June 28, 2022

The True Tale of Learning to Cross the Road

I never thought Learning to Cross the Road in Italy would be quite so traumatic, but alas, this most simple task took a twist even I couldn’t have imagined.

Of course, we’ve all heard of culture shock, that strange phenomenon of being surprised that the world is different in towns and countries outside of your own. But no matter how much you hear about it, I don’t think anything could prepare you for what you’ll actually struggle with when you move abroad – even just for a university exchange.

I will say this though, there is nothing quite so humbling as arriving in a new country and realising you don’t know how to bag your groceries, unlock a door, or buy a freaking bus ticket.

But for today’s story, let’s go back to one of my very first mornings in Milan – the one when I realised ordering a coffee was barely worth the trauma of Milanese derision**.

On Learning to Cross the Road in Italy

Having scorched my tongue on the acrid espresso, and made an absolute mess with the flaky, jam-filled croissant, social anxiety at an all-time high, I decided to go for a walk around my neighbourhood. I stopped by a sad park and pondered why all the trees were dead (in Perth, winter is about the only time that anything is green), marvelled at the imposing facades and hoped Milan was a little more interesting than what I’d seen so far.

Eventually, hands a somewhat concerning shade of blue, I decided it was time to go home. I just needed to cross the road.

I dawdled along to the next zebra crossing, stopped, and waited for the endless stream of cars to let me by. They never did. Perturbed but determined, I tentatively placed a foot on the road, hoping that might help, only to be very nearly crushed by a speeding motorino.

My heart pounded as I looked up and down the road, hoping to spy a nearby traffic light. No such luck.

I can only imagine the bewilderment on my face that eventually caused a tiny Italian Nonna to approach me. She was wearing a fur coat, groceries stowed away in a black trolley bag behind her, well-kept hair tucked into a delightful hat. Her hat ended before my shoulders even began.

“Hai bisogno di aiuto?”, she gestured across the road kindly, clearly bemused.

The irony was all too much for my anxious self to handle.


A little old lady was offering to help me cross the road! I should have been offering help to her!

I somehow feigned laughter, pretending I was okay, and with much hand wringing, conveyed I just remembered I in fact needed to walk the other way (in the direction of the most recently encountered traffic light, of course).

I scurried away and by the time I made it home, all I wanted was to cuddle up in my warm bed, spirit of adventure be damned.

But alas, I was about to discover the nightmare that is Italian locks…

**I haven’t actually shared this story here yet, but if you’d like to know when it goes live, I share all my new posts in my monthly newsletter. I’d love to see you there, just sign up here!

The True Tale of Learning to Cross the Road in Italy is part of a series of stories I’m writing called ‘True Tales’. It’s a space for me to write rambling long stories about my own experiences, just for fun – without the pressure of optimising for SEO or meeting client expectations (or even my own!).

If you enjoyed it, I’d love to hear from you in the comments below. If you didn’t, well, I doubt you made it this far so it doesn’t matter! 😉