I lived in Switzerland for nearly 9 years of my adult life then moved to Italy, where my husband is from at 32. Switzerland was a minor culture shock in comparison to Italy. The initial culture shock of Switzerland faded fast. Everything was smaller, the working hours of businesses and stores especially were very set in stone. For many years, most stores closed at 7 pm. Sundays stores were completely closed. The people of Switzerland weren’t very friendly and remained very closed. I never made a friend with an actual Swiss person, all my friends were expats, like me. Traditional Swiss food, such as fondue was important but the day didn’t involve around cooking or deciding what to eat. But I adapted to the lack of store hours quickly and grew used to the ways of Switzerland.
Moving to Italy was a total culture shock, one I still feel nearly 5 years later. The way of life here is a complete 180 from Switzerland. People are very friendly, everyone will talk to you. Everyone wants to offer you advice on something, if you want it or not. The day is centered around meal times. The hours of work are longer because of the large “siesta” in the middle of the day. Stores are open earlier and later. Sundays are “partially” closed, small town shops will be open til mid-day, especially supermarkets and then close. Malls and other large big box stores are open all day Sunday.
Family is the center of life for most Italians. Many children live with their parents until they get married, in their 30’s. Many families all living the same building, separate apartments for each family unit. Many families still gather to eat lunch together, especially on Sunday. Many women do not work (me included) and take on the traditional role of housewife. School ends at 1 pm and children come home for lunch. This in itself is a big factor, I believe, in women not working. It is hard to manage children coming at one, needing to eat, do homework and go to activities unless one parent is at home.
The work environment in Italy is the perhaps the hardest challenge I have come across living here. I worked in Switzerland and the US, I stayed in my same jobs most of my life in those countries. Here, in Italy, I have changed countless times because each employer is worse than the last. There’s a lack of fair treatment to employees and usually the salary is so low you can’t justify the bad treatment. You must deal with being yelled at by your employers, yelled at in front of your coworkers (and in my case in front of the children), not being able to take sick days without having to “make up” those hours, making my own materials for teaching without reimbursement, working outside of discussed hours without extra pay, and late payments. The list could go on. In the end, its always too much stress for the money you are paid.
There is also what I like to call Italian “beliefs” or old wives tales. There are endless old wives tales that are still believed today despite science telling us otherwise. Cold and wind gives you bronchitis. Sweat will give you a fever. A wet bathing suit in wind will definitely give you bronchitis. Eating after swimming will give you stomach cramps. The list goes on and on of things I never knew existed until I moved here.
The culture shock does get less and less as times goes on, I’ve learned to adapt to it or push it of my mind. Often, though, I am still caught off guard by one of the old wive’s tales and I want to scream its not true! But I can’t change anyone’s mind on it. Culture shock is a part of living abroad all of us expats have experienced, some of it is good, some it is bad, but you learn to eventually adapt or accept it.
Until next time!