There are several important cultural differences between the United States and Italy of which you should be aware. One difference involves the organization of the day and how to plan your time and meals. Italians generally eat a light breakfast, a heavy noon meal and a lighter meal in the evening. In the afternoon there is a three or four hour rest period called "siesta" or "pennichella" that usually begins around one o'clock and lasts until 4:30 p.m., depending on the area. During this time most shops, banks, businesses and museums are closed. This gives the Italians a chance to eat their lunch and rest, avoiding business during the hottest part of the day. When the break is over, the shops re-open and stay open until about seven or eight in the evening. Although UGA does not follow this schedule in Italy, you should be aware of it in your contact with local businesses.
There is an institution in Italy called a "bar" which is not quite the same as in America. For example, not only are liquor, wine and beer served in such establishments, but soft drinks, coffee, pastries and ice cream can be purchased there as well. Often one might find a bar that serves sandwiches or pizza. Anyone of any age may enter and order any drink. Most Italians have their breakfast at the bar (coffee or cappuccino and a sweet roll) and they go there for their "coffee-break" during the day as well.
Ordering a refreshment, paying for it and consuming it are also a little different in Italy. In many bars, you must go to the cashier (cassa) first and pay for what you would like to order. Be sure to tell the cashier whether you will be enjoying your refreshment standing at the counter or sitting at a table as there is a service charge (servizio) automatically added to the price if you sit down. The cashier will then give you a receipt that you take to the bartender (barista) and tell him or her what you ordered. If you paid for a table, you may now go sit down and wait for your order to be brought to you. You can also sit down at the table, wait for a waiter to come take your order and pay then. If you paid the bar price, you will be expected to stand there and eat or drink your refreshment at the bar without sitting down or going outside. Italians are very adamant about this. Ordering a coffee, coke, or other beverage "to go" is not common in Italy.
This protocol may differ slightly from bar to bar and from city to city. For example, the Cortonese have become quite used to the American ways and in most establishments in Cortona you pay the same price for standing or sitting. They don't mind if you order a drink from the bar and take it to a table. At other bars, in or out of Cortona, if you choose to sit down, a waiter will take your order, bring your food, bring your check, take your money and bring your change, all at the comfort of your table...just like in America.
Another cultural difference you will experience is the abundance of cheap electrical power in America and the scarcity and expense of power in Italy. Americans are accustomed to a plenitude of hot water, ice in iced tea and cold drinks. If you ask for ice (ghiaccio) in your drink, don't expect more than one cube. Also don't be surprised if you end up taking a cold shower now and then, both in Cortona and at other hotels out of town. Although many homes have washing machines, dryers are rare.
Do not drink tap water unless you are sure it is safe. Drink bottled mineral water or soft drinks instead. WATER IN CORTONA IS SAFE. Mineral water is available "frizzante" or "minerale" (carbonated or not) and it is sold in bottles of all sizes. In general you are safer drinking bottled water. Most restaurants charge for both types of water.
Italians are more conservative and less casual in their manner of dress than Americans and consequently, what "goes" in America may not always be acceptable in Italy. At most churches visitors will be turned away for being "improperly" dressed (shorts, ragged clothes, bare shoulders, etc.) Skimpy running shorts are out of place. Men should wear shirts at all times even when exercising or jogging. Bare feet are not acceptable.
There are no self-serve laundromats in Cortona. There are large coin operated washing machines in the Kehoe Center (3 Euros per load). Clothes must be line-dried as dryers are rarely used in Italy due to the high cost of electricity. This means that you will want to bring clothes that wash easily and will not wrinkle. Many students choose to wash their clothes by hand in provided sinks. Bring clothes that have been "tested" in line drying as it can play havoc with delicate fabrics. Thick, fluffy towels never seem to dry and will become musty. New denim jeans do not rinse well and will dry to resemble cardboard. Remember, the washers are shared by the whole group so you will need to space the times you intend to wash your clothes.
Electric currents and plug outlets in Italy differ from those in the U.S. Most computers and cell phones will work on the current in Italy, but you will need to purchase an adapter in order to plug them into an outlet. Hairdryers, clocks, and other small appliances may require a converter. If electronics can be used without a converter, they will have “100-240V” printed on the device itself or on the power cord. Both converters and adapters are available at places like Wal-Mart, Radio Shack, and stores selling travel gear.
An adapter is used to change the plug type from American to Italian style. They DO NOT convert the electricity from one voltage/cycle to another. A convertor (also known as a transformer) is used to physically convert electricity that comes out of the wall outlet to electricity that is safe for your appliance.
You might consider getting together with some friends and sharing the expenses to purchase, for example, an inexpensive hairdryer in Italy. The cost is about the same as for an adapter or converter and you wouldn't have to carry it back to the States. You might donate it to the program for future participants. Discarded clothes and various items may be donated to the local charity at the end of the program.