A bright smile, a nod hello or even a simple look of recognition in someone’s eyes can make any place feel like home.
Weeks into my study abroad experience, I’ve come to accept Rome as another place I call home — if only for six weeks.
I have the unique experience of living in one hotel for the duration of my trip. This has fostered a warm relationship with the people who work at the reception desk, along with many angry hotel guests. I’m guessing the hotel doesn’t advertize that patrons are paying 135 euros a night to sleep in the equivalent of a Markley dorm room.
But honestly, complaining neighbors remind me of home too. All of these aspects combine to make the hotel feel like a place we can call our own: It’s our noise, our mess and our terrace (much to the chagrin of the other guests). Plus, the staff is made up of our friends.
OK, so “friends” may be pushing it. Sometimes I’m not sure if the staff really likes us or just doesn’t know how to handle our outgoing — and sometimes outrageous — group. Their patience is often tested by our late night exits, early-morning returns and spirited conversations that take place on the terrace. But I’d like to believe deep down, they really enjoy us. Love or hate, we’ve come to a relationship reminiscent of siblings. We tease, we bicker and then we gather in the common room to watch World Cup soccer.
It’s not just the hotel that’s begun to feel like home — it’s also the neighborhood we live in. We have class from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. with a coffee break at 10. So of course, being the sleep deprived, coffee addicted student I am, I run around the corner and get a cappuccino every day. I swear the shop owner has begun to recognize me (though a mob of 20-somethings wearing gym shorts and t-shirts isn’t very hard to pick out of the crowd). Whatever the case, I like to pretend this cute old man in his brightly colored jacket and vests recognizes me specifically, and I practice all the Italian I’ve learned on him. Thus far, I’m up to “hello, I’d like a croissant and cappuccino, thank you, goodbye,” which I think is pretty good for only having a few hours of Italian under my belt.
Luckily, I’ve found some local haunts that feature English-speaking workers — namely the local Irish pub. (Yes, I accept the shame that comes with having your most frequently visited restaurant in Rome turn out to be Irish). Nevertheless, the place has good food, free Internet and interesting servers, so it maintains its position at the top of my study spots list. It’s the people that make me feel so welcome and comfortable — though the Ranch dressing doesn’t hurt things.
Again, “welcome” might have been an overstatement. The last time I walked in for Sunday brunch, I was greeted by my favorite waiter with a hardy “No! Get the Hell out, I’m too hung-over for this.” Needless to say, service in Rome has proven not to be as chipper or accommodating as the service I’m used to back in America. But the service I receive here, occasionally abrasive, often friendly, seems more genuine than the forced hospitality in U.S. establishments. I may never have a waiter tell me to “get out” when I walk into a restaurant back in Michigan, but it’s equally unlikely he’ll stay an hour and a half after his shift just to hang out and offer advice about living in the city.
These past few weeks have proven to me that any place can take on the comforting aspects of home, so long as you’re willing to make an effort to get to know the people who inhabit it. Rome sees thousands of visitors come and go every day, but there are only a lucky few who can claim it as home. With the help of my ever-growing circle of locals who I can call friends, I’m looking to declare it as one of my homes as well.
Caitlin Morath can be reached at email@example.com.