Have you ever fantasized of living in Italy?
I have been living as an Italian expat in the UK for many years now and although I love it here I cannot deny that over the years I have often had ups and downs. The grass is not always greener on the other side.
As soon as you mention Italy people imagine beaches with crystal clear waters, mountain skiing, fantastic food and happy people.
But what is it really like living in Italy? If I had to move back there I would know what to expect but for a non Italian national living in a different country every day life can be quite challenging. You need to get used to a different culture, different habits and lifestyle.
Today I am introducing you to my friend Diana: a bubbly, happy-go-lucky American girl who is happily married to an Italian and settled very well in Northern Italy.
Diana writes her own Italian blog: Italy Translated which I can certainly recommend: there you can find lots of interesting articles about the good and bads of Italian life, beautiful Italian recipes, Italian language lessons and lots more.
Where exactly in America do you come from?
I am from Houston, Texas.
Did you move to Italy on your own? How long have you been living there?
I moved to Italy because my husband got a job transfer here – so we moved as a family when my two kids were three years old and three months old. We have been here for nine years! (Yikes! WHERE does the time go?)
Italy is renowned for “La dolce vita”, is that the case? Was it up to your expectations?
This is a complicated question. Yes, the Italians are known for living the good life, but they are also known for the dreaded red tape – so it is not all dolce vita. I spent a significant amount of time in Italy before moving here, so I had a pretty good idea of what to expect. But I admit in the beginning, I experienced more of the red tape aspect of life than the dolce vita side of life.
How did you find having to learn a new language?
Ha, ha, ha, this is a fabulous question because let’s just say I am still learning. I must admit that although I have been living here for nine years, my Italian is still somewhat limited. Sometimes my kids actually have to help me out as they are completely fluent in both languages. In fact, my 13 year old LOVES making fun of my broken Italian. This is mainly due to the fact that we only speak English at home, and I teach and write my blog in English as well. Ok, and also, I am little lazy.
Which were the biggest challenges you had to face when settling in Italy?
The biggest challenge was the language barrier. I felt totally stifled. I couldn’t make a doctor appointment or speak with my children’s’ teachers or even order dinner. I felt very cut off from society and very dependent on my husband to take care of everything.
Also, I think just going from a suburban life to city life alone was a challenge. Something as simple as buying groceries was difficult the first few times. I could not just jump in the car and load up the trunk with 15 bags of groceries. I had to go almost every day and could only buy as much as I could load in the baby stroller.
Lack of space in the house was another factor. We went from living in a four-bedroom, two-bathroom home in Austin to living in a two-bedroom, one-bath apartment in Milan.
But I can honestly say these last two “challenges” turned out to be positive things in my life for a few reasons. Gone were the days of buying things I did not need because of the limited space in the house. There was something so liberating about this. Also, doing the shopping every day became a pleasure. I came to know everyone in the tiny grocery store I visited and enjoyed buying the food for the day.
How do you rate the quality of life and the cost of living compared to America?
The quality of life depends on the day! In America we enjoy lots of space, convenience, efficiency and a positive attitude towards customers. In Italy many things are not easy or convenient apart maybe from getting a great cup of coffee as excellent cafes can be found on every street corner in Italy. But something as simple as mailing a package takes an act of congress – EVERY TIME. So on errand day, maybe the quality of life in America is better.
However, once you accept that daily errands will probably take a lot longer than what you are used to, the quality of life here is wonderful. There are many obvious reasons like the history, food, architecture and the amazing natural beauty. The pace of life is fast here too and everyone works hard, but when it is time for pleasure, the Italians really know how to do that part right. Things like family time, vacation, mealtime and even gelato time are meant to be savored and enjoyed.
As far as the cost of living, when we first moved here things seemed to cost more in Italy. But in the past years, things have gotten expensive in the USA, even in a place with a relatively low cost of living like Texas. Housing and gasoline still cost a lot more here and salaries overall seem to be lower in Italy.
Which are the things you love most about Italian life?
Of course I am just like everyone else and love the fabulous food, amazing surroundings and fun people. But I think my favorite thing is just feeling connected. In Texas, we spend a lot of time in our cars and don’t regularly come into contact with people and friends living in our neighborhoods. In Italy you do a lot of walking and therefore run into friends and acquaintances wherever you go. I love when I go to the market and run into the older woman who lives down the street or calzolaio (the shoe repair man). And I love that everyone at the market knows me.
Which American foods do you miss most? Can you find any of your favourites in Italy?
First on the list for sure is the doughnut! I love American doughnuts! The deep-fried, sugary, melt in your mouth doughnut. The Italians can’t make them. They think they can, but there is no comparison. This is basically because Italians don’t care for overly fried and sugary foods. Too bad too! Because sometimes a girl just REALLY needs a high dose of sugar to get her through her day! Another similar situation is the apple pie. Again, the Italians just don’t make them sweet enough. I know this should be a good thing, and it is, but not when it comes to doughnuts and apple pie.
Coming from Texas, I also miss BBQ and TexMex. I always wondered why there are no Mexican restaurants in Italy. I think they would do really well here.
Any tips to someone who has the “Italian dream” and is thinking of moving to Italy?
If you are thinking of moving to Italy, just come with a very open mind and be prepared to be patient. Things take time here – a lot of time. But this can be a blessing in disguise, I tend to be pretty high strung, but living in Italy has really taught me to take it down a notch and just go with the flow.