Thursday, September 25, 2008


If you're thinking about buying our house in Italy...or buying any property abroad, then leaving family and friends behind is certainly a big consideration. Leaving your safety net of familiar surroundings, familiar faces and a familiar language can be scary. Aging parents and/or grandparents and grandchildren are usually at the top of everyone's worry list, and rightly so. What if there's an emergency? How will I stay close to my family and friends? Will I become a stranger to my grandkids?

The first thing most expats-to-be have to face is the reaction of friends and family to the decision to move far away. After the initial surprise/shock wears off, you'll find that most people fall into four categories:
  1. First there will be those who truly 'get it'. They'll be excited for you, and excited by the idea that they'll now have an excuse to visit Italy and maybe even a place to stay! To them you'll be a hero. the ones brave enough to take the chance and live the dream.
  2. The second group will be those who truly do NOT 'get it'. These people will ask why you want to leave your home country, and many will even suggest that it's downright UNpatriotic. They see your decision to live in a foreign country as a rejection of your homeland and all it's traditions. These people might even be angry and confrontational.
  3. The third group of people are people who also don't 'get it', but they'll just be so confused about the whole concept of a foreign country that they really don't have much to say. These people have probably never traveled outside their home country, and really don't know why anyone would want or need to do such a thing. One comment often heard from people in this group: "But there's so much to see in the United States!"
  4. The fourth category will consist of close friends and family who definitely support your decision to move whether they understand it or not. They offer their unconditional love and support and just want you to be happy.

Needless to say, the move will be easier if most of your friends and family fall into the first and fourth categories. There's no way to make the people in the second and third categories understand....ever. It's like trying to explain why you fell in love with someone - you can list all their wonderful qualities, but in the end we all know it's that special something, the chemistry or special spark that's just impossible to describe. Art's tried over and over and over to get people to come to Italy so they'll finally get it...but in the end, most of them have no interest in making the trip, and those who have still don't get it.
Try as we might, we've never been able to adequately describe just why we moved to Italy. We just knew. We knew it was the right thing to do and the right time to do it. We also knew it would be hard to leave friends and family, but somehow the pull of Italy was stronger than any other pull.
When my mom's friends found out we were moving to Italy, one of them said, "What are you going to DO?!" My mom just looked at her and said "Nothing. she's 50 years old; I can't ground her or forbid her to go! Sure I'll miss her, but it's what she want to do and I'm happy for her." Unfortunately my mom died before we made the move, but just knowing that I had her unconditional support meant a lot.

My daughter on the other hand, although not surprised when we made the announcement, had quite a different reaction. Actually she had lots of reactions, most of them negative. Yes, I understand that kids are supposed to move away from parents, but parents aren't supposed to move away from their kids! In a sense I'm sure she felt as if I was abandoning her, but all of her reactions were based on HER feelings. Never once did she say she was excited or happy for us. Never once did she say she hoped we'd have fun on our new adventure. Although I DO understand her sadness at our leaving, I was definitely hurt and disappointed that she didn't seem to care that we were really happy and excited!
My son, the real reason we ended up in Italy definitely got it. He'd lived in Italy for two years and he and his wife did their best to really get to know their Italian neighbors, to explore the country and to take advantage of all life in Italy had to offer.

When friends asked if we wouldn't miss our kids and grandkids our answer was "Of course we will, but we can't stay here just because of them!" Given my son's situation in the military, it's doubtful he'll ever return to Louisville, even when he retires. In fact, there's every possibility that he and his family will end up in Europe one day. We told our friends that with so many grandparents now living long distances from their grandchildren, we didn't see much difference between our grandchildren flying to see us in Italy or flying to see us if we'd retired to Florida!

Because neither of us have any living parents or grandparents, that's one concern we didn't have to address, but for many it's a fact of life. As parents and grandparents age and become more dependent on others to drive, or cook, or oversee their financial affairs, making sure you, as well as your family, are comfortable with the arrangements is a must. Although these discussion can be difficult, I'd recommend having a frank talk with your parents and siblings to discuss how future changes will be handled. Knowing that your parents are safe will help you to enjoy your new life.

In the end, we've been lucky that we've been able to go back to the states twice each year. Yes, some friends have drifted away, but new ones have taken their place. We've actually connected with new people in Louisville via the internet who share our love of Italy! Had we stayed in Louisville we probably never would have made these connections. We've also made so many new friends in Italy, a real international group of friends who expand our world and brighten our lives.

After five years people now seem to 'accept' the fact that we live in Italy, but those who didn't understand then still don't understand now. We know now, more than ever, that yes, we made the right decision for us. We keep in touch via email, via this blog, and via our regular visits. In the end, overcoming feelings of guilt or questions of responsibility might be difficult, but once you give yourself permission to live your own life and to follow your heart, everything else just falls into place.

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At 9/25/2008 07:33:00 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

The difference between your grandchildren coming to see you in Italy and coming to see you in Florida is that in the former they would have lots of unique experiences and meet new and interesting people and in the latter they would think they stepped into The Night of the Living Dead, it would be hot as heck, humid ad a lot of the seniors don't bathe.

At 9/25/2008 07:40:00 AM , Blogger Barbara said...


At 9/25/2008 06:32:00 PM , Anonymous Carole in KC said...

What an eye opener post! I'm so happy for you that you followed your heart and have experienced a new culture. Your life as you describe it is so full and rich. No matter what the future holds for you guys, you'll have those memories forever.

40 years ago, my father sacrificed leaving his parents & siblings behind in Sicily so that my mother could be reunited with her mother and siblings in the States and also to discover new experiences.

Now, I'm torn between the 2 countries, as I also have grown children who in the near future will have their own children.

Hopefully, someday I can make a decision such as yours and live with it.

At 9/26/2008 03:31:00 AM , Anonymous Judith in Umbria said...

One very close friend became so angry she started to be abusive and since I moved has never spoken to me again. Go figure. She and her DH lived where I did 6 months a year, but I was not allowed to leave.

At 9/26/2008 05:39:00 AM , Blogger Barbara said...

Carole, we have friends in a similiar situation. He, an Italian, lived in the states for over 25 years. Eventually he wanted to return to Italy, leaving his grown children behind in the states. He and his wife, and their 8 yr old son now live in the small town where he was born, not far from his parents and family. I think there's been an adjustment period for the (American born) wife and child, but in the end all 3 seem very happy they made the move.

Best of luck with whatever you do, but in any event, come spend some time in Italy if you haven't already done so!

Judith, sad as that is, I can believe it....petty jealousy and selfishness can make people do very strange things.


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