Something About Italy - Girl in Florence
1) How did you end up in Italy ?
I first came to Italy as a study abroad student in 2005, at the time I was living in Los Angeles for university but I am originally from San Antonio, Texas. My program lasted a full calendar year which really helped to give me time to get to know Florence a little better than most study abroad programs that only last for a semester. After finishing my degree in Los Angeles, I returned to Italy in the Fall of 2007 and haven’t really left ever since. Now it’s been over 10 years that I’ve called the city of Florence my home. They can’t get rid of me.
2) How much of the Italian culture were you familiar with before you moved there?
I have to admit, almost nothing! My original plan was to study in London as my degree was in political science at the time. Florence was a happy accident but one that I felt in no way prepared for. In fact, most people in my program were well versed in Italian or held some sort of Italian heritage and I could barely pronounce cappuccino properly. I felt later though, that this worked to my advantage, as I didn’t hold any sort of fantasies on what life might actually be like on the boot. I took everything as it came, the good, the bad and my awkward butchering of the beautiful Italian language.
3) What were the biggest cultural differences you experienced ? Are there any you dislike? Which one is your favourite?
I suppose like most people, there were plenty. I had a very American approach to life and efficiency and I had to learn that the phrase “time is money” doesn’t really apply in Italy. The country moves at a slower pace that can be infuriating if you yourself are the one being worked through a bureaucratic game of mind craft. I disliked what I felt to be total apathy by public sector employees and by locals who accepted things or looked the other way for things that I felt were “not ok” like insisting on being paid in cash/al nero, making clear traffic violations or general rudeness/line jumping. Also, the work situation has been always quite tenuous for most people when I first arrived. However, what I have gained from living here is far more important and valuable. Italians value their sit-down mealtime with loved ones and so do I, I know how to whip up any type of dish with relative ease and I don’t stress about the small stuff as much as I used to. I was able to build a career and thrive here by almost not having any other options, I’m not to sure that would have happened if I didn’t live here. I know everything will be ok and that I need to enjoy my life as best I can. I don’t mind living in a small apartment and haven’t cared about owning a dryer or car in 10 years. It’s amazing how life can be totally different from that of your friends where you grew up but how utterly happy you can be with less.
4) Is Italy all roses and as romantic as people like to portray it is?
I might not be the person you want to ask this question haha, because I will tell you that I am a pragmatic person who doesn’t hold stars in her eyes, unless you are waving a pizza or rum babà under my nose! I find the people that tend to idolize Italy are the ones who don’t live here or haven’t really spent time having to jump through life’s many hurdles to get where they are. It’s perfect for me, and I love and appreciate this country like no other, but I have seen many a person arrive with dreams and goals only to slink back home a few years later after becoming isolated, playing the “compare” game and realizing that it takes years and decades to get settled in a place (by the way this applies anywhere, not just Italy).
5) What were the biggest challenges you faced when you moved there?
You name the challenge, I had to deal with it. Honestly everything, getting a visa to stay here, changing that visa to be able to work, finding a stable job, realizing that I had to work multiple jobs, not having opportunities to grow in a career at the same pace as what I felt other people in other places were experiencing, dealing with casual apathy and dismissiveness from locals, finding true and lasting friendships. Luckily things are a lot easier now but we have to keep in mind that it’s been eleven years here. It took me a lot of time to find my way, even with the added help of living with an Italian family for the first 7 years of that time.
6)Would you recommend moving to Italy? And why?
You have to ask yourself why you want to. If it’s because you are missing something in your life back home or think Italy is the best place ever after one vacation, consider making a change that isn’t as dramatic as legally moving to another country first. Try to create that community, embrace learning how to cook, forage, visit farmer’s markets, plan trips and come to Italy every year for a month or two, that might be the better option. If you really want to make a go of it it here, make sure to have your legal game lined up as far as getting a visa and enroll in an Italian language school. You need to learn the language even if you think you don’t. It’s important to try and integrate as much as possible and the key to that is learning the language.
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 think I touch on this subject best in one of my blog posts here, but I can say that it can be complicated at times. I’ll give you an example. My husband is French but speaks without an accent in Italian (keep in mind, we both speak fluently) when people meet him they think he is Italian so his “Frenchness” is almost always forgotten. However, the fact that you can tell I’m an American both my accent and physique, kind of puts me in that “place” when someone gets to know me for the first time. Many people come and go in Florence so naturally someone doesn’t know me, they may assume I am a transient too. Someone might ask me for directions in Italian and as I am describing the route, they are already scanning the street to ask someone they deem “more local.” I’ve tried to rid myself of the accent but alas it is more powerful than me! That being said, despite the fact that Florence is known for being well rather cold to people, I do feel accepted by forcing my way into the conversation and community. YOU have to be the one to make that effort, people are not going to come to you unless they want you to teach their kids English. Once again, I think this applies anywhere, not just Italy. Personally, I feel like what I am, a person who was born in the USA; raised there but who identifies more with the European cultural mindset. Home is here.
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?
Yes, but I believe that the concept of “home” is wherever you feel most like you. For me, that’s here, not San Antonio, Texas where I feel more like an alien. I do miss my family and friends back home and I try to visit as much as possible, especially as my parents get older, but the itch to get back to Europe is pretty strong. They know that and appreciate that I am always going to be their “Georgette” who loves Mexican food and snow cones but who has chosen a life elsewhere, inclusive of their visits of course. I wouldn’t be the same person I am without having grown up where I did and making various life choices that were different than the “norm.”
9) Do you think you will reside there forever or will you return home one day?
I do believe that my home is here and that also means that I may need to leave one day for my husband’s job for a few years. I do think that we will always come back to Florence and that for us, this is where we see ourselves growing old and raising a family. I have a great support system here and while I love visiting Texas and California, I can’t really see myself living there ever again.