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LIVING IN ITALY

Six things foreigners should expect if they live in Rome

The eternal city attracts millions of tourists from around world every year. But what's it like to live there as a resident? Here are some of the things you can expect if you move to Rome from abroad.

Young women clink bottles of beer as they share an aperitif drink by the Colosseum monument in Rome on May 21, 2020,
What's life in Rome really like for foreigners? Photo by Filippo MONTEFORTE / AFP

No one cares what you wear

Slobs rejoice: no one in this city cares how you dress. 

Many Romans wear a tracksuit or loungewear when moving through the city, and having lived here for several years, most of them time I do as them.

There’s a sizeable contingent of middle-aged Roman men for whom a navy windbreaker, almost always accompanied by sunglasses and a bald pate, is practically their uniform (making them look like bus ticket inspectors, whose uniform it actually is).

That doesn’t mean you can’t dress stylishly if you want, or that you won’t see plenty of well dressed people walking around, especially in the more fashionable neighbourhoods near the centre. But you’re not under pressure to dress up if you don’t feel like it.

Unlike some of Europe’s other metropolitan centres, Rome is refreshingly laid back when it comes to things like this – perhaps because the city’s so beautiful no one feels the need to compensate with their clothing.

Or what job you have

This lack of pretension extends to other aspects of life in Rome, too: dogs are allowed in most restaurants, as are small children; and while it’s not exactly taboo to ask people what they do for a living, it’s just not considered that important.

At one dinner with friends, the topic of what everyone did came up. “Io lavoro” (I work) was one person’s response – their assumption being that we were asking simply whether they had a job or were studying, as those are the two options available.

If you’ve lived in cities where the first question you get asked at a party is what you do, it can feel strangely liberating to live in a place that doesn’t care.

READ ALSO: ‘Why I used to hate living in Rome as a foreigner – and why I changed my mind’

The dark side of this coin is that the reason people don’t often want to talk about work because there are very few good jobs available in Rome. Many Romans who would like to stay in their home town are compelled to go abroad, or at least further north, in search of better career opportunities.

If you’re a foreigner who’s managing to make a decent living in Rome, then, you’re in the lucky minority.

Rome and Milan ranked among 'worst cities in the world' by foreign residents
People run along the River Tiber in Rome. Photo: Tiziana Fabi/AFP

Cash is often preferred

You can use your card at supermarket checkouts or to pay the bill at most restaurants in Rome, and you can sometimes pay by card at cafés and market stalls.

But for most smaller transactions, like paying for a €1.20 cappuccino, cash is expected; and you can anticipate a dirty look, a sigh, or even a flat out refusal if you attempt to pay such a small sum by card.

Just any old cash, though, won’t do – exact change or as close as you can get is what’s wanted, even in supermarkets.

The fact that cash machines in Italy are set up to primarily distribute €50 notes doesn’t help to harmonise the often tense relationship between customer and vendor (most of whom are not shy about making clear that they would rather be doing almost anything other than interacting with you).

All this to say that it will probably get there one day, but as things stand Rome is currently long way from becoming a cashless society.

Bad public transport and worse driving…

I’ll go out on a limb and say Rome’s metro system actually isn’t too bad. But if you need to take a bus or a tram you could be in for a very long wait, and there’s a statistically not insignificant chance it might catch fire with you on board.

As a pedestrian, you must also accept you occupy the bottom rung of the rusted ladder that is Rome’s urban transport network.

Corner junctions that require traffic lights to be safe instead have faded, poorly lit pedestrian crossings – if they have one at all.

READ ALSO: Rome ranked ‘among worst cities in Europe’ for road safety, traffic and pollution

When you arrive at a crossing, it’s by no means a given that cars will stop for you, so you have two options: stand by the side of the road trying to make eye contact with drivers until one is kind enough to let you cross; or shuffle slowly into the street in a high stakes, very one-sided game of chicken.

Make sure to warn your foreign friends who come to visit so they don’t give you a heart attack by launching themselves into the road without looking, narrowly avoiding being mown down.

Everything that changes in Italy from May 18th
People take their dog for an evening stroll in Rome. Photo: Andreas Solaro/AFP

… But good long-distance train services

I can’t really give Rome credit for this, but as creaky and decrepit as the city’s local public transport services are, Italy’s long-distance train services are fast and reliable.

Although tickets aren’t cheap, a Frecciarossa fast train will get you from Rome to Florence in 90 minutes, or from Rome to Naples in an hour and a quarter. Milan, all the way up north, is just a three hour train ride away – doable as a long weekend trip.

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Even the slower regional train services are reasonably fast, and good value for money: currently you can get a hourly train to Bracciano lake, an hour outside the city, for €3.60 each way.

And if you drive, your options expand even further: you can be in Abruzzo’s rugged mountains to the East within a couple of hours of setting off, or on the Amalfi coast in three and a half. As travel bases go, Rome is a good one.

A distinctive food culture

Food in the Italian capital is cheap and good – so good that Rome was just crowned the best food city in the world in Tripadvisor’s 2022 Traveler’s Choice Awards.

Newcomers might be surprised when they find out what constitutes traditional Roman food, i.e. offal. Tripe, oxtail, liver and tongue are all items you can expect to find on the menu of an old-school Roman restaurant.

These days, however, most diners prefer tamer dishes, which are available in the form of spaghetti carbonara, pasta gricia (similar to carbonara but without egg), or the tomato-based amatriciana – all crowd-pleasing Roman specialties. There’s even an option for vegetarians: cacio e pepe, a kind of gourmet mac and cheese.

While Rome does have a world class food scene, it has nowhere near the variety of international cuisine on offer in a more cosmopolitan city like Milan. In spite of this, there are some good alternatives to the local staples if you know where to go.

Look for establishments (usually found in neighbourhoods outside of the city centre) that mainly serve local diaspora communities who want a taste of home. If there are parts of the menu written in a language you can’t understand, that’s always a good sign. Be respectful: these places will happily serve you, but they probably weren’t made with you in mind.

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LIVING IN ITALY

What changes about life in Italy in March 2022?

From the gradual easing of Covid restrictions to the clocks jumping forward an hour, here's what to expect in Italy in March.

What changes about life in Italy in March 2022?

International travel rules change

From March 1st, Italy will allow all fully-vaccinated or recently-recovered travellers from non-EU countries to enter the country without the additional need for a negative Covid test.

Any of a vaccination certificate, certificate of recovery or a negative test result will allow extra-EU arrivals entry into Italy without any quarantine requirement – so unvaccinated travellers and those not recovered from Covid-19 will be able to enter the country with just proof of a negative test.

EXPLAINED: How Italy’s travel rules change in March

Passengers can present certificates of recovery, vaccination or testing in digital or paper format.

All arrivals will still need to complete a digital passenger locator form (dPLF) – find the instructions and download link here.

See further details of the upcoming changes to the travel restrictions here.

International Women’s Day

March 8th is International Women’s Day (la Giornata internazionale dei diritti della donna or simply la Festa della Donna in Italian) and while it’s not any kind of official holiday in Italy, it’s still widely recognised in the form of small-scale celebrations or marches and demonstrations.

You can expect to see bunches of feathery yellow mimosa flowers pop up in florists’ stalls, as it’s traditional in Italy to give these to a woman on International Women’s Day. 

According to Italian Marie Claire, the flower was chosen by early 20th century activists Rita Montagnana and Teresa Mattei both because it can readily be found flowering in the countryside in March, and because despite its delicate appearance, it’s deceptively strong and resilient.

Hospital visits for relatives and food and drink returns to cinemas

Following a unanimous vote by the Italian parliament’s Social Affairs Commission, March 10th is the date on which it will once again become possible for family members to visit their relatives in hospital.

READ ALSO: TIMELINE: When will Italy ease its coronavirus restrictions?

Those who are fully vaccinated and boosted will reportedly be able to access health facilities to visit their relatives without any further requirements, while people who haven’t received a booster shot will need a negative test to enter.

From the same date, it will also be possible to eat and drink in Italy’s cinemas, theatres, concert halls and sports stadiums, Italian news media reports.

Italy’s government had banned the consumption of food and beverages in these venues last Christmas Eve in response to the rapid spread of the Omicron variant. 

Rome marathon

On March 27th, Rome will host its annual marathon once again.

Starting and ending by the Colosseum, the 26 mile course takes runners along the Tiber and past numerous historic sites including the ancient Roman Circo Massimo chariot race track, the Spanish Steps, Castel Sant’Angelo and St. Peter’s Basilica, to name a few.

That means if you’re planning on travelling around central Rome on this date, you should prepare for most of the roads to be cordoned off and for traffic to be significantly diverted.

The race starts at 8.30am, and the maximum completion time is six and a half hours. For those who aren’t fans of running, the event also welcomes power walkers, according to its official website.

The Rome marathon starts and ends at the Colosseum. Photo by Filippo MONTEFORTE / AFP

The clocks go forward

March 27th is also the date Daylight Savings Time begins: the clocks jump forward at 2am, and everyone loses an hour of sleep.

While the EU voted in 2019 to scrap DST by 2021, a combination of Covid, Brexit, and an intra-EU stalemate (the EU Council and the EU Commission each insists the other needs to act first before anything can be done) has delayed putting a stop to the clock change, which means it will go ahead once again this March.

READ ALSO: Clocks go back in Italy despite EU deal on scrapping hour change

Italy, for one, is glad of the delays, having previously filed a formal request that the current system be kept in place.

That’s because in southern countries such as Italy or Spain daylight savings actually lengthens the days, helping people save on their energy bills – while in northern Europe the change doesn’t bring any such benefits.

Italy’s state of emergency ends

Italy’s current state of emergency or stato di emergenza, in place since January 31st, 2020, will end on March 31st, 2022, Prime Minister Mario Draghi announced at a business conference on February 23rd. 

The state of emergency is the condition which has allowed the Italian government to bring in emergency measures by decree over the past two years.

READ ALSO: Italy to end Covid state of emergency and cut ‘super green pass’, PM confirms

Bringing the state of emergency to an end doesn’t automatically mean that all current restrictions will be immediately dropped; however Draghi has already confirmed that after March 31st, some rules will be removed.

These include the abolition of Italy’s four-tiered colour coded system of Covid restrictions; the removal of outdoor mask mandates throughout Italy; and an end to the requirements for schoolchildren to wear high-grade FFP2 masks in the classroom or to quarantine if one of their classmates tests positive for the virus.

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