Expectations vs Realities of Florence

A street in Florence with the Duomo in the background and a beautiful blue sky.

By Abigail Ferenz and Dr. Paolo Molino

Edited and published with permission.

Preparing to temporarily live abroad for an internship in Florence, Italy, I always heard of the beauty and adventure the city has to offer being a main hub within the Tuscan region. Consistently, when sharing my plans to go abroad, those around me would instantly express excitement and state how much they loved Florence for its art, food, and fashion. In comparison to other cities in Italy, Florence is said to be a smaller walking city full of charm and romance. With a relaxed lifestyle full of wine, good food, and sights such as rolling hills, art, and architecture, it is no wonder Florence is deemed one of the most romantic cities in Italy falling in the heart of Tuscany. The Tuscan region is specifically known for its wineries, fashion, and delectable cuisine all that can be found in Florence.

Yes, the food here is just amazing. Look at this homemade zucchini pasta!

“When people think ‘Italy’ they think freshly made pasta, stunning architecture, historical sightseeing, and, for many, romance…no city embodies those qualities quite like Florence” (Caldwell, 2022). As an outsider of Italy from the States, there were many enchanting stories of Florence, never hearing a bad quality. This set my expectations very high as I heard narratives such as, “walking through the city of Florence is like walking through history itself…In modern times, it’s a feast for the senses. From the incredible art museums and galleries to the delectable restaurants to the pure romance of the city, it’s easy to fall for Florence” (Caldwell, 2022). These were the pictures painted in my mind due to the stories told along with illustrations on social media. Descriptions such as these leave no shock to the fact that the city of Florence has been gradually increasing in population since the early 2000’s with a current growth rate of 3.22% (World Population Review). However, during my time abroad, it became apparent how my expectations altered from the reality of living in Florence.

Our expectations mold our reality and can emotionally and physically change our lives (Expectations-the real happiness killer, 2017). Differences in expectation from reality can make it difficult for an individual to reach their ideal way of life. With expectations not being met, it can be disheartening towards one’s goals thus discouraging the individual from continuing to pursue their dream (Expectations-the real happiness killer, 2017). Discussing how expectations of moving to Florence have altered from reality with Dr. Paolo Molino, we were inspired to look more into what the common expectations are for Florence compared to the reality that is found. Hearing the fantasized stories of Florence draws the question of what really attracts individuals to “fall for Florence” and ultimately settle in the heart of Tuscany.

For individuals moving abroad to Florence, there are stereotypes in regards to the general country of Italy, Italians, and the city itself. “Stereotypes are in fact created through the categorization of a social group that share socially significant characteristics such as race, social status, cultural background, or religion” (Alderisio, 2021). For Italy, there are large emphases on wine, delicious cuisine, and beauty in art, architecture, and landscape. It is stereotyped for Italians to have a relaxed schedule, be passionate and boisterous, and be well-dressed while typically consuming espresso, pizza, or pasta. As for the city of Florence, the stereotypes are highly romanticized. Being viewed as a smaller city, one that is walkable and less hectic in comparison to Rome, Florence is believed to be the height of romance in the Tuscan region. With these pre-set ideas, it can come as a shock when life does not line up with the assumptions. This led us to look into an individual’s expectations compared to the reality they have experienced since moving to Florence. 

Oh so romantic, a couple enjoys the beautiful view from Piazzale Michelangelo early in a late summer’s morning.

Survey Methods

In order to develop an understanding as to why individuals moved to Florence, what their expectations were vs what they came to find and where they plan to go, we constructed a survey. This survey included a mix of open-ended questions and ordinal likert-scales such as the Positive and Negative Affect Scale (PANAS) and Satisfaction With Life Scale (SWLS). A total of 6 women who have moved from outside of Italy to reside in Florence were interviewed. 

To gain information on the expectations and realities in regards to Florence, participants were given open-ended questions allowing them to freely answer questions based on their “complete knowledge, feeling, and understanding” (Open ended questions, 2021) not limited to a set of options. This is an important factor in qualitative research to gain a true understanding of the participants feelings. Participants began filling out questions on their reasons for moving to Florence and reasons for leaving their last place of residency. They were then asked to recall thoughts and feelings to answer questions on what their expectations were prior to living in Florence. This was followed up with questions regarding the reality they have come to find. Further questions were asked in respect to one’s moving history, goals in life, and impacts of Covid. 

The Positive and Negative Affect Scale presented to participants is for the purpose of understanding the individual’s mood at the moment of the survey. Using a 5 point Likert scale, participants rate their level of agreement for 10 positive affect questions and 10 negative affect questions.The final score for participant mood was found by totalling the sum of the 10 positive affect and 10 negative affect questions (Watson et al., 1988). Similarly for the Overall Life Satisfaction Scale (Diener et al., 1985), participants use a 7-point Likert scale to rate their level of agreement with 5 phrases regarding overall life satisfaction. Life satisfaction is scored by adding the sum of the scores for each item and matching the total with a set scoring system from the lowest score of 5 being extremely dissatisfied to the highest score of 35 being extremely satisfied (Diener et al., 1985).

It is undeniably beautiful.

Questions on affect were given to factor in the impact of mood on recall memory. Given that the survey requires participants to recall their expectations, mood was measured to understand how a participant’s answers may be swayed in a positive or negative way. This is based on the idea of mood-dependent memory which states that individuals “have an easier time recalling information if they’re currently in the same mood they were in when they originally encoded the information”(Peak, 2016). Thus participants were given the PANAS to factor in the possibility of answers being swayed in a positive or negative way at the moment of the interview. For example, a participant with a high score on positive affect and low score on negative affect will most likely express a greater amount of positivity or “happier memories” in their answers compared to a participant who may score low on positive affect and high on negative affect. 



For participants’ expectations, the average answer for how high expectations were for living in Florence was 5 on a scale of 1-7, 1 being the lowest and 7 being the highest. With an average score of 5, participants had fairly high expectations. The top 3 answers in participants descriptions prior to moving to Florence follow:




Each participant either used the word “beauty” or described a beautiful aspect they expected to witness when living in Florence. To quote from the interviews, the city of Florence has been imagined to be “like a big museum” full of culture, wonderful scenery, a place for inspiration, and a “romantic city with lots of sunsets”. However, even with these romanticized expectations, participants named work as the second highest reason for moving to the heart of Tuscany. Each participant comes from a different line of work specializing anywhere from art and writing to customer service and child care. One woman explained that she moved for the ability to work, be independent, and to sustain herself. As for adventure, this typically was described as excitement towards having new experiences, meeting new people, and starting a “new life”. This falls in line with Florence being a main hub within the Tuscan region. Given its location, Florence offers a beautiful walking city, nearby countryside and mountains, and easy traveling to other regions in Italy.


Looking at the expectations, many positive expectations were met in their day to day lives. The top positive answers revolve around the beauty, romance, and adventure the city of Florence provides. These qualities have matched or exceeded participants’ named expectations. Most interviewees were pleasantly surprised by the degree to which they fell in love with Florence, having them remain longer than anticipated. As described by participants, Florence is a walking city with beauty in art and culture, a place with adventure and daily surprises, and a city of good food. 

One nice surprise is that some roads really look like this, and at times are two-way.

However when addressing the realities that the women have experienced, there were conflicts in comparison to one’s expectations. When asked the question, “what has been surprising? In both a good and/or bad way?” there was a common response in line with “it was much harder than I thought”. Common difficulties involved the structure of both work and social life. In the work environment, half of the participants have claimed it to be managed in an inefficient way. One participant found difficulty in searching for a fair work environment. “Fair” being defined as a workplace in which people do not take advantage of the employees and receive a respectable work-to-pay ratio in that “you get what you put in” as one interviewee explained. 

In regards to difficulties in social life, all 6 participants mentioned trouble in becoming integrated into a social network. Some interviewees stated they were surprised by how “closed off the culture can be” and how “social life is completely different from expectations”. Further questions led to Florentines being described as leaning towards “diffidence and cynicism” in contrast to the “enthusiasm and positive attitude” of the Italian stereotype. 

Life Satisfaction and Mood

In regards to participants overall life satisfaction and mood, it was measured to understand a participant’s answers in comparison to mood-dependent memory. The average answers for one’s overall life satisfaction recorded a score of 26.33 on a range of 5 being the lowest and 35 being the highest. This shows that with the 6 participants, they are more satisfied in life. 

For participant mood in the moment of the survey, looking at both positive and negative affects, the lowest possible score for each affect is 10 following with the highest possible score of 50. The average score for positive affect in participants was 39.5. The average score for negative affect in participants was 26.33. With these results, participants reported greater feelings of positive affect versus negative affect. Given both results of participants reporting higher overall life satisfaction and higher levels of positive affect, it is believed that participants had greater ease recalling positive memories over negative memories while being surveyed. 

Future Goals

With some understanding of both the positive and negative realities of Florence, all participants stated that they believe their short-term goals can be met in this city. Along with this,  ⅚ stated that their long-term goals can also be met. However when asked more questions regarding future plans, only ⅓ of the participants hope to remain and retire in Florence while the other ⅔ would not want to remain or retire in Florence. 

Street art in Florence. Beautiful as it is, Florence is a city like any other, what matters is what you make of it.


Given the findings with limited data, we feel that there is more to be explored on the subject of expectations vs realities of living in Florence, Italy. The interviews raised more questions in regard to social life and interaction due to the unanimous agreement of feeling as though the community is closed off to others. While it is typically difficult to build new relations when relocating, this is a common struggle each interviewee has or currently does face. Thus there is the need to address the topic of social relations in Florence for both Florentines and Italian foreigners.

As seen in the responses, interviewees have the expectation for Italians to be friendly, hospitable, boisterous, and more (Roe, 2007). Yet these expectations were not met. This calls us to ask the following questions in hopes of there being further research on the subject: 

Are Florentines as the interviewees described? 

How does language or culture barrier prevent those who moved abroad to make genuine connections? 

How are those who moved abroad attempting to implement themselves and is there more that can be done?

Where is the line of those who move abroad to be considered Florence citizens rather than Foreigners? 

With this, we would like to look further into understanding what may be obstructing the ability for those moving to Florence to become fully integrated within the community. One interviewee in particular inspired the last question stating she feels as though she is not fully American and yet not fully Italian, but rather “falls somewhere in between”. Thus with each participant expressing hardship in finding a true sense of belonging in Florence, we feel called to encourage those who relate to the feeling of being “somewhere in between”.

In Paris, with my French neighbour from Florence. The city has many expats from all communities, you need to find the one that best represents you.

One interviewee has made connections in Florence by teaching an American study abroad program and becoming part of an English-speaking women’s organization. These are ways to make connections and build a community, however this interviewee, like many others who move away from home, remains in what is familiar. This comes from social psychology, the idea that factors attracting us to individuals include similarity, proximity, familiarity, and reciprocity (Croyle) . We want to consider the fact that it takes a great deal of effort to integrate oneself into any city and in this case, in the city of Florence. Thus, as newcomers, we must be aware of the factors that may promote or prevent integration into a community. 

Introduced by social psychologists, we are naturally drawn towards individuals who are similar to us, close in proximity, familiar, and who reciprocate feelings. Familiarity has to do with the amount of which we are exposed to others, meaning that if we remain in the same location then we are less likely to become familiar or known to others outside of our common location. Following this, we are drawn to others who reciprocate our feelings however mannerisms vary by culture and language barriers can prevent deeper connections. Therefore it would be recommended for those moving abroad to become familiar with the culture and the mannerisms of the area. One mannerism I have observed since living in Florence is that Florentines are direct and get straight to the point. This originally took me by surprise and I felt disliked by those I interacted with, making me maintain distance which only prevented myself from forming relationships. 

Understanding this, we must become aware of what we are naturally drawn to so that we can venture outside of our comfort zone to make new connections. This requires making changes to one’s daily routine. One such change may include taking on a volunteer position within the community. This not only helps build new connections, but it allows individuals to share a common goal of bettering the community. As mentioned in The Florentine, “Volunteering is a way to give back to a community and help others, but also to help yourself” (Dysart, 2012). To truly make a place feel like home, an individual must invest time and care to make a place their own. This must also be reciprocated with locals. To develop a relationship and build a community, there must be a willingness coming from each individual in an interaction. With further research diving into the previously posed questions, we believe that more answers will be obtained as to how Florence foreigners can become more integrated into the social community. 


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Published by Dani Leite

Making your move to this beautiful city as easy as possible. With you every step of the way.

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