It’s my Italiverssary. 3 years ago today I got a plane from Canada to Italy to stay.
Well, actually, yesterday was the day. But I didn’t get to posting until now. Nonetheless, here’s to 3 years and counting living in bella Italy!
It really doesn’t feel like 3 years have passed already. This may be because I’ve been a bit of a nomad in the course of my time here; we first lived with Alessio’s parents, sister, and nonno in an apartment in Milan (way to get close with the family straight up, right?!) when I first landed in Italy in July. That whole summer was spent traveling around the country with visiting friends, our Italian wedding in Tuscany, and our honeymoon in Greece. Getting back to Milan as our first Italian homebase, we moved to our own apartment in the Fall, and moved to another just a couple months later. I’ve been back to Canada a couple times for a couple of months at a time. After deciding Milan was not for us within the first year, we headed for Florence, all on our own.
We moved mid-month and our apartment wasn’t available until month’s end, so our landlord so kindly offered their “casina” or little guest house on their property in the outskirts of Florence in Galluzzo. It was more of a log cabin. Log room, more accurately. It was my first summer in Florence and I roasted in there. It was like living in a forno a legna (wood oven). I certainly could not complain about the vastness of space around us on the property though, complete with panoramic views to settle me into Toscana the right way.
Since moving into our apartment in Florence, we haven’t left. Until we are ready to buy, I don’t foresee us leaving either. We love our little place, in it’s great location just outside of the city centre, with a pretty view of Fiesole and my favourite “broccoli trees” (Mediterranean pines) that line a stream that flows into the Arno. It’s a short bike ride to work, it’s close to a park (because this Canadian needs some sort of green space!), and it’s got a bathtub (a rarity here but must for my casa dolce casa).
I’ve experienced a number of stages of living in Italy, in no particular order, and often overlapping or recurring. You start more like an enthusiastic tourist (with gawking at everything around you blissfully exclaiming, “how is it possible that I actually live here?!) , to a new resident both in love and denial with where you live (the gawking has become occasionally embittered as you scoff “how is it possible that I actually live here?!”), to a humbled acceptance that culture shock is a very real thing no matter how tough of a person you may be and you’re not really sure how to define “home” or even “self” anymore. Then you start to become ok with that, even welcoming of the exciting unknowns and growth. It’s almost addictive, but in a non-narcissistic kind of way.
Suddenly down the line you find yourself a local raging at tourist mobs that block your bike path while you wave exaggerated gestures like a true Italian would. Take that a step further and you catch yourself actually envious of tourists who leisurely enjoy your city while you press on in the daily grind.
For those of you who may be in your first year or so of living in Italy, or I’ll risk referring to really any expat anywhere, HOLD ON! Hold on to the littlest of little things. Those sweet little successes. Celebrate them. Celebrate the fact that you navigated your way through the grocery store, even if it was just for a single item. Celebrate that you figured out how to use that antique key to open your front door. Celebrate that your bidet, while it annoyingly takes up space in your tiny bathroom, can be used to hand-wash clothes or shave your legs. If you go to any government office, celebrate if you come out alive, even if you don’t get what you need to done (Italians themselves do the same, no shame, glass of wine in hand!). Realize that your resilience is going to shoot through the roof, and it is already rising right now. I know you might not “see the light” right now. I smiled and nodded doubtfully at those who told me I would see it too when I was head-spinning here in my first year. Only 3 have passed for me, so I’m still considerably a “newbie,” but I can promise you that you will make it out alive, stronger than most people you know, and about as ready for any challenge put on your piatto that is to be served. There are many times that I look back to a year, two years, heck, even a week ago, and I think “hey, go me! I’ve learned a TON about this place, this lifestyle, this ME already and I’m actually really loving it now!” It becomes so much less of a painful struggle when you really just choose to embrace it.
The trick is, you’ve got to embrace the uncertainty. Because you see, you come here with all your perceptions of Italy (or wherever), and you can’t help that really, but you will quickly be slapped in the face with a whole set of new ones, the realities, that are often great but still just as shocking as the harder-to-accept ones. Why? Because it’s different. Different in ways you just couldn’t prepare for until you got here and lived it out. And so you are! Give yourself a pat on the back right this second.
Even people who just travel here without even transferring their whole life here indefinitely can kind of botch their trip experience by packing their preconceived notions of Italy in their baggage along with their belongings. What? No chicken alfredo? What? You expect me to down this unwatered-down coffee straight up in this shotglass-like little cup just standing here at a bar and move on my merry way? I want to relax with my coffee! What? You’re having ANOTHER coffee when I am standing here at your window where you’re supposed to be serving me, the customer, and not yourself another coffee break?!!
Whether just passing through or sticking around for the long haul, be humbled and be happy to be humbled. You’re going to be, whether you like it or not! I have always been a strong, confident, independent woman type. I totally thought I “had this” whole move-to-another-country-culture-language-everything thing. I knew it wasn’t going to be easy, but, pffff, I could deal with it like a boss! Shock hit me on a whole other level – I confess, this tough girl had somewhat of an identity crisis. But in the end, I’m really glad I did! I learned so much about me, and learned that this is just where I am supposed to be.
While for me, Canada may be “better” at some things and Italy may be “better” in others, it just comes down to that they are both just different. Accepting them as such is the key to your own happiness, even sanity. Catch yourself in the comparison dance and boogie your way on out of that pattern until you’re in a place of contended contentment. If it doesn’t match your perspective of how it was “supposed to be,” chances are that it wasn’t in fact supposed to be that way in the first place. Reality check: Your fantasy may be the very thing holding you back from enjoying the reality. If you want authenticity, you have to allow and accept what’s around you to be as they are. Then graciously move along as you are, or rather, as a better person for it. At least this is what I’m taking from all this!
I found that the more I tried to look for a “comfort zone” the more I got uncomfortable! Looking for what I thought would make me comfortable here actually frustrated me senseless. Now, I just let those old senses of comfort stumble upon me when they might (and they do, don’t worry), and learn a new sense of comfort – finding joy in embracing the challenges. The same things don’t all matter to me as they did before, and there are new things that are important which I never expected them to be. On that note…I’m a blogger now? I never thought I would be “Gina the blogger.” I made fun of all those blogger weirdos before. Now I’m proud to be one. 🙂
Actually, the blog thing is a good example of the concept I’m trying to get at here. This blog is a “newbie.” It’s a beautiful mess, constantly under development. It’s developer doesn’t know what she’s doing (*awkward uncouth wave*). Social media is a whole other language I have to learn, along with Italian and trying not to forget my English (seriously though, another shock for this English major). But piano piano as they always say here (slowly!), I’m doing it! And it’s been a fun journey so far.
I asked the husband, Alessio, “what do you remember about me when I first moved here?” And he responded: “You were blonde. You complained I didn’t feed you enough. You always missed grass.” That was deep, amore mio, thanks. So there you have it, I was a blonde food-fanatic, grass-crawler. This does sum up some things though. Those things haven’t changed. I’m naturally dark blonde and just being a little more of my natural self, letting the sun kiss the highlights in. Here in Italy they say, “il sole bacia i belli” – “the sun kisses the beautiful” so I don’t need dye 😉 I still LOVE to eat but now I’ve adjusted to ordering for myself whenever I want it (gelato anyone? Yes, now.), and I have adjusted to and even prefer eating at later hours in the day than I did my whole life (6pm is still practically lunch time, guys). I still run rampant like a wild child in grass when I see it here, but I would painfully long for the rolling green hills covered in vineyards, orchards, cypress and pine if I were away from them. The cobblestones always call me to adventure too, never ceasing to mystify me with how many centuries of souls have paraded them before.
Keep putting one foot in front of the other one whatever path you’re on, whether you’re walking, running, crawling, or getting back up again after a fall or detour. Don’t forget to celebrate the smallest and even silliest things, even giving them fun names if you want to, like “Italiverssary” to make them more official.
What was your experience of adjusting to a foreign place? Did you come to call that place home?