When I studied abroad in Italy, one of the first challenges was figuring out how to get from the airport to the University of Bologna. The faculty organizers for the program left the traveling logistics up to the students, so each of us was left to figure out our way from the airport to our designated meetup location. It also happened to be my first time traveling on my own to a place where I did not have family that would meet me when I arrived, so I was completely trying to navigate new territory.
I remember getting off the plane and thinking to myself that there was some checklist of things that I just needed to make sure I had covered. First on that list was finding where to get my suitcase. Looking at the signs around me, I was lucky that I had some background in Italian so I could read and piece together information to find the baggage claim. After grabbing my suitcase, the next hurdle was figuring out transportation and I thought that this would finally be my time to experience riding in a taxi. Luckily, there were quite a few taxis outside the airport when I finally made my way around to the ground transportation exit. When I walked over to a taxi that had just arrived, the driver got out and came to take my bags and put them in the trunk. I got into the backseat and, when the driver sat back inside the taxi, he asked me where we were going. I told him that I was trying to get to the Dipartimento di Storia Culture Civiltà and he told me no, the address. I spent a little time scrambling because I thought the building was well-known enough and did not have the address memorized, so I haphazardly was scrolling through the WhatsApp chat to see if the professor had sent us the address before reciting it to the driver. Things were quiet on the drive there and the next hiccup occurred when we arrived, and I went to pay. Having just exchanged USD for euros, I did not happen to have any small bills, so I went to pay the driver rounded up to the closest bill. When he saw this, he pulled out money to make change and, wanting to save him the hassle, I wanted to tell him to keep the change in Italian, but realizing that we had not learned this is class, the closest thing that I could muster was “È per lei” or formally, “It’s for you” which was met with a look of bewilderment before he told me thank you. After getting out of the taxi and the driver retrieving my suitcases from the trunk, I went to meet with the professors and regale them with the story of my trip. Upon reaching the end with the awkward tipping situation, they told me that it is not customary to tip in Italy and that the act was something of an American thing that I had never thought about before. I also learned from this conversation that it is customary in Italy to not tip taxi drivers and can sometimes be viewed as insulting, though I meant it as a sign of appreciation for his service. This experience led me to reflect on the importance of learning not only customs but the wider social significance of differences in the connotation of tipping.
This semester, I have been working on my Intercultural Development Program with the hope of moving from minimization of social differences towards adaptation. In connection with my participation in the Global Fellows Program, this work has come in the form of engaging with people from different countries in conversation through the English Conversation Club and my language partners. Through these experiences, I have gotten a sense of how others orient themselves to American culture, both positively and negatively, according to the cultures that they were raised in. This has made many differences apparent to me, especially around the idea of holidays and understanding that other cultures have a deep history tied to certain celebrations that are viewed more commercially in the United States. Rather than trying to ask the question of how these different celebrations and traditions compare to what we do in the United States, I have become more invested in learning about them within that cultural context.