When in the U.S. Don’t Do as the Romans Do

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To all the schools out there covered in snow, imagine spending this semester in the warm streets of Rome. Well, at least that’s what I’m dreaming of since I spent my best semester of college studying abroad there last year. The food had that authentic Italian taste that no American restaurant could replicate, the weather beat out the polar cold or sweltering heat of D.C. and the ancient monuments you would casually run across while shopping made me feel like I was the star in the Lizzie McGuire Movie (which my friends and I quoted at every opportunity). After landing in Rome, it took me about a week to adjust to the lifestyle, but the adjustment of coming back to the U.S. didn’t go as smoothly as I thought it would.

When I got back, my first big, fat American slap in the face came with the change in the price of coffee. Before living in Rome, I’d have the occasional frappuccino about once a month, but overall coffee and I had a pretty open relationship. However, when in Rome, I started drinking two, even three (I swear I lost count somedays) cappuccinos a morning because they were delicious and an integral part of experiencing Roman culture. I didn’t realize my avid addiction until one weekend when I was too busy to grab a coffee and I experienced a splitting headache that only caffeine could cure. With this newfound caffeine dependence, I had to drink coffee every morning when back in the states. My only issue: the price of Italian coffee comes out to about $2 in American bucks, while Starbucks is well over $4 a cup (and it doesn’t even taste that good).

The most important thing I left behind: the Italian food. When I first got back, my mouth watered for hamburgers and burritos, but after about two weeks I found myself missing gnocchi and pollo alla Romana. Even though I was interning in D.C. the summer after returning to the U.S., my mom learned to cook some Italian dishes when I would return to Pittsburgh, of which I am forever grateful. As an avid onion-hater, I was happy to learn that Italian sauce didn’t contain the offensive vegetable like the processed bottles we buy at the supermarket. I still can’t bring myself to eat canned, onion-laden spaghetti sauce since returning home.

What my friends back in D.C. found most annoying was my new habit of walking everywhere. Anything within a 30-minute walk became “close” in my opinion, and under an hour seemed doable. Walking in Rome became a way to explore the city, and Romans tend to balance huge meals with healthy walks (Americans, take note). After walking a half an hour to classes each morning uphill, I actually realized that I could walk longer distances, not to mention my legs seriously started to tone up. Since the weather’s as cold as the artic now, you will only find me walking to class and to the library, but at least I know I can walk from downtown D.C. to Glover Park if absolutely necessary.

The thing I miss the most about Rome lies in its one-of-a-kind weather. The lack of snow was a huge bonus (Christmas was already over), and no daylight savings time gave me an extra hour of sunlight. I didn’t realize it until the temperature dropped below 20 degrees this January, but I passionately hate winter. I’m serious, if I never have to suffer through another winter again I’d be elated. I also forgot what shivering felt like. The feeling of trying to take notes in class and not having the mobility to bend my fingers has me daydreaming about Rome this very minute (sigh). In Rome, it was always about 40 degrees from January to March. Here the temperature fluctuates, so I’m never dressed appropriately. The worst is when it hits 19 degrees and I’m literally in physical pain when I walk outside.

A year later, I still miss the friendly people in the cafe next to my apartment, musicians playing the accordion on the tram and ordering a cone full of Nutella just for the heck of it. I plan on returning to Rome for a visit one day — if I don’t blow all of my money on this American coffee first.

Elizabeth Lowman is a senior journalism major at the American University. She can usually be found eating cupcakes or petting other people’s dogs, sometimes at the same time.

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