Florence may not be the fairest representative of Europe but the city has showed me a part of the continent. Although traveling with other students was very enjoyable, Florence and the surrounding area is so geared towards tourists that it is hard to understand what the life of Italians is really like. Our student group was often a traveling mob of over one hundred people making noise and disrupting the peace.
Yet I know that traveling by myself would not be easy. Language was just one of the difficulties. After trying to communicate with waiters and shopkeepers in bits and pieces of Italian, I had to ask my friend for help or switch to English. Then everything flowed smoothly — unless their English wasn’t that good.
Now I understand how immigrants to the United States feel. You arrive a new country surrounded by new faces, new food, a new culture, and a new environment. And you can’t say a word. You can’t even ask the time or the price. Your mouth opens and no words or sounds can make your desires known. And so you keep silent until you find someone who understands you or translate for you.
Food was another issue. After consistently eating pasta, cheese, bread, and pizza for both lunch and dinner, I was ready for some lighter food. The food, including gelato and Italian pastries, was delicious, but I could use some more vegetables, meat, and rice.
And since when was coffee cheaper than water? Every restaurant makes its customers purchase water since it comes in a plastic or glass bottle instead of coming from the tap. The water may be better quality, but the slightly higher price might encourage more people to drink coffee instead of water.
Despite the foreign language, food, and environment, American culture still seemed to be everywhere. Restaurants played American music; stores like Disney, Foot Locker, and American Apparel lined the streets; and televisions broadcasted CNN, National Geographic, and all your favorite cartoons.
Europe may come across as being more refined and elegant, but at its heart one still finds American culture.
And when European glory and prestige fades as the churches, each filled with magnificent frescoes and statues, slowly transition from being houses of worship to becoming merely museums, I wonder if the American idea of European grandeur is all just a fairy tale.