Living in Italy, tips and mistakes to avoid.

I’m the first person to admit that life in Italy is not always a bed of roses. Or rather, it’s a bed of roses, but someone neglected to remove the thorns. So just like you feel comfortable and cozy on that sweet smelling bed, you get bitten and it hurts. Then you curse the bed and the whole idea of ​​the bed and who had the idea to lay in that stupid bed anyway and why can’t it be like all the other beds and why isn’t it not like my old bed at home?

But this is not just any old bed. It’s made of roses, after all, and that doesn’t make beds like that where you come from. And that’s why you lay there.

I know I write from a privileged position. My emigration to Italy and, above all, my transition to life here, were infinitely facilitated by the fact that I married an Italian. It allowed me – forced me, really – to Learn the language, customs and culture. It taught me patience and perseverance, and it made my skin thicker a lot.

So maybe it’s because of this position that I can observe a lot of mistakes that I see my expatriate colleagues making in Italy. And I’m not talking about newcomers, I mean people who have been here for years, even decades. I doubt it is easy to relocate to any country, especially when the language of that country is not your native language. Corn I’m going to judge my Anglo-Saxon compatriots here, so get ready for the top five mistakes expats make in Italy.

1) They don’t learn the language.

This one seems to be fundamental, and yet … too many expats never learn enough Italian to function here, or at least to function properly here.

Outside of cities and tourist areas, Italians in general, even young people Italians, do not speak English. It’s not France, after all, where they speak it and just pretend they don’t. The result is that English speakers are often frustrated. It’s nice to grope around in a discussion in Italian when you’re at the bar or the produce market, and you can laugh, gesture and make faces to make yourself understood.

Try to do this over the phone with the cable company or gas company, or when trying to make an appointment for a major medical exam. Hell, that made me cry before, and that was with Comcast, in the United States!

The first year I was here, whenever I needed to make such a call, I would try to pass the phone to Paolo and have him call for me.

He quickly started returning the phone to me and I was complaining like my little one does when she doesn’t get what she wants. But he was right to make me talk on the phone. I have expat friends who have yet to ask someone (often me) to call them or be present to translate when they need to speak to the gas company or request a service from their gas supplier. Internet access or talk to a contractor.

When they try to do it on their own more often than not disaster ensues, because they thought they were explaining what they wanted or understood what they were being told, and they were wrong.

2) they stick to their own kind.

See article # 1. You cannot learn Italian if you speak English all day. This is naturally more difficult for couples, who speak English to each other all the time. But the end result is that most of them never learn enough Italian. And beyond language skills, they do not fully integrate into their communities.

In the big cities, it’s the Americans next door who beckon their neighbors and say buongiorno but little more; in small towns it is the curious stranieri that the locals tolerate, may even like, but really don’t understand. And the reverse is also true. An expat who doesn’t socialize with Italians, invites them out for dinner and accepts invitations, goes to community festivals, and lends a helping hand wherever possible will never fit in in Italy.

I admit that stranieri in Italy will always be considered stranieri-I am Paolo’s wife but I am still “the Americana”. But you are not part of a community by sitting in your living room talking to your partner in English.

the inner circle test

3) They expect Italy to welcome them.

I spent several summers in Italy before settling here permanently four years ago. During these summers I have learned two things about how to cope with a culture and attitudes so different from “home”.

1. Accept that Italy is not a culture of service, and 2. Suspend your expectations.

Expats who come here expect Customer service, whether in a restaurant or a clothing store or on the phone with Sky Italia will become very frustrated, very quickly. I’m not saying it’s right for Italy to be like that; I’m just saying yes, and that’s not going to change for a table full of whiny Americans upset because they can’t have extra cheese on their pasta. In America, it’s the norm to ask for extra cheese, wait for free top-ups, and happily exchange jokes with a bank teller, salesperson, or customer service representative. But in Italy, these people don’t care about you. Maybe they don’t in America either, but here they don’t even try to pretend.


This brings me to my second point, concerning the suspension of your expectations. Expats who come here expecting things to turn out well, according to their wishes and in a timely manner will be disappointed every time. The Italians themselves never have these expectations. On the positive side, when you let go of those expectations, on the rare occasion when things go smoothly, at the right time and according to your whims, it’s all the more rewarding because it’s so rare.

4) They hope to change the culture.

We all came here because we love Italy, right? And then after a while we find out that there is a lot of unkind things about Italy. At the top of my very long list is hunting, mistreatment of pets, littering, and a beggarly attitude. The truth is, some of these hunters are our friends and family and while I don’t like what they are doing, they are not monsters.

So I wince every time a shotgun goes off during hunting season – where I live is pretty much all fall and winter – because I can’t stop the hunters. to hunt. I reported my neighbors to the vet police and picked up other people’s garbage. These are the things I can control.

What I can’t control is how Italians do business, what time they eat, how complicated it is to get a driver’s license or their exaggerated sense of bella figura (basically, saving the day). face). However, I have an expatriate friend who organizes his dinners at 6.30 am, wants to write letters to every state agency he’s been frustrated with (and I guess that’s a lot of letters), expects his Italian colleagues to adapt to his very aggressive, very American style to do business, and will send restaurant food regularly if it is not exactly to his liking. I have already told him and I repeat it to him: you are not going to change Italy, and Italy is not going to change for you.

5) They compare cultures, too many.

Yes, peanut butter, Mexican food (another like-minded expat blogger Toni DeBella and I here), TJMaxx, air conditioning, and customer service. Yes, in a conversation with Italians I will say from time to time and quite cautiously something like: “You know, in America, maybe we are doing ___ a little better than in Italy”. But expats who are constantly nostalgic for how their home country is much more orderly, efficient, friendly, affordable, cleaner and less corrupt, makes me wonder why they left.

Uncle Sam

I’ve also noticed that this nostalgic waxing (which is actually just my pretty way of saying “complain”) snowballs. BBefore you know it, you find yourself among a bunch of expats who condemn pretty much everything about Italy and Italians– the way they drive, dress, smoke, drink, eat, possibly even how they have sex. (For the record, based on my limited experience, I have no complaints about the latter.) By complaining about the group, expatriates put even more space, more “otherness” between themselves and their compatriots. and adopted compatriots. It’s negative, isolating and totally contrary to their supposed mission to feel happier and more at ease in Italy.

Again, I might be lucky. Every time I start to miss the United States another mass shooting happens in my homeland, and I’m happy to live in a much less violent, trigger-happy, inexplicably proud nation. I’m happy I live in a country and a continent that does not poison bees and view the protest as an act of treason. Of course, I still love America and sometimes miss it. But I made my bed of roses, and I’m ready, really grateful, to lay down there, thorns and so forth.

Ph: Diego Mariottini /