10 Things you should know about living in Rome

1. You’ll eat tons of awesome food and still manage to lose weight.

Cooking here is all about high quality fresh ingredient and very few processed foods. Butter is rarely used, thanks to the abundance of high quality olive oil (which by the way, is actually good for you). Lots of veggies make up for all the cheese and Nutella you’ll scarf down, and carb-haters don’t worry, all that pizza and pasta you’ll consume? You will walk them off, I promise.  One benefit of Rome’s really horrific public transport is that you’ll get some great exercise.

2. You can drink on the street, in the park, anywhere you like.

There is nothing better than a night spent on the stairs of some ancient piazza, gazing up at buildings older than your home country while sipping a Peroni. Speaking of which, here is tip number one: Peroni is king of all Italian beers, if by king you mean cheap and yummy. Drink it.

But seriously, with the weather in Rome which is usually lovely for much of the year, people spend a lot of time outside, in beautiful parks like Villa Pamphili and Villa Borghese, on balconies and roof terraces, and in piazzas in historical neighborhoods like Trastevere.

Note that Rome often enacts a seasonal law that is spottily enforced (read – mainly enforced in areas with a lot of nightlife when the cops aren’t being lazy), which doesn’t allow drinking in public places after a certain time during  the summer.

3. Everyone smokes.

Sick of being looked down upon for being a smoker? Well, in Rome we all smoke. Even the non-smokers will bum one after a couple glasses of wine. Those of you worried about keeping your lungs squishy pink and healthy just have to get used to the constant cloud hovering around your hair, or be the only ones inside a pub while the others gather en-masse outdoors.

4. You’ll learn invaluable life skills, like patience.

Those of us always posting photos of our glamorous Roman lives don’t (well usually) instagram about all the time we spend waiting. We wait for the bus, wait at the post office, wait for the barista to stop talking on his phone and make us a coffee. When I arrived in Rome I thought driving 15 minutes from one suburb to another was a long journey. Think again. Arriving at your destination within an hour of departing is good news here. And if a bus arrives within the first 30 minutes you’re waiting, it is probably a miracle and you should just go home before your luck runs out. Annoying in the short run, yes, but good for your character in the long run, definitely.

5. Speaking of public transportation…it sucks.

Well transport in general, really. On foot you’ll be dodging dog poop land mines, psychotic scooter drivers, and avoiding the eyes of about a thousand gawking men. In the car, well, driving in Roman traffic is something like playing Grand Theft Auto. Public transportation, though, is by far the worst. Buses have some sort of schedule, in theory, but don’t abide by them. Plus figuring out bus routes is hell. Check out the Moovit app. It will save your life.

What this means is that between the really horrific traffic and the wacky buses no one is ever on time – even with the best intentions (though those intentions tend to slip away slowly as you realize that when someone says they’ll meet you at 9PM..they probably mean 10). You will either be insanely early because transport was miraculously fast or horrifically late because it was worse than you planned for. Also, beware of transportation strikes (Wanted in Rome is a great source to hear about these in English ahead of time, among other things).

Though this is one of the most annoying parts of Roman life…sometimes it also rocks. Here in Rome, we have what I like to call ‘good transportation days’.  The conversation goes like this:

Friend: Hey Chelsea, how was your day today?
Chelsea: Freaking awesome! My bus came right as I walked up to the stop!

5. Living in Rome you will learn to be brave as f_ck.

Rome is all about survival of the fittest. Prepare yourself for life in a jungle filled with lightning fast cars, leering men and people shouting at you in a language you don’t understand. Within a few months you will be elbowing strangers in the ribs for your morning coffee and shouting elegant Roman curse words at the jerk who tries to overcharge you for it.

6. Immerse yourself in culture of all kinds

Rome (duh) is full of culture, and I’m not just talking about the breath-taking historic center and the Sistine Chapel If you choose to immerse yourself, you can learn all about opera and heavy metal, graffiti and Caravaggio, Julius Caesar and Pasolini. The most famous tourist sites of Rome are just the beginning. Knock out the Coliseum, Pantheon, Trevi Fountain, and Vatican on your first week in town and then start exploring. Not only are there tons of awesome museums, Rome is full of crazy history, and far more than just the classic tourist attractions. If art and history aren’t your style, take in the concerts of all genres (some of which are held on the beach during the summer) and learn about Italy’s really awesome cinematic history.

7. The politics suck

Italian politics are unbelievably frustrating, and this spills over into your daily life. Italian politicians are the highest paid in the world and for all intents and purposes seem to do nothing more than make everyone’s lives difficult (Rome’s past mayor Alemanno once passed a law that eating while sitting down outside was illegal. This was apparently meant to target protestors who were camping out – which is bad enough – but led to a bunch of tourists being fined for eating outside the Coliseum). Corruption is pandemic, and at this point, basically taken for granted despite past efforts to rectify it. What this means is that basic social services, for the most part, don’t actually function (see public transportation, sanitation, etc.). Unemployment is also at a horrific high (youth unemployment was at 41.6% in January 2014).

8. Summer

Be forewarned: almost no one, business or home, has A/C in Rome. And with temperatures climbing to around 90 degrees Fahrenheit (30 degrees Celsius), very little breeze, and a lot of humidity, this can get pretty miserable around July and August.  Romans have a word for this humidity, the feeling that the air is a heavy moist blanket settling around you: la guazza. Plus, Rome is jam packed with tourists and the beach is jam packed with sun baked Italians escaping the miserable city heat. And with this heat, the streets start to smell like a souffle of garbage and dog shit roasting in the sun. Public transport mainly smells like you’re living inside an ogres gym bag. To survive you will probably need Drink in Italy App to help you find the public drinking fountains which are scattered around the streets (fun fact: these are known as nasoni because they look like giant noses).

Despite the fact that summer is a bit miserable, you can make up for it by taking part in all the awesome things to do in summer: great food, outdoor concerts, festivals, booze-y picnics in the park, and my personal favorite, beers in Circo Massimo. Plus, can I say gelato? In Rome it is perfectly acceptable to have a daily gelato if not more (see number 1) and is in fact necessary to your health when hot out.

9. Travel around Italy

Rome is conveniently located in between the north and south of Italy, giving you the perfect vantage point to explore not only Florence/Tuscany and Venice, but also a whole host of lesser known locations. Check out the southern cave city of Matera and the mountains of Abruzzo.

10. Rome is actually awesome

Expats in Rome (and Romans themselves) love nothing better than to complain about Rome, myself included. This is a city filled with ups and downs, which can drive you to the brink of insanity one day, then make you fall in love all over again the next. The best thing about Rome is that it’s quirky, a constant challenge, and filled with strange new places and people to discover and meet. Plus this city attracts a particular sort of person. If you’re that type, then beware. Come for a visit and some years later you my find yourself unable to leave.

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