I know it might seem like I’m a social butterfly because I talk to my phone sometimes in my Instagram stories, but in the flesh, I’m a little weird. Not like WEIRD WEIRD, just a little introverted. I’ve always been this way. I love humanity and I love meeting people, but it needs to be in small groups or I am easily overwhelmed. I thrive in one on one conversations. I can’t just spend a whole day with a big group of strangers—I wouldn’t survive. One time, my parents sent me to sleepaway away gymnastics camp when I was 12 and I lost 10 pounds in 7 days and only ate Twix chocolate bars for lunch and supper.
Over the years, I’ve gotten to know myself a little better and now that I’m 30, I’m getting pretty good at saying no to the things that make me uncomfortable and give me a little too much social anxiety. If you’re reading this and you’re extroverted, you probably think this entire blog is a little nuts. But I’m a little nuts.
In Italy, being shy and an introvert is tricky. It sometimes feels like I have to be social and loud all the time or I won’t be heard. I often feel like nobody is listening and I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had that dream where you’re trying to scream but the sounds aren’t coming out. Italians are mostly raised to be vocal and extroverted. I mean, they have oral exams all through elementary and high school. They have to get up and talk in front of their whole class and that’s how they’re graded. CAN YOU IMAGINE? THE HORROR. Sometimes, the teacher will make fun of them in front of everyone. It’s a ruthless education system. I would’ve dropped out at 14 if I had to go through this. How do the shy Italian kids survive?
It’s okay if you’re not super extroverted. You can be weird and shy and still move to Italy! Also, if you haven’t read Quiet (The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking), I highly suggest you do. If you are an introvert, it’ll make you understand yourself more and if you’re not, you’ll better understand all of the people in your life who are a little quiet sometimes (like me).
Anyway, I thought I’d share some of my social anxiety struggles in Italy and how I deal with them. I know this blog isn’t for everyone, but if there’s JUST ONE introvert out there who can feel a little better from reading this, that’s who this is for. It’s for you, girl. I see you.
THE PLACE ALL INTROVERTS FEAR IN ITALY: THE PHARMACY
The farmacia in Italy is one of my biggest social anxiety triggers. Generally, medical issues (like the armpit rash you got from using a new deodorant) aren’t something you would necessarily scream out loud in a room full of strangers. But pharmacies here are exactly this. It’s not like a regular North American pharmacy where you can go and QUIETLY pick up what you need. NO. YOU HAVE TO STAND IN LINE AND ANXIOUSLY WAIT YOUR TURN SO YOU CAN LOOK A PHARMACIST DEAD IN THE EYE AND AWKWARDLY TELL THEM YOUR PROBLEM TO GET THE CREAM/PILL YOU NEED. And Italian Pharmacists love to talk LOUDLY and REPEAT YOUR SYMPTOMS BACK TO YOU TO MAKE SURE EVERYONE IN THE LINE BEHIND YOU KNOWS THAT YOUR LEFT ARMPIT HAS A BURNING RASH. I’ve gotten a little less annoyed over the years—being surrounded by Italians who don’t give a fuuuuck is the best desensitization therapy out there—but the culture shock is still a thing so I’ve found a new way to avoid this interaction! My anxiety is so thankful. Welcome FARMAè (this blog might sound like a big promo for a bunch of online websites, but it’s truly what has helped me LIVE).
- FARMAè is an online pharmacy. Everything you could possibly want that doesn’t require a prescription can be found on this website. It is INCREDIBLE. Every few months, I buy all of my must-haves (Biochetasi (if you know, you know), Brufen, Tachipirina, etc) and I don’t have to feel FEAR anymore as I wait in line at the pharmacy. And shipping is free and quick.
If I have a prescription, I can use Ricetta in Farmacia. Not all pharmacies have this service available, but if you find one that does, it’s great. You can send in your prescription online and when it’s ready, you get a text and go pick it up. No talking, just ciao e grazie.
OPTOMETRISTS AND EXPENSIVE EYE DROPS I CAN’T SAY NO TO
I don’t know why this is a thing, but in Italy, you don’t need a prescription to buy contacts. If you’re like me and have a hard time saying no to things, Italian optometrists can sometimes be a little aggressive and try to sell you eye drops and a bunch of products you don’t need. And I CAN’T SAY NO OKAY, I’LL SAY YES AND GO HOME WITH 20 EURO EYEDROPS. It’s happened to me enough times that I’ve started to fear optometrists. They know I’m WEAK AND SAY YES TO EXPENSIVE THINGS I DON’T NEED. I DON’T HAVE DRY EYES, I DON’T NEED DROPS GUYS. So I started buying my contacts online to avoid this entire interaction altogether.
There are a bunch of websites that sell contacts, but the one I like is VisionDirect. I think it’s free shipping over 70 euro so I always buy a few boxes and stock up. This makes my life so much easier.
GETTING YELLED AT IN A SUPERMARKET BECAUSE YOU DIDN’T WEIGH YOUR FRUIT
I’m generally alright with going to the supermarket and speaking with cashiers—even the rude ones. It’s not something that triggers my social anxiety. It used to when I couldn’t speak Italian, but I’m mostly desensitized to the experience these days. Employees don’t really talk to you at the supermarket anyway and if they do, they will probably just ask you if 1) you have the grocery store points card (to which you respond sì or no and then 2)they’ll maybe ask you if you want a busta(bag)). Now, If you need a bag and the cashier doesn’t ask, you say “posso avere una busta? grazie.” It’s all pretty simple and to the point. It’s a very similar interaction every time and nothing to stress out about too much. But PLEASE weigh your own fruits and vegetables and stick the little price sticker on them BEFORE you get to the cash (there’s always a scale or two in the veggie area). Don’t be the foreigner who forgets to weigh their vegetables (even if we’ve all been there). THINGS COULD GET UGLY.
If you aren’t feeling particularly social or are having a bit of an anxious week and aren’t interested in seeing or talking to anyone (because this happens and it’s okay), you can take a break from social interaction and order your groceries online in Italy!
I’ve already ordered my groceries online from Esselunga before and it was great. The only thing that I highly disliked was the amount of plastic bags they used (way too many). Another option for limited social interaction is using the self-service checkouts that are available in most supermarkets. I will warn you though that this can be RISKY. If your self-service cash blocks for some reason, you sometimes have to go FIND AN EMPLOYEE if nobody is there to help you and it can become mission impossible. And to add to the stress, the interaction might not be very friendly.
MY FEAR OF BUYING MAKEUP: A LOVE STORY
I love buying makeup. I could look at glittery eyeshadows for hours, but this rarely happens because makeup stores are scary places for me. And I don’t think this is an Italy thing, I think this is a makeup store thing. There is nothing that makes me feel more attacked than when an employee comes and asks me if they can help me choose my foundation color or if I want a basket. IF I WANTED A BASKET, I WOULD’VE GRABBED A BASKET. STOP ATTACKING ME. I FEEL ATTACKED. I know that this is their job and if you happen to work in a store where one of your responsibilities involves asking people if they want a basket, I’m not mad at you. It’s just that if you ask me if I want a basket, it makes me feel like you’ve been watching me and you think I need a basket and then I get self-conscious, start sweating, feel lightheaded and can’t concentrate. If you’re an extrovert or normal and have made it until here, are you thinking to yourself WTF? I can’t imagine how weird you must think this is.
I think you know where this is going. I order most of my makeup online from Kiko (an Italian cosmetics company with really affordable and alright makeup) or Sephora. Italian Sephora doesn’t have alllll the juicy products that the North American stores do, but it’s good enough.
- PS. If you live in Florence, H&M and Zara employees don’t give a shit about you or your problems. You can try on clothing or go to their makeup section and nobody will care or talk to you. You can do whatever you want, they will not ask you if you want a basket. It’s an introvert’s paradise. At H&M, customers are invisible. We love H&M.
Okay my friends, I think I’ll end it here for now. I really wanted to share an update about my renovated kitchen, but it’s not finished yet! So I thought I’d write about something I’m super self conscious about and hope I’m not the only one who feels this way. In other news, spring is here, the Tuscan sun feels a little warmer on my forehead (because my cheeks are still hidden under a mask) and I’m on Day 3 of a Tomato Growing Journey.
Lots of love
4 thoughts on “An Introvert’s Guide to Living in Italy | Tips for Avoiding Human Interaction”
I’m an extrovert, but I hear you. And some things are just awkward for anyone. I went into a Pharmaprix and asked the pharmacist a simple question about Canesten and he gave me a 3 minute answer and said the word “Vagina” at least 12 times. I was mortified. 😆
LOL that’s so funny and so mortifying!!
I guess it isnt to be one or another… I learnt in Italy I have super social anxiety.. especially if it is a new situation and I need to “break the language barrier”. You are right my first experience of pharmacy couple weeks ago… eeeeee embarrassing, thank God I live in small village so there was me and 2 staff but still felt uncomfy.
The shopping… well how many times I was growled at in supermarkets. My way…. I started using local shop, where they admire my mistakes!
I have also learn one thing from Italians: if they have social anxiety, they are patiently just ignore the situation. So I start being calm and just ignore it although it is still hard.
As long as we keep trying, then we’re unstoppable!! You’re right, small shop owners are often more patient, I’ve noticed that too!