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21 Tips for North American Women Visiting Italy

Thursday, April 16th, 2009

Tourist in Rome

Having never been to Italy before, I wasn’t sure what to expect aside from the things my parents, who are from Sicily had told me. I had never left Canada before, was 2 weeks away from turning 26 and going to Florence on my own to work as an au pair. The things I learned and will pass on to other woman in my position were never mentioned in the guidebooks I read ; hopefully they’ll be helpful to you.

1. they have button stores, glove stores, door knob stores but no stores where you can buy any of these things in the same place. If you want a wal-mart type deal, stay in north America.

2. you can’t return purchases so buyer beware! The only way you can return anything is if it is electronic (like a curling iron) and even then you don’t get the money back, you get a new one or they actually fix it for you.

3. if you can’t speak Italian, TRY. Even if you know one word, use it. If you have to ask someone whether they speak English, ask them in Italian ; they will find you less annoying.

4. If you tell anyone you are from Canada be ready for them to guess Toronto then Vancouver. If you are from America, it’s Los Angeles or New York. Most people won’t guess anywhere smaller unless they have a personal connection there.

5. When you go into an internet cafe, be ready to give up your passport. I use my provincial I.D. because my passport is my baby, but in any case you will need some form of I.D. and if you don’t have it, you cant use the net or phone. They have strict terrorist laws here.

6. Cell phones are extremely cheap. If you are here for over a month in a stable residence I suggest to buy one for 30euro and you get 5euro airtime included with that. No contracts, no sign up fees, just 30 euro and you’re set. Calls are 9 cents a min within the country and so are texts. You can reload your charge card at any corner store.

7.Don’t ride the bus without a ticket! If you do and get caught you will pay a 45euro fine within 5 days or they’ll come to your residence looking for you. I doubt it’s worth the risk.

8. Sizes here are not the same as they are in North America so it’s a good idea to look up your shoe size on a conversion chart online. Nothing is worse than going into an Italian shoe store and telling them your size is uh… I don’t know”. For clothing it is a bit different because they generally go by S,M,L but lots of places use another system, so be ready or just try on clothes and have fun!

9. Know that everyone you meet will ask you these things :

Where are you from?
Do you understand Italian? (why not?)
How long are staying for?
How long have you been here?
Are you studying, working or on vacation?

They will most likely as you these things in Italian.

10. If someone tells you they speak a little Italian, they mean it. It is best to find someone around 20-40 years old if you want to have an unbroken conversation. I found middle aged businessmen were my best bet because their work must require the necessary relations; they never let me down.

11. Men pray on foreign women ; not all men but many. Don’t be scared or worried ; lots of North American women come overseas to live it up so if these men think you’re one of those women, they will ask. Be prepared to hear something along the lines of ” but you’re in Italy, have fun!” if you decline.

12. The scenery and history is so beautiful you won’t believe it is actually 2009

13. The gelato is amazing. You will never find it better anywhere else.

14. With cars parking on meridians and driving on sidewalks, the disorganization of traffic will likely scare you, but you get used to seeing accidents nearly daily.

15. Some of the friendliest people you meet will be the storekeepers in the shops you frequent. I go to the same places several times a week and they know me when I come in and even speak English for me.

17. When you take money out of your bank account remember two things :

  • There is a minimum charge of approx 5euro (plus whatever you pay back home)
  • It’s costing you nearly one and a half times more than CDN dollars so when you take out that 200euro it’s actually about $345.00 which equals $145 in the trash.

18. You are here to have fun so go ahead and spend that cash. Just remember that if you see something at the street market and want it bad, you will get it. Barter with the vendor and he wont let you get away. I got 3 pieces of jewelry for 15euro when they should have cost me 30euro.

19. Beware of birds overhead! I have seen many a sued jacket and nice up-dos ruined without warning..

20. You will most likely not get robbed! People scared me nearly to death with horror stories about this. You do not need a money belt in Florence. All you need is confidence and common sense. Walk around like you were born there and you will be fine. Just don’t flash your $5000 camera while wearing your I LOVE NYC shirt at the train station at night and you’ll be fine.

21. Florence’s public washrooms leave much to be desired. Avoid places like Mcdonald’s because you may find a stall with toilet paper and you may find a stall with a locking door but you will never find both. The best places to go when you’re desperate are the tariff WCs which cost 50-80 cents upon entrance. They are cleaned and re-stocked regularly.

Well ladies, I hope you learned a little bit from these inside tips. Be safe and awesome travels!

Photo woman visiting Rome by Gret@Lorenz

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About the author

Venere Travel Blog writer laura valoroso

Laura Valoroso is a 26 year old Italian Canadian who first ventured out to Florence on her own in fall 2008. An avid lover of food, friends and entertainment she looks forward to all that Europe has to offer.

12 responses to “21 Tips for North American Women Visiting Italy”

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  1. Laura V says:
    July 23rd, 2009 at 14:38

    Hi Sergio,

    I now live in Italy, thanx for the concern and congratulations for finding a way to promote your website freely!

  2. Leigh A. says:
    July 31st, 2009 at 07:45

    Hello Laura, I really enjoyed your stories of Italy.

    About 30 yeats ago when I was a 22 year old single girl I went to Italy by myself from Canada. It was one of the best things that I have ever done for myself. Florence is truly awesome.
    Thanks for the stories and best wishes in Italy !
    Leigh A.
    P.S. I worked for a Sicilian couple in Canada. The husband was a great cook! Are all Sicilians like that ??

  3. Laura V says:
    July 31st, 2009 at 15:14

    Hi Leigh!

    Thanx so much for the kind words. I’m happy someone finds joy in my writing! I can’t speak for ALL Sicilians but my father is a great cook too ;)


  4. ashley pabst says:
    April 29th, 2010 at 08:26

    Thank you for your tips. Now I’m here its great to see how many misconceptions I had. And seeing your words help to bring them all together. The comment above from Sergio seems to be the best indicator of how men here are… Enough said.
    Thank you also for that article on the shops, I’ve been going crazy trying to pick the different things up at stores all across town, and now have a few places to watch for. I’m in need of a t-shirt desperately as the weather has gotten so hot!

  5. Amit says:
    July 23rd, 2010 at 20:35

    Dear Laura

    Thanks for your comments. Myself Amit from India. I have recently joined a Italian Company whose office is in Corlo di formigine. I am their indian sales person. I am visiting their office in September for one month and would like to visit Milan, Florence and Venice during the weekends. Would be thankful if you could provide more tips for these cities and some for both the genders.

  6. Laura V says:
    August 30th, 2010 at 21:19

    thanks ashley, glad to see it’s all working out for you!

    amit, honestly men don’t need many tips that go beyond the things i listed lol just ignore the parts about italian men and you’re set!

  7. Alex says:
    June 1st, 2011 at 06:10

    This was so handy!
    I’m 20 yrs old and I will be going to school in Florence full time this fall.

    I’ve been there before for a couple days in highschool but I barely remember the necessities.

    Thanks so much for writing this.
    I feel a lot better.

  8. holiday in bali says:
    March 28th, 2013 at 16:34

    i think is helpfull to all treveller in the world. and for me have plan to holiday first time.

  9. trade forex futures says:
    May 20th, 2013 at 14:38

    Hello, I log on to your blog like every week. Your story-telling style is witty, keep doing what you’re doing!

  10. Corinna says:
    March 6th, 2014 at 08:47

    Nice post Laura!
    Number 1 makes me proud of being Italian while number 2 makes me want to be American! :D

  11. Kristen says:
    January 18th, 2015 at 05:48

    My parents told me we are going to Italy soon. This makes me a little nervous but super excited. As an American, I know very little about Italy and know mostly Spanish words but can’t for the life of me form any sentences with them. I found this post very informative and humorous.

  12. cladoa says:
    January 26th, 2015 at 21:01

    Hola :-)
    I am going to Italy (first step: Florence & Milan) for May. So excited. now i try to read as much as I can to be prepare .. sure I will get surprise (that the bonus of the travel = GEt out our confort zone). I am not italian.. and barely speak italian (still confusing the spanish word with italian..:-/).. could you share with me the best places, more tips for my next trip (first time in the Europe land). and I’m from Montreal (the french side but so open to discover differents thats why i pick my destination). PLUS if you know somes good address to see the fashion (or fashion museum, atelier, etc) let me know.
    Thank you in advance :-)

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