In a city such as Rome, it is easy enough to meet people. There is continuous movement of people into the city throughout the year so there is no shortage of activity. The size and frenzy of Rome can however leave you feeling slightly lonely in a crowd. The gravitation towards fellow foreigners is only natural, finding refuge in sharing similar experiences and anxieties with those discovering Rome for the first time. The city hosts a plethora of foreign universities, schools and international organisations, so it is easy to meet and fall into an ex-pat community. In fact, on arrival it may seem that the only people you socialise with are non-Italians. Yet these foreigner friends tend to depart after a years study or when their next job posting calls them, leaving you having to start afresh.
Integration into the Rome way of life can be difficult and a commonly lamented problem is how to meet and make friends with Italians. There are no magic solutions, but if integration is what you are looking for, there are some things you can do to maximise the opportunities for creating your own network of Italian friends.
Living with Italians is a sure way of making friends. This may mean giving up the idea of living in the old town and moving to more locally-populated areas such as S. Giovanni, S. Lorenzo, Garbatella, S. Paolo and even as far as EUR and Centocelle. Central locations have become very expensive, so it is rare to find Italians living in a shared or student flat in the historic centre.
If you are unable to live with Italians, working with them is a step towards integration. In the atmosphere of a bar or restaurant you will find yourself on an equal footing with your Italian counterparts, facilitating friendship. Working will improve your Italian too. However, getting a job can be tough (see article, page 17) so you may find that the options available are those in an English-speaking environment such as an Irish or English pub. At least this is a start that will give you work experience.
If language is an initial barrier, a scambio di conversazione kills two birds with one stone. In a two-way exchange you speak Italian with a native speaker and then swap to speaking your language in return. Not only will regular practice improve your Italian no end, you may also make a friend to meet on a regular basis. Look at university notice boards, international bookshops, libraries and foreign institutes and academies for advertisements.
Perhaps a busy work schedule and limited time mean that you will rely on meeting Italians in social situations. Traditionally, squares such as Campo de Fiori and S. Maria in Trastevere have been, and still are, a hub of activity. However, the high prices in bars and restaurants in the centre mean that Romans have been pushed out to not-so-central areas for an evening out, either around where they live or in trendy but less picturesque places such as Testaccio and S. Lorenzo. If you do wish to spend evenings in the centre, you should aim to frequent places that still lure the Italians, such as the Vineria in Campo de Fiori or bars such as S. Callisto in Trastevere or Bar del Fico in Piazza del Fico near Piazza Navona. Bar hopping in small numbers is definitely the way forward but for foreign girls this may cause unwanted attention. Another good idea is to search out bars that offer more than just a drink, such as Bibli and Lettere Caff in Trastevere which host book presentations, concerts and debates. The crowd is almost always Italian and the atmosphere is amenable to conversation and cultural interchange.
If you have time, regular participation in an activity is a sure way to make friends. For sport, it is an idea to visit the sports centres (CUS - centro universitario sportivo) of La Sapienza, Tor Vergata or Uni RomaTre, even if you are not enrolled in a university. Here you will find a list of sports grounds where you can go to find out about the facilities and trials for football and other sports teams. Joining a theatrical group, for example Gaby Fords The English Theatre of Rome, an orchestra or a choir is also a solution. Alternatively one could do a course in ceramics, photography or design.
There are also societies for both foreigners and Italians alike who have common interests. These include the Rome chapter of Eurocircle and the Rome Village community network which organise various activities, often with a focus on a particular country and an opportunity to practise another language. The Erasmus Students Association of Universit di Roma Tre also has activities and events for Erasmus students yet draws in a sizeable Italian crowd as well.
The English-speaking churches (see useful numbers, page 2) offer a natural and welcoming community into which to fall. Where once the congregations were English-speaking only, the churches now have many different nationalities represented as well as Italians.
Knowing that it wont be easy is the key to it all. Although obstacles to integrating into Italian society do exist, it is important to remember that many of them are not specific to Italy and are encountered on arrival in any new city or country. Courage and tenacity are needed to integrate into any society. Do not despair, lasting friendships can and will be made. Coraggio!
For information on Rome Village see www.romevillage.com or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
To contact the Rome chapter of Eurocircle email email@example.com.
For information on the Erasmus Students Association of Universit di Roma Tre, tel. 0657067332, www.erasmus3.it.
For a list of choirs and their musical genres in the Lazio region get a copy of the annuario published by the Associazione Regionale Cori del Lazio (ARCL), Viale Adriatico 1, 00141, tel 0652361335 or see www.arcl.it.
For Gaby Fords The English Theatre of Rome , tel. 064441375, www.rometheatre.com.