European Literary Trails: Study  Abroad  Program
Director: Professor Jolanta W. Wawrzycka

CULTURE SHOCKS…I mean, uh, Differences:

By Katie Brado

• In Ireland, you are not allowed to smoke anywhere unless it’s outside.  This includes pubs, restaurants, etc.  However, in Italy, a girl walked into the salon where I was getting my manicure with a lit cigarette and nobody cared.  So there is a huge difference between these two countries in this area.

• There is no such thing as light beer in these countries.  So, if you like Bud Light, you will have to make it work with Budweiser or Heineken.  Or heck, try a Guinness!

• In Ireland, bathrooms are generally referred to as “toilets.”  At first, I felt using this term was offensive, but that’s what they say over there so say it all you want!

• As we’ve all heard-basically, don’t dress provocatively- especially in Italy.

• In Italy, some bathrooms or toilets or whatever you want to call them are literally holes in the ground with little foot grippers so you don’t fall over, so ladies, be prepared.  This is where the hand sanitizer comes in.  Don’t worry; they’re usually well-equipped with toilet paper.

• In Italy, when you buy bottled water (please do), make sure you say “Agua Mineral Natural” or make sure the bottle reads that on the label, unless you like drinking sparkling water.

• Space bubbles do not exist in Europe, especially in Italy.  They will get a lot closer to you than what we consider comfortable in America.  Just be prepared, and don’t take offense.  It’s just their custom.

• The birds in Italy are literally insane.  They will land on you while you try to eat-they won’t take no for an answer.  Also, I was so lucky and got pooped on the head by one walking back from the city one day.  So be on the lookout!  These things are crazy!  Also lookout for horse dung in Italy and Cow/Sheep dung in Ireland- it’s EVERYWHERE.

• An Italian Dictionary (pocket sized) is extremely helpful.  I got a great one at Barnes and Noble in Christiansburg before I went- Rick Steve’s Italian Phrase Book and Dictionary.  (Rick Steve)  It had menu decoders-which are key, popular phrases, both English-Italian and Italian-English translations, as well as many other helpful hints that I would have been lost without!  I think it cost about $7. 00. 

• In Italy you pay fees for the view in some restaurants.  These fees range from about two to five Euros, so make sure you have enough money for this when you choose a restaurant.

• Tipping is different.  You don’t need to tip really in Europe, we did sometimes if we had a big or expensive meal, but it’s up to you.  They get paid by their employers, unlike how servers rely on tips over here! 

• Major thing here- the water in Ireland is extremely HARD.  I think I put lotion on every five minutes.  Make sure you bring some or your skin will hate you!  The water wasn’t bad at all in Italy though.   

• The men in Italy love themselves some American women.  Being blond-haired and blue-eyed I pretty much screamed American wherever I went.  So don’t be offended if they compliment you or say nice things to you.  If they say bad things or follow you, be concerned, and get help.  There are police officers everywhere in Florence, so you should be fine.  I went many places by myself, but it’s probably a good idea to take someone with you.  Just always be on the lookout and remember that thieves are looking for people who are clueless to their surroundings.  If you’re a woman, it helps to wear a fake wedding band (I know, this sounds terrible), because it could ward off some men whom you do not wish to speak to.  But also, Italians wear their wedding rings on their right hands, so keep that in mind as well. 

• Because of the war in Iraq and everything else going on right now, be careful what you say.  Many Europeans aren’t too fond of Americans right now.  Don’t be surprised if you see a lot of anti-war or George W. Bush signs that some may find offensive.  I was pretty shocked; I had no idea it was that bad.  Mostly everyone is friendly, especially in the small towns.  Italians are especially friendly, the friendliest if you ask me, and won’t give you any problems.  They are very welcoming and excited to meet you and, of course, your business!  Just be careful what you say, regardless of your opinion, and stay away from demonstrations and protests if there are any.  I found a lot of animosity in Dublin, but everywhere else was great.  It’s a big city, after all, and we have the same issues in America.  It sure feels different to be the foreigner for a change!  It might be a good idea to know the location and phone numbers of the embassies before you depart.  You can get this as well as many other travel tips at the state department website:

• Laundry- there are places to do laundry in both countries so bring money for this.  When we were in Sligo, Lauren and I ended up dropping ours off and I had about three or four loads done for me for about 12 Euros.  It sounds like a lot, but the do-it-yourself washers and dryers weren’t cheap either.  Bring a small bottle of detergent if you wish- you won’t be finding TIDE anywhere, I promise! 

• Basically, just be your good, smart, respectable self and you’ll be just fine!  Act like you normally would and I doubt anyone will bother you…unless they think you’re cute J

• Don’t be surprised if you see men with machine guns outside the banks in Ireland…it’s a precautionary thing they do to prevent robbery when transferring money…also has something to do with the IRA.  You should be fine, just don’t try to take pictures- Justin made this mistake and they gave us some truly frightening looks!

• In Italy, there are a lot of beggars.  If you’re from a big city like Washington DC, you’ll be used to this.  Some of them are just trying to rip people off, as some do here, but some really do need the money.  I remember we saw one beggar who answered his cell phone as we walked by!  However, when I was out shopping one day, I saw a woman who was literally skin and bones, so I gave her money.  It’s up to you, but they shouldn’t bother you.  You could just bring them food, so you know the money you are giving is going for something good and not something like alcohol or drugs.

• Most importantly, remember that you are in a foreign country that has its own set of rules and laws and you must abide by them.  Don’t do anything that would get you into trouble in America and you should be okay.  Don’t forget they have a lot more severe laws and punishments than we do here and there is nothing the American law can do for you if you get into trouble over there.  So, just respect the country you are in, its people, and its laws, and you’ll be fine!

I hope these tips were helpful.  I don’t mean to scare you, but I want you to be aware of these things so you’ll be prepared and not as shocked as I sometimes was, and I even lived overseas before!  You may be a little uncomfortable at first, as you aren’t used to these types of lifestyles, but don’t worry you’ll adjust.  If anything, be excited that you’re experiencing something totally new and different than you have ever experienced before!  J

 If you have any questions feel free to email me at