“I am the first person to admit that life in Italy is not always a bed of roses. Or rather, it is a bed of roses, but someone neglected to remove the thorns. But this isn’t any old bed. It’s made of roses, after all, and they don’t make beds like that where you come from. And that’s why you laid down in it.”
– My Village in Umbria
I read an article last week by Elizabeth Heath, writer and creator of the blog My Village in Umbria about the mistakes often made by expats in Italy which inspired me to add my two cents to the argument.
Three things she says expats in Italy often do are, ‘expect Italy to accommodate them’, ‘expect to change the culture’ and ‘compare cultures too much’.
I would have to agree. The frustration of living in Italy is discussed ad nauseam by expats. Don’t get me wrong, I’m all up for sharing your experiences but when the attitude turns nasty or to Italy-bashing that’s when I generally start to tune out.
Now, my life in Rome isn’t (and despite perception) a stunning scene straight out of Roman Holiday.
And try as I might emulate the beauty, class and style of the ever beautiful Audrey Hepburn, it’s not La Dolce Vita 24/7.
It’s life. Like life is everywhere else in the world. Where you work, have responsibilities, eat, sleep, pay bills and do supermarket shopping – but granted, for the most part, with the gorgeous backdrop that is Rome.
While I also get frustrated at the world of difference between the Italian way and processes I have been accustomed to, I sure as hell ain’t going to waste energy thinking that I can change it!
Because on a daily basis, I choose to live in this country. And I am accountable for that decision. At any given point, if fed up, I could pack up and go back to my country of origin.
Of course there are things that regularly get on my absolute nerves – big and small.
The big things like postal services, an often humiliating state of politics and system of governance and low level customer service. And the small things like the fact that I have to pack my own bags at the supermarket and nobody but nobody ever has change to give!!! (For one of the largest cash economies in the world this beyond infuriates me!!)
But, just like I accept human difference, I accept that the world is different. And how boring would life be otherwise!
On the points where Italy is different from Australia or perhaps America or even South Africa doesn’t make it wrong.
And this attitude, common among foreign expats, is tiring and will wear you down.
Again, as expats in Italy – for the most part – we have choices. We have chosen to live in Italy. And, despite its systemic and growing problems, there is something that keeps you here.
Generally it will be because it is completely different to where you came from… plus one of many other things (and not just the gelato!) like its beauty, it’s vibrancy, the lifestyle it offers or the chaos and noise versus order and rules.
Something got you here, remember always what that something is and honor it. (Especially on the days where you are told the most simplest of bureaucratic processes can’t be executed!)
You can’t change Italy. Even your best efforts won’t get you close. It’s not how it is ‘back home’ because it just isn’t.
It is what it is.
And for me what it is, is an ever beautiful, sometimes ugly, ridiculous mess that somehow works!
I attended a talk at the American Academy of Rome this week and heard the eloquent and inspiring words of outgoing New York Times Rome bureau chief Rachel Donadio. On Italy and it’s perceived (and real) lack of order, particularly with respect to the recent political and economic climate, she said, (paraphrased): “Living in Italy gets you to face the profound questions in life [about history, civics, governance, etc]. Living somewhere else would be easier but it wouldn’t provide you with anywhere near as much stimulation as Italy does.”
I have now been living in Rome for just over two years. In that time, throughout good and bad moments, it has given me invaluable lessons to take forward in life. It has enriched me in ways I can’t even put into words.
On that note, in a Heart Rome, Heart Italy mood, I say to expats across the country: if you chose to live in Italy, love it and own your decision.
Signing off from Trastevere.