The Surprising Things About Living in Rome


As I have done in previous cities that I have called home, at some point, I write about the less than delightful things about daily life (Dhaka, Bogota, and Lima). For Rome, since the honeymoon is over (I’m no longer charmed), I’ve decided to write about a combination of surprising and annoying things. Mostly, it’s just surprising things.

Small breakfasts: Romans like an espresso and a croissant for breakfast. Or coffee with milk like a cappuccino. I’m surprised at how easy it becomes to getting used to drinking espresso (a “caffe” is an espresso by default), all day long. Most Italians use sugar so in a way it’s like a power bar every few hours. I prefer no sugar… just the bitter coffee…

Cookies: for breakfast. Even savory ones. It’s also easy to grow accustomed to eating a cornetto (croissant) every morning. Or a pizza, keeping in mind that pizza is not pizza as one thinks of pizza.

A savory tomato cookie, both for breakfast and with drinks at happy hour.

Pizza: pizza is doesn’t always have cheese, and pizza is a breakfast item.

White pizza and red pizza. No other toppings needed.

Raw seafood and meat: on everything. Shrimp is the most “gringo friendly” but there is raw octopus, raw sea bass, raw everything on pasta. Even raw meat.

Raw shrimp with spaghetti.

Greens: green vegetables that I’ve never heard of. And they all seem to be bitter.

Drinking fountains: are everywhere. They are called “nasone” (nay-so-neh) and most flow all day long. So you only need one bottle. The reason they flow all the time is to keep the pipes free of bacteria.

Cost of Internet: Under 30 euro for mine. Internet and cell phone service is not very expensive.

Bureaucracy: Getting service for anything from a bank account to setting up Internet and so on, can be a hassle.

Venetian blinds on the outside of the window.

Lack of public toilets: In Rome, you need to grab a coffee or eat at a restaurant to use the toilet. See my article about bidets to understand why you may find a bidet in every bathroom. One can flush the toilet paper in the toilet in Rome, but as you can see from the photo, sometimes, it’s best not to.

If you should be so lucky, the toilet will not be “out of service.”
And if you are really lucky, the flush is on the floor.

The crowds: Normally, there would be a few million people visiting Rome at any moment. If one lives in the tourist center part of Rome, one has to “go with flow” of the crowd when walking.

The customer service: one has to figure out how to navigate some places. The more touristy, the worse it is.

Tipping: One really doesn’t have to do it because it’s adding as a service fee. If you are American, they may expect you to tip.

Whipped cream: It seems like it’s on everything. But it’s not served in a pretty way, just applied with a spoon or spatula. I like that it’s offered at gelaterias.

The whipped cream gets applied to the gelato, not squeezed out of a canister.

So while the honeymoon period is over, it’s not all bad.

Coffee Brands in Italy

In Italy, every coffee bar/cafe, has a different brand of coffee. Why? Because they get their dishware etc. sponsored by the brand. If you only drink a certain brand of coffee, then you have to drink at a certain cafe.

While coffee beans are not grown in Italy, the Italians are quite obsessed with coffee. But it’s not a fashion item. It’s more that they drink espressos all day long, at about a rate of one every few hours. It’s a social event as well so if someone says, “shall we have a coffee?” then they are inviting you to be sociable.

A “caffe” is by default an espresso. One way to tell if you have become a local is if the barista assumes that you mean an espresso when you order a “caffe” — rather than double checking with you that it’s an espresso that you want and not an “americano” (which is an espresso with hot water added).

I’ve had many awful cups of espresso here so far and some are okay ones. I prefer them without sugar so I can actually taste the coffee. Italians almost always add sugar. It’s like the equivalent of a Redbull. A shot of caffeine to get you through the next couple of hours. An espresso has half the caffeine of a cup of filtered drip coffee. The key is to drink the espresso quickly and chase it with a glass of water or a sweet baked item.

Coffee was introduced to Europe through Venice a few centuries ago and the oldest coffee shop, Cafe Florian, is still in business in Venice. The second oldest, Antico Cafe Greco, is in Rome, right by the Spanish Steps.

As for Starbucks, there is one in Milan. Or go to Seattle for them, and enjoy the many types of coffee in Italy when you are in Italy.

Mealtimes in Italy

Okay, so mealtimes in Italy.

Colazione (breakfast): Breakfast is a cup of coffee with milk like a cappuccino. Maybe a croissant or a sandwich (triangular white sandwiches like the triples in Peru). Italians don’t really eat much for breakfast. They consider the milk in the coffee to be the “food.” But, later in the morning, they will have more coffee. Coffee is a small cup of coffee like an espresso. No coffee in Italy is ever the size of American coffees. Italians will have many coffees throughout the day, although milk in coffee is only for breakfast (so before 11 a.m.).

Around 10 or 11 a.m., Italians might have a small snack with their next coffee.

Pranzo (lunch): Lunch is generally eaten from noon to 2 p.m. but on a Sunday, lunch can be later.

Merenda (tea): At around 3 p.m., Italians (and certainly children) will have a snack. One could have a gelato… or some crackers and cheese.

Aperitivo (happy hour): after work, Italians may have a tapas/mezze style spread. Many judge the bar based on the selection of free nibbles. During the current COVID restrictions (restaurants close for in restaurant dining at 6 p.m.), many people are having aperitivo at 3 p.m. Why not?

Cena “che-na” (dinner): Dinner is generally at 8:30 p.m. or later. One had a snack earlier, thankfully.