I believe the stereotype is true – everything is bigger in Texas. Coming from Dallas, I’ve always had wide open spaces to roam and wander. Before this turns into a Dixie Chicks song, I’ll cut to the chase. Florence, Italy is a city rich in history, beautiful architecture, and tiny nooks and crannies to live, work, and shop. When I arrived to this awe-inspiring country, my first thought was, wow I can’t believe I’m actually here, closely followed by, where am I going to buy shampoo?
I conducted minor research into the local grocery stores here in Florence. “Does Italy have a Walmart?” The short answer is no, no it does not. While I wasn’t upset that my new home for the next two months lacked a familiar chain, I was a bit concerned about where and how I might go about purchasing some toothpaste. Not long after inhabiting the city, my roommate and I stumbled across Conad, or as I like to call it, Italy’s Walmart. It’s one of the largest supermarket chain stores in Italy. It has all the basic necessities such as shampoo, toothpaste and M&M’s. However, it’s not anything like American grocery stores.
As I mentioned earlier, I am used to America’s generous use of space for things, like stores and parking lots. Italian laws, in place to protect the history of its cities, heavily restrict and often prevent new construction within the towns. This is a reason why most grocery stores are not bigger than 1,500 square feet, and usually don’t have a parking lot. The inside of the stores are also different from supermarkets in the United States. For example, they don’t have three aisles dedicated solely to cereal. Crazy, right? Most of the area in the store is used for fresh produce, the deli, and Nutella. If there’s one thing you need to know, it’s that Italians love their Nutella.
Another thing that I respect about the Italian culture is the way they practice sustainability. Most of us know that our overuse of plastic negatively impacts the environment. Italian grocery stores are doing their part by never assuming you want your groceries bagged. Some may find this annoying, but they will happily hand you a bag if you forgot a reusable cloth tote to carry your items.
Something I have heard a lot from my ISA staff, professors, speakers, and host family is that the United States is not better or worse than Italy. They are just different. Many situations I have faced in Italy are different and I cannot say they would be better if I were back home, because I’m not. I’m here. The way we adapt to new situations defines the kind of people we become and shapes us both in maturity and patience. Even though Italian grocery stores may not have my favorite kind of Goldfish or air conditioning in these hot summer months, it is balanced by a beautiful, traditional way of life to be appreciated just as it is.
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