Monday, November 16

Thinking of Moving to Italy? Think Again. Three Ways that Living There is Different than Visiting

Guest Post by Cherrye from My Bella Italy

The idea of living in the bel paese makes many would-be expats as green as fresh basilico. It is Italy, after all, one of the top tourist destinations in the world and a place where history and culture seep from centuries-old buildings and antique cobblestone streets.

However, visiting Italy and planting roots aren’t quite the same thing -- a truth I’ve been forced to share on occasion whenever bright-eyed tourists proclaim their love for this land and quickly inform their spouses, “I think I could live here.”
The truth of the matter is, it’s not easy to live in Italy. In addition to the sad state of the economy, the laughing stock of a prime minister and the forces responsible for letting 100,000 tons of trash overtake Naples in recent years, there are some things that are harder to live with than others.
And here are three of them.

1. Cibo and Vino
People travel to new countries to soak in the culture and lifestyle of the region they are visiting, and when these people are in Italy-they get to eat it up. Literally.
Italian food is arguably the best food in the world, and I’m a sucker for Calabrian red peppers, eggplants and pecorino cheese. But sometimes, a girl just wants a peanut butter sandwich on American white bread … some cheddar cheese … real orange juice.
When you’re traveling in Italy, PB&J, Mexican burritos and quick and easy sushi are the furthest things from your mind. But the longer you stay overseas, the more you’ll find that not only old cravings die hard but -- after a year--or three- they can spring back to life - with a vengeance.

2. Chiuso … Again!
You know how charming it is that stores still close in the middle of day and everyone goes home to enjoy a long lunch with their families? Well, try running to the store for tampons, ahem, personal items, in the middle of the day and being met with closed gates.
Not so charming anymore …
Not so charming at all … .

3. Red Tape and Personal Space
Italy is notorious for its never-ending red tape and just about every expat has a bone-chilling Italian bureaucracy experience to tell. Travelers to Italy generally laugh off the eternal lines and misinformation -- but when your residency depends on spending 3 hours a day over 3 full days in various lines only to be told you have to start all over again, it is not a laughing matter.

Speaking of laughing matters, there are dozens of contradictions that we foreigners come across on almost a daily basis. And, I’m sure, that for Italians moving to America, the same goes for them, too. For example, southern Italians, who hang their laundry to dry for the entire neighborhood to see, notoriously get upset when their privacy has been invaded even in the smallest way. So why they have no problem when a pharmacist questions them in front of a crowded room of those same neighbors, “What do you need?” And they reply in a loud, proud voice, “Something for my hemorrhoids.”

Do you live in Italy? What other misconceptions do you think there are about living here as compared to traveling here?

Cherrye Moore is a freelance writer and B&B owner living in Calabria, Italy. She writes for Affordable Calling Cards offering calling cards for Italy.
She also pens informative and entertaining articles on traveling to Calabria on her website, My Bella Vita.


cuz liz said...

Hi Cherrye, I have another for the Chiuso Again: almost everything being closed on Sunday, even pharmacies. Except, there is always one pharmacy open somewhere in town. The closed ones will have a sign out front stating which shop is open on that Sunday, but how do you know before you show up desperately needing something? Then you have to find the open one, and hopefully get there before it closes. Not very charming either.

Another misconception about living in Italy: everyone is friendly and open. It's very hard to get help if you are new in town. You need to patronize businesses regularly to get good service (it took about 2 months for the grocery clerk to give me a smile in Assisi). None of that "welcome to the neighborhood" camaraderie and no neighbors showing up with a casserole and giving you info on everything (though, these days, that is not as common in my area of Calif). I did get lots of help from a couple of people I worked with, which was very much appreciated. But it seems you need to have that kind of relationship, or a wonderful cousin living there ;-), to get any really helpful tidbits to make your stay more comfortable.

Dave514 said...

For me it would be the Red Tape and Personal space.

I wasn't brought up on PB&J as a matter of fact my uncle when asked about PB said,"peanuts are for monkeys." Well he was RN, what can you expect.

I guess I'd miss a hot dog---I could take a train to Muenchen or a hamburger---I think I could cobble up something. The big question is what do you do for yellow mustard and katchup?

James Martin said...

On the other hand, the resident can buy real chickens! Or exotic animals like pheasant and guinea fowl that cost an arm and a leg in the US! And please, shoot me if I ever crave American air bread.


Jacques said...

A few other things: Holidays, Language and Politics

They celebrate different Holidays (Local Saint, the Befana), the common ones are celebrated in much different ways (Christmas, Easter, the New Year's Cenone), and some aren't celebrated at all (4th July, Thanksgiving). Originally quaint, after a number of years you crave a nice normal Bar-b-q with fireworks after dark. The "Redentore" out in a boat is lots of fun, but it seems like a strange 4th party after a while...

Dialects can be curious, fun, interesting, enjoyable to learn or play with. But day after day of having to deal with it can sometimes give you a BIG headache by the end of the day. And the language thing isn't limited to "sounds" and "words", but to all those quaint colloquialisms (which vary from area to area in Italy) and also to basic cultural references that you grew up with and no one else around you did, and vice versa. Jingles, commercials, TV shows, books *everyone* reads for school. Sometimes it amazes me how much easier I can fall into a conversation with some tourist visiting the city and have a simpler time understanding than discussing things with one of the parents from my kid's school.

The two governments are fundamentally different, as is the citizen's relation to the government. America is both idolized and demonized here in different moments and in different ways by different Italians (Destra vs. Sinistra). And the lack of stability and constancy in the Italian government often leads to a general cynicism that would be difficult to encounter elsewhere, I think. While on vacation, discussing politics with the Italian couple at the next table (in English, since they want to practice), but discussing politics in Italian has almost ruined friendships here more than once.

Jacques said...

@dave514 ketchup and mustard aren't the real problem, thus evidencing another serious problem for someone living here instead of visiting: Hot Dog Buns. There aren't any, or almost impossible to find, and if you do they are like those "last 4 months" packages. You're much more likely to find a Panino with Hot Dog and Saur Kraut than a normal Hot Dog. And don't even look for a Chilidog or Cheese Fries...

Jacques said...

@Liz - in Venice and Milan they know a year in advance the "turni" for evening and weekend shifts, and publish it on all the newspapers, and even give out free little wallet cards with the year's info. What DOES really annoy me is paying the extra €2-3 for them to open that little window and pass me the medicine (or thermometer that the kid just broke and needed substituting) when they are "di turno" but keep the door closed "for security reasons". If they are a public monopoly, they shouldn't charge extra for doing what they are supposed to do to be able to keep the monopoly and avoid free competition...

Dave514 said...

As for holidays, so celebrate in your own style. I'm sure the American Embassy has a party on the Forth. Thanksgiving has no particular significance to me, but that's me.

Dialects and linguistic nuances etc., once you've mastered them you can then pray in that language. This latter is a true indication that you really have learned the language.

You must understand that Italians bitch and moan at their own ineffectual government so why not at the US. Remember it is an Italian's duty when asked a question to say, "No." He embraces the sameness of difference and must be convinced of the difference of difference.

Oh learn to be creative, a hot dog in a panino...go for it! Who in their right mind eats chili let alone a Chilidog and Cheese fries...yuck!

Jacques, I hope all turns out OK.

J.Doe said...

I don't live in Italy anymore (although I did for 4 years) It really irritates me when people who have been on vacation ask me 'Why would you ever leave such a place?' implying that I'm some kind of idiot for doing so, but vacationing in a place IS different from living there.
Tourists don't have to wait in line in the Post Office for hours to pay exorbitantly high bills or deal with the extremely small salaries. Tourists also have the money to take lovely day trips in the country. Most Italian citizens, and me when I was living there did not have any extra funds to do anything.

Jacques said...

@Dave514 thanks for the wishes, it is turning out fine: I've been over here for more than twenty years by now. Mine was more observation than complaint. No matter how much you try by yourself to make a holiday normal and celebrate in your own style when you are away from the rest of the celebrants of the holiday, the celebrations feel a bit different. 4th and Thanksgiving were only examples, not end-all and be-all.

Oh, and by the way, I am creative, by nature and by vocation, but every once in a while, even after twenty years, I admit I would love a serious Chicago Dog with relish, onions and mustard or a Bacon Cheeseburger that wasn't McD's style. Or going out for potato skins and margaritas. Without paying €40 at the Hard Rock Cafe to get 2 skins + 1 margarita. The panino and "go for it" is the tourist attitude. After a repeated number of "go for its" you want the original, without additional creativity or interpretation, thus one of the points of the original post.

The consulate parties are imported as well, or "authentic", but in a vacuum. Sort of like how the Guggenheim used to be in Venice (but is no more).

And, as to dialect, a better test than praying I would think is my ability to argue with my in-laws (including mother-in-law) without missing a syllable in dialect. And I DO dream in Italian, which seems the real test. That doesn't mean it isn't easier to understand references to the snap crackle and pop boys than to an overaged teenager drowning in a giant jar of nutella, even after all that time. I think that is the whole point of the post.

I still can't imagine returning to the States to live (maybe one or both of my kids will?), but that doesn't mean there isn't anything to miss. And some people miss some things more than others over here... so thinking of visiting (repeatedly) and thinking of moving here are two completely different considerations.

Dave514 said...

Interesting, dreams are unconscious whereas praying is conscious.

Since, for me, bread is fattening, I enjoy a wiener au naturel, with yellow stuff, so I guess I'd take that choo choo to Muenchen.

Irreverent Italy said...

I just landed in the USA, and, have just enjoyed a few BBQ steaks on the grill, huge baked potatoes, and cupcakes for dessert, piled high with sickening frosting!!!
Let the munchies begin!

Anonymous said...

Cherrye left out the least endearing thing...La Mamma! Or maybe, she had to...