Sunday, June 26, 2005


A friend expressed concern about a recent blog where I had written that I felt like an outsider in Italy. As usual, the written word is never able to express the mood or the attitude of the writer, and is often misconstrued. I’m never sure if what I write comes off as whiny or bitchy when that’s not my intention. Maybe a little clarification about what it means to live in Italy is in order.

One of the most traumatic times in my life was when I was in the seventh grade. My dad called a family meeting to announce that we would be moving from New Albany, Indiana to Pittsburgh. He had been promoted and transferred. I must have cried for days on end. For me it was the end of the world. Having to leave all my friends and relatives at that age was one of most difficult things I can imagine.

Needless to say I absolutely HATED Pittsburgh and everyone associated with it for quite a while, and just about the time I was adjusting to my new life (a year later), my dad announced that we were moving BACK…but we’d be across the river in Louisville, so I’d have to make new friends all over again. Again, more crying.

Had I been the more adventurous sort I’m sure I would have reacted differently, but I also think that my age had a lot to do with it. Girls can be so cliquey and snotty at that age, and I was never really very good at making friends. Unfortunately our move to Louisville wouldn’t take place until October, meaning that I missed the start of the school year and all the helpful and informative activities that are usually held at that time.

Anyway, the point of all this is to let you know that I was never very good at change. I always thought that I would find the perfect house and live there forever. Unfortunately, my ex-husband got that house when we divorced.

When Art and I bought our first house together, we thought we would be there forever. Then we went to a Homearama and found a house we wanted to build. After a few years in that house we decided that the yard was just too much to keep up with, and that considering how much we traveled, a condo might be the best thing. We searched and searched and finally found the perfect condo, and thought we’d be there forever. Then we decided to move to Italy. I was truly amazed at how much I’d changed!

I guess I now realize that wherever Art is, that’s where home is. As long as we’re together, healthy and happy, the location isn’t important. Over the past few months we’ve been questioning our financial ability to stay in Italy due to the weakness of the dollar. I think that since my mom’s estate (finally!) closed, we’re in a little better shape….at least I’m not in CONSTANT panic mode, just occasionally!

When we first realized that we were moving to Italy, of course we were excited. What an adventure! Sure we were scared and nervous and worried, but we knew we’d be together, and as I’ve said before, the pull to Italy was so strong that we both felt absolutely confident about our decision. But still, living in a foreign country isn’t all romance and fun.

Had Art and I decided to retire to Florida, we would have been strangers in whatever city we’d chosen to live in. But as retirees, I’m betting that there would have been others just like us with whom we could have connected for information. And of course although we wouldn’t know our way around, wouldn’t know the cut-throughs or the short cuts, a good map would help us out. Eventually we’d find the best stores by reading the weekly newspaper ads and by talking with neighbors. We’d find doctors and activities and mechanics the same way.

Life in Florida or in any of the fifty states would have had many similarities to life in Kentucky. English is the common language for the newspapers and television and radio. Things work pretty much the same no matter where you are. We know how to use the phone book, and how to call and ask for help or information.
When you’re living in a foreign country, things aren’t quite so easy. Finding a support system can be difficult, but of course we’ve been lucky because we found our friend Wendy at the beginning of our search. Over the past twenty months we’ve been extremely fortunate to meet other expats. Some have been here for a long time and shared their knowledge with us, while others have come after us, allowing us to be the ones to share. In both cases our love of Italy has been the bond.

As for our Italian friends, they have been slower to come, but that’s obviously due (at least in part) to the language barrier. When we have managed to struggle by with our broken Italian, everyone has been unbelievably kind and helpful. But of course new friends aren’t the same as old friends. We don’t share a history with these people, or even the same frames of reference. We’ve grown up in different cultures, and although we love learning about life in Italy, it can be disconcerting to be so unfamiliar with so many aspects of life here.

Yes, we’re adventurers now, and that comes at a cost. Living in Italy forces us (me!) to be more willing to take a chance, to try something new, to not worry about feeling uncomfortable. It’s teaching me to be more open to other people and other cultures. It’s helping me to see the world as it really is: people….just people. Maybe we speak different languages or have different customs, and maybe we don’t quite understand why things are done a certain way, we still understand that we CAN be happy here.

We don’t have the roots or the history that we would have living in the United States, but we have so much more. We don’t ever have to worry about taking our lives for granted or losing our sense of adventure. Although it might be unsettling to live in a place where we don’t really understand why things work the way they do, it’s also tremendously rewarding. Maybe the very fact that I feel slightly unsettled will force me keep exploring and learning. And so far, the more I learn about Italy, the more I love it.


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