the comparison would be when people say Stati Uniti instead of United States, obviously because it’s in their language, but I had never heard anyone refer to the US as “oosah” until recently 🙂

  7. Hi! I’m an italian 15 years old girl. It’s very funny to read from this point of view!!!
    (The others italian people already answered about the pencil and the pronunciation of USA, so I haven’t other to say…)
    I laughed a lot reading about BMVooo! You’re right… XD

  8. aaww, just stumbled upon your blog looking for a no-pasta italian recipe on google (or as you probably hear it “Gogle”) and this particular blog just makes me fondly think of italy. notice the pencils are sharpened, right? that’s also funny. the parking, yes. the to-go food and the espresso, you’ve got it all right. too funny. my dad is from italy and so my family is there, so when I visit, things are not as shocking since I grew up with all of his weird italian ways..BUT the one thing that drives me nuts in Italy is the no-ice issue with sodas. I like ice. I want ice. Stop looking at me like I’ve got two heads because I need ice in my Coca-cola! Sono un vera americana e quindi, bisogno cubetti di ghiaccio…prontooooo!!!! hahaha.

    1. Lol, Cate I definitely relate to you with the ice issue. Ya, I always used to tell my husband “can you ask for ice?” And when they would bring it to me it was always a few ice cubes. Now I just ask myself and explain that I want plenty! I’m glad you liked my post

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