Something About Italy - An American In Rome
1) How did you end up in Italy ?
I moved to Rome for graduate school. I did my master’s degree in economics (with a focus on international policy) at an Italian university. That led to an internship and eventually a job. Though, a few weeks after I arrived, I also met the man I would later marry – so there were many reasons to stay.
2) How much of the Italian culture were you familiar with before you moved there?
Oh god. I wish I could say that I knew a lot but I have learned something new about Italian culture every day for the last eight years and I can only imagine how much there is left to learn. I was familiar with the Hollywood version of Italian culture and Italian-American culture but neither are a great reflection of real day-to-day life in Italy.
3) What were the biggest cultural differences you experienced ? Are there any you dislike? Which one is your favourite?
Personal space. In America, we have a lot of space and we leave a lot of space. This applies in all public places – from the bus to a restaurant. But in Italy, even if the metro is nearly empty, you can almost be sure that someone is going to sit near you. And if it’s not empty – someone is likely to be right up against you.
Coming from a workaholic culture, I actually love the work-life balance and the insistence that Italians have on taking their holidays. If they are away, the business is closed and they will not be responding to your email, phone call or text. I love that this “break-taking” is built into the expectations of the way life is lived. I also like that this singular focus stretches to other pleasurable parts of life like meals – it is about taking the time to really enjoy.
4) Is Italy all roses and as romantic as people like to portray it is?
Not when you are waiting for the bus that never comes, or paying taxes, or trying to achieve one of the countless bureaucratic tasks that life in Italy is made up of. However, I think that the good outweighs the bad and I really enjoy the kind of things that we can do, places we can see, and delicious foods we can eat without ever stepping foot outside of Italy.
5) What were the biggest challenges you faced when you moved there?
Understanding all of the unwritten rules about how things are done that locals understand innately. I didn’t know how and where to pay for things, how to ask for what I needed, or how to insist when I was indeed right. A part of it has to do with language, but it is also really about the ways things work (which you take for granted in your own country of birth).
6) Would you recommend moving to Italy and why?
Moving to Italy was the most difficult and the best decision that I ever made. Living here can make complete sense and make your wildest dreams come true, or it can be 100% the wrong move. It depends entirely on your priorities. If you want to make money: Italy is not the place for you. If you are a planner who likes things to work a certain way – Italy might frustrate you. If you want a life that makes do with what you have, but is filled with friends, family, food, and wonderful places and people – then you might want to think about moving to Italy.
7) How does it feel being foreign but wanting to embrace and feel part of a culture that is not yours? Do the Italians treat you like an Italian or do you always feel a little foreign or more like a visitor than a local?
I am very comfortable with being a foreigner in Italy. I’m not Italian, but I absolutely feel like a local. Rome is my city and I have spent nearly a decade researching and exploring it, but mainly I simply live here. I shop at the market, visit my neighbours, take my coffee at the bar, and am a part of the community. And I have a true curiosity and appreciation for Italian culture. I don’t have any shyness about asking Italians to explain something to me so that I can have the chance to understand it better. I will always be American but it does not diminish how much I embrace Italian culture while maintaining my own traditions. But one of my favorite things about watching my son grow up here is how Italian my neighbors consider him. He may have an Irish father and an American mother but he will always be “Testaccino” in their eyes.
8) Is the saying 'home is where the heart is' true for you? Do you think of your birthplace often and your family and friends back home?
Living in Italy is amazing but I miss my friends and family immensely. I hate living 14 hours flying and 9 time zones away. Especially now that we have a child of our own, I feel very far away. I miss California a lot, so living in Italy is often bittersweet.
9) Do you think you will reside there forever or will you return home one day?
I always say that I am from San Diego but Italy is home. Italy has been the place where I have spent most of my adult life. It is where I finished my education, where I lived when I got engaged and then married, and where my son was born.
If moving to a new country has taught me anything, it is that I can’t say what forever will bring. I would like to find a way to spend more time in California (I usually go back once a year for a few weeks), but I honestly cannot imagine leaving Rome.