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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,
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

EXPLAINED: How can you stop nuisance phone calls in Italy?

If it seems like you’ve been getting more unwanted calls on your Italian phone number recently, you’re probably not imagining things. But the good news is you’ll soon be able to do something about it.

EXPLAINED: How can you stop nuisance phone calls in Italy?

People in Italy are now getting an average of five nuisance calls (or telefonate moleste) per week from telemarketers, according to consumer rights association Codacons, which estimates that the frequency of such calls – mainly from banks, telecommunications and energy companies – is now about 20 percentage points higher than in pre-pandemic times.

This increase in cold calling in Italy comes ahead of the imminent introduction of a new ‘do not call’ list for mobile phone numbers, which spells trouble for telemarketers, reports newspaper Corriere della Sera.

READ ALSO: Beat the queues – 19 bits of Italian bureaucracy you can do online

In the European Union, data protection rules (under Regulation 2016/679) mean that you have the right not to be contacted, including by businesses. Based on this regulation, Italian courts can (and do) slap companies with large fines if they’re deemed to be using customers’ data unlawfully for telemarketing purposes. 

However, at the moment there’s not a great deal individuals can do about these annoying calls, beyond repeatedly opting out and making complaints.

But from this summer, rule changes in Italy will also mean both landline and mobile phone numbers, including any numbers that were not previously listed in the phone book, can be placed on an expanded version of the ‘do not call’ list known as the registro delle opposizioni or ‘register of objections’.

“From July 27th, the new public register will open to 78 million mobile telephone users,” Italian MP Simone Baldelli told Corriere della Sera.

Baldelli said the expanded register will become “a well-known and effective protection tool for phone users”.

EXPLAINED: How to change your registered address in Italy

It is already possible to use the registro delle opposizioni to remove Italian landline numbers from public telephone directories. Find out more about how to do that on the official website here.

As well as allowing people to register mobile phone numbers for the first time, the incoming rule changes in July will place stricter limits on the use of data by telemarketers.

“Enrollment in the new register will allow for the cancellation of any previous consents issued for telemarketing purposes, and will prohibit the transfer of personal data to third parties,” writes Corriere.

The new legislation is also set to include a ban on the use of automated or ‘robot’ marketing calls.

READ ALSO: Why the tabaccheria is essential to life in Italy – even if you don’t smoke

So how do you add your phone number to this new and improved register? 

From the information available so far, it appears that the process will be much the same as it is now for adding landlines to the existing register: you’ll be able to submit numbers to be added to the list either by phone, by completing a web form, or sending an email (either PEC or regular email).

But it’s not open just yet – it looks like you’ll have to wait until the end of July to add mobile numbers to the register.

We’ll report more details of the opt-out scheme on The Local once they’re published.

For now, readers of The Local have recommended the ‘Chi sta chiamando‘ (‘Who’s calling’) app, which you can find here for Apple or Android devices.

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