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.

Why Americans Don’t Use Bidets

When in Rome? In ancient Rome, they used a rag on the end of a stick instead of toilet paper (one of the possible reasons for the phrase, “getting hold of the wrong end of the stick” — the other origin of the phrase may derive from 19th century printing press when the letters were placed in a stick and backwards — so if you got hold of the wrong end of the stick, you would not comprehend the sentence).

Toilet and bidet in Rome.

Modern Roman toilets look much as they do in other parts of the world, but the flush handle is usually a button on the wall. Another thing is that Roman toilets include a bidet (“bee-DAY” or “beh-day”). The bidet is basically a bathtub for your nether parts. It looks like a toilet bowl and to use it, you back down on it, wash yourself, and then dry yourself using a towel (hence why there is a towel rack nearby). The cultures that do use a bidet consider those that don’t, a bit baffling, as they wonder why one would only use paper to clean up a sticky situation?

In the middle east and Indian subcontinent, people use “the mechanical action of the left hand” instead of toilet paper. Many of these countries also have a “bidet shower” — a spray hose. In my apartment in Bangladesh, there was a spray hose near the toilet instead of toilet paper. The water pressure on the ones in my apartment had the force of a power wash, but I was told that it was to clean off my left hand, not for direct application. The bidet shower, or spray hose, is also used in Finland and Estonia, according to Wikipedia. The Japanese of old times used a stick to clean the backside but now they have electronic toilets with sprayed water and air, both warmed. Japanese toilets also can include a heated seat and “politeness” music.

The average American uses 50 pounds of toilet paper every year. Many countries do not use toilet paper. Many Catholic countries use water rather than paper, or a combination of the two. Also, considering how much paper and water flush toilets waste, perhaps the bidet shower is the way of the future? In terms of wasting resources getting rid of our waste, the city of Los Angeles spends four million dollars each year unclogging toilet paper from their sewers. In many countries, one can’t flush toilet paper down the toilet. In Peru, one puts the toilet paper in a trash can next to the toilet.

Can you tell that I’m writing a book about toilets? Due to the pandemic, toilet paper has been on our minds — a lot. I have actually been interested in toilets from a cultural viewpoint for quite a while, as toilet habits have been a bit different in many of the countries where I have lived. Going to the toilet is one of those things that people don’t talk about too much, but it is that one thing that we all do, and affects culture, from water usage, home construction, art, language, religion, and customs.

One of the many memes I collected during 2020’s toilet paper hunt.

Back to the bidet. The bidet means “little horse” in French and refers to the straddling position one assumes when using it. The bidet was popularized in France in the 18th century, supposedly much used by the French prostitutes. The British considered the French to be hedonistic, and therefore their bidets to be hedonistic. Americans of those times followed British customs and this is, supposedly, why Americans do not use bidets. But, I know more and more who are installing Japanese toilets and bidet toilets in their homes. Like in the ad below, perhaps it will become a thing in the new American toilet. Freedom Toilets?

Will the modern American toilet include a bidet?

The Best Things About Expat Life in Lima – Or, It’s Always Avocado Season

In celebration of Peru’s independence days, “fiestas patrias,” (July 28 is independence day and July 29 is a holiday for the armed forces and police), here is my posting about what I think is great about living in Lima. As I did for some of the other places I have lived, I have already written about what I don’t like about living in Lima. Before living in Lima, I had visited more than five times as a tourist. The first time was immortalized in this blog posting. Now that I’ve been here for more than a food-frenzied weekend, the following things are what I like about living here.

The food scene: The restaurants. It seems like every week, there is a new restaurant opening, and thanks in great part to Gaston Acurio, the culinary scene has become part of the national identity. There are fancy-foamy-intellectual dining establishments, fast food franchises, family-run restaurants, neighborhood favorites, and hole-in-the-wall secrets.

The immigrants: This is one of the reasons that the food scene in Lima is great. Thanks to the Chinese (Chifa is a normal word here for a Chinese food and restaurant, and it is as ingrained in the local food choices as hamburgers), the Japanese (Nikkei is the word used for both the food style and the Japanese Peruvians — this month celebrating 120 years in Peru), the Italians, the Lebanese, and all the other immigrants who have been been contributing to the deliciousness in Lima. Thank you to the newest (those two Thai restaurant owners, those Pakistani and Indian guys, that American with the chocolate shop, and those three Swedish ladies, that Mexican guy, and the Venezuelans, and all of those others whom I have yet to discover… I’m looking at you, shawarma palace!). Plus, many of the Peruvians are domestic immigrants — from somewhere else in the country (bringing things like their delicious cheeses… which I’m told is called “country cheese”).

The Palta Fuerte (the palta fuerte is too delicate and buttery to be exported, I’m guessing): It is always avocado season. When buying an avocado, the vendor will ask the day and time that you plan to eat it so that they can sell you one that will be ripe at the precise moment that you plan to enjoy it. “Palta” is the word for avocado in Peruvian Spanish. No one in Peru says “aquacate” even if they may know what you are talking about. At a restaurant, you can ask for a side of palta and it’s totally normal, like asking for butter (but better).

The juice (plus fruit and produce in general): the lemonade (they offer it made with pureed lemongrass at most places), the passion fruit, the orange juice, the blackberry juice. Plus, the pineapples are delicious and the mangoes have a season (like Edwardian socialites). The Edward mango is especially yummy as it has fewer fibers.

The chocolate: Go to El Cacaotal. That is my one must-do for visitors, for newbies, for chocolate haters… now serving hot chocolate and coffee!

The cultural offerings and activities: cooking classes, chocolate tasting lessons, Cordon Bleu courses, surfing classes, dance schools, wine tasting lessons, the circus, theater productions, gyms, yoga, concerts, archery sessions, wine and paint classes, museums, open studio nights, expos, marathons, fairs, farmers markets, and almost any other activity that you can imagine in a metropolis (there is always something to do). Even comicon.

The walkability: they even have ciclovia. Yes, you can walk here. There are sidewalks, parks, and hiking trails.

The neighborhoods: I like that there are actual neighborhoods, farmers markets, barrios, districts, parks, malls (mega ultra modern and local “centro commerciales”), and the coast (its own microcosm).

The positive attitude toward expats/foreigners: Generally, as a foreigner, I don’t feel hate or suspicion from the locals. The Peruvians are,  generally, pro-American culture, and certainly pro-European culture. While most Peruvians don’t approach/talk to foreigners, they also don’t harass them and follow them around (as would happen in other countries where I have lived)… It’s funny, the little things one appreciates. As a foreigner, one can have a life here without being a circus act.

The security: I am completely amazed to see people out jogging, with headphones on, at night. Granted this is along the more patrolled streets but I am still amazed. Utterly. Amazed. Every. Single. Day. Really. Still. Ah-maze-ed.

The view of the ocean: Yes. It’s amazing. Beaches too. If one likes sand.

The public toilets: Almost all grocery stores and malls have public toilets. One has to remember to not flush the toilet paper, but, at least they have toilet paper, although, not always in the actual stall — so get it beforehand.

Delivery: Like in Bogota, almost anything can be delivered.

The taxi prices: $2 for a basic short ride of a few miles. Sometimes $7 for an hour’s ride.

Help: there is always someone to carry the groceries, the taxi drivers help with luggage, the doormen help with stuff, and domestic help is a normal part of life here. I’ll write more about that in a separate posting. Aside from the domestic cleaners, there are nannies, gardeners, drivers, porters, dog walkers, DJs, caterers, dishwashers, movers… you name it. I have an “event tech” whom I hire for parties. I may change that title to “event engineer” as engineer seems to be the new generic term for “trained” (I was chatting with a taxi driver who told me that he used to be a “production engineer” — he potted yogurt in a lab. He chose to drive a taxi because the yogurt potting only paid $670 per month, double the minimum wage, but he makes double that as a taxi driver, even though he works double the hours. But, at least, he is his own boss).

The prices for dental care: as with most things, one can pay lots of money for dental care, but one can also get good dental care for $17 (cleaning and checkup). But, if one wants to pay $170, one can. Many of the dentists have trained in other countries and their certifications in those countries may not be valid here.

The prices in general: from picture framing to groceries, to clothing alterations, to the above mentioned items.

And, did I mention the palta?