Category Archives: first person

Video: Italian Hand Speak

Inspired by Sara Rosso’s video of Italians dancing with their hands, I took my Flip HD out to Milan’s Piazza Duomo to capture a bit of hand jive for practice.

A couple of random observations: most of the pairs, for as much as they vary in age, sex, etc., have one person doing the talking and the gesticulating. Non-Italians often think everyone here flails with their arms as they speak, but as you can see, the movements are more like punctuation: concise, controlled, specific.

My favorite is probably the guy near the metro stairs who “draws” elaborate figures while entertaining his friend. This guy really did quite a dance around with his arms and was hypnotizing to watch.

This was a lot harder to shoot than I would’ve thought: even in Milan where you can easily stumble out for a cappuccino and onto a fashion shoot, movie set or a tourists’ holiday snaps, people are aware you’re filming them. (Sara turned her camera on some relatives for those great close-ups).

I’d like to shoot a companion version in Southern Italy for contrast — next time I’m closer to the Boot heel I will — but I expect that there it’ll be even more challenging to get close enough with such a small camera.

Danette St.Onge (Florence)

First Person: Real Life In Italy

Each month we introduce you to someone who has made the dream of picking up and moving to the Bel Paese a reality. In their own words they share the good parts, the bad parts and the just plain absurd moments of day-to-day life in Italy.

Looking to move to Italy? Try the reader-recommended Survivor Package
If you live in Italy, we would love to hear your story–contact us at editor@zoomata.com .

ID Card: Danette St.Onge, freelance web designer / translator from California, in Italy for almost two years.
Hobbies: painting, drawing, knitting, writing, cooking
My personal website: www.danettestonge.com

Currently living in: Florence

By way of: I’m from California and have also lived in Massachusetts and Bangkok, Thailand.

How (or why) did you get here from there?
One of my Thai aunts is married to an Italian, and my family visited them in Velletri (near Rome) for the first time when I was about 13. I fell in love at first sight and from that time I’d always dreamed of living here one day.
After studying Italian in SF for nearly two years, I applied for and received a scholarship to study at a language school in Florence. At the end of the month I decided I wanted to stay and so began searching for a job. My experience, the help of a lot of friends, and some good luck helped me land a job redesigning the web site of the Istituto e Museo di Storia della Scienza.

What role did language skills play in your experience?
A very important role – studying the language was what brought me here in the first place and without an advanced knowledge of Italian I never would have been able to find the job that I did or battle my way through the hellish bureaucratic system alone.
I really think you’d miss out on a great part of the cultural experience by living in a country and never bothering to learn the language, at the very least at a conversational level. I have some friends who have been here just as long as I have but still don’t speak a word. It’s sad.

Your biggest challenge:
Everything has been difficult, I literally dismantled my life and left everything to come here without any security or assurances. But especially being an American in Florence, which is, as a Florentine friend put it “plagued” by American students and tourists, and especially during this time when Italians are very against the U.S.’s political actions, it’s been hard to get taken seriously by a lot of Italians who might see me at first as just another ugly American “passing through”. The fact that I speak Italian and that I don’t get drunk and vomit in the streets helps.

What did you do to feel at home or adapt here?
I made sure in the beginning to live with Italians and interact almost exclusively with Italians, read only in Italian, etc., in order to accelerate my learning through “full immersion”.
I also was willing to be flexible, I had to change a lot of my ideas and opinions and give up a lot of things I’d been really adamant about before. (Example: smoking – in California you can be horrified if someone lights up in a restaurant but here everyone smokes, everywhere, all the time, so secondhand smoke is something you just have to deal with.)

Compare an aspect of your town (or other place you’ve lived) to current town:
Unfortunately the cost of living in Florence is pretty comparable (if not higher than) that in San Francisco, although salaries are much lower.
As for transportation, I love the fact that I can walk everywhere. The traffic in SF was absolute torture and played a large part in my decision to leave. Parking a car in both SF and Florence is impossible but luckily I’ve never had to try it here.
Finding an apt Florence was extremely difficult since so many people here make their living by ripping off foreigners. It took me the better part of a year to finally find my current place, which I love. However the hard part is just finding the apartment. It’s not like in SF, where you need to battle other apartment seekers and then provide credit ratings, interviews, references, bank statements, blood samples, etc., in order to “win” the place.
Finding a job in SF is very hard but finding a legitimate job in Florence is nearly impossible. I am the only one of all of the Americans that I know here who works legally. Even an “al nero” job is tough.

Latest pursuits:
I’ve recently started doing a lot of freelance translation work, which I really enjoy and which pays pretty well.
In my practically non-existent “free time” I really want to try to finish enough paintings to have a show here.

A preconceived notion about Italians/Italy that is not true:
I think in the U.S. we have this old-fashioned notion of Italians having huge families. It is true that Italians, especially the men, are very connected to their families (read: mothers), and that they tend to live with their parents well into their thirties. But few people get married these days and even fewer have children. The Italian population is declining – Italy has the lowest birth rate in Europe and one of the lowest in the world. Oddly enough, however, Italians really do adore children.

A preconceived notion about Italians/Italy that is true:
I’m sorry to say that so far most of my Italian friends haven’t done much to disprove the widespread notion that they (particularly the men) are unfaithful. Cheating in relationships is often not only tolerated, but almost expected. Certainly not everyone is unfaithful, but infidelity seems much more prevalent. Of course this is just based on my own experiences and those of my friends. Maybe it’s just Florence.

Your response to the following question: “I really want to live here, but I don’t speak Italian or have a job. What do you think?”
Above all it is important to realize that living in Italy is not at all the same thing as a vacation or study abroad experience here. Italy is a beautiful country, with fabulous food and people who really know how to enjoy life. But unless you are lucky enough to be independently wealthy and have no need to work, you need to keep in mind that living in another country is not at all that different than living where you are – you’ll have to work, a lot, in order to survive. And living in Italy is frankly difficult. Nothing is organized, efficient or convenient, costs are high and salaries are low.

My best advice is to be sure that you’re really committed and don’t have delusions of an extended European vacation, and definitely make an effort to learn the language first.


How would you sum up your Italian experience in a word (and why)?

Growth. Above all my experiences here have really helped me change and grow as a person, and I feel much stronger in spite of all the difficulties.

Italy’s best-kept secret?
Bresaola (sliced of cured beef) – not many people know about this but it’s so much better (and less fatty) than prosciutto.

Cindy Hayes, (Catania, Sicily)

First Person: real life in Italy

Each month we introduce you to someone who has made the dream of picking up and moving to the Bel Paese a reality.
In their own words they share the good parts, the bad parts and the just plain absurd moments of day-to-day life in Italy.

ID Card:
My name is Cindy Hayes; I am an American living in Italy. I am 48 years old, single and having a blast here! I teach advanced levels of English to professionals and upper university students, which includes the American culture as well as the language. I have a daughter that is in the US Navy, married and has just given me a beautiful new granddaughter. I have spent time exploring much of the world, including living in China for more than a year. So I have a pretty good basis for my opinion of Italy! If any of you are planning to come to Italy, in particular Sicily, feel free to email me at: CindyinSicily@hotmail.com

Currently living in: I am living in Catania, Sicily. It is the largest city on the island and during normal business hours, there are upwards of a million people. It is not the capital but it is the center of commerce. We sit at the foot of Mount Etna, the volcano. The eruptions have stopped again as have the earthquakes, but even at their most active none of the activity was much of a threat to the city. There are small hamlets that were affected on the sides of the volcano, but the people take it all in stride. After all, what is the excitement of living on a volcano if not for a few tremors and lava flows in your back yard?

By way of:
I am from Nebraska, primarily the Lincoln area. I lived for several years in the western part of the state near the Wyoming border and worked for the Nebraska Department of Social Services for almost 20 years. I left Nebraska permanently in 1998 to travel and find myself. I have lived in Italy, Slovenia, China and Australia since that time with extended visits also in Guam where my daughter was stationed in the US Navy. My favorite places in Italy: Rome, Assisi, Venice, Sorrento and Ortigia, the tiny island part of Siracusa.

How (or why) did you get here from there?
I had always had this dream of living in Italy. Everyone told me I was crazy or they just laughed off my dream as something eccentric. For years I would watch my Italian movies and read of their history secretly. I have no Italian heritage, so really am not sure what the fascination is. I only know, that for as long as I can remember?.Italy has owned my dreams.

What role did language skills play in your experience?
None! I arrived in Rome several years ago speaking not a word of Italian!!! It is not difficult to get by in a foreign country if you are warm, sincere and willing to accept the fact that you are ignorant. Spoken language is such a small part of what any of us have to learn. The Italians are incredibly well educated, they speak several languages and most of them speak English at some level or other. But even in the spots of the interior where English is not so common, I was able to buy food, make accommodation arrangements, shop and visit any site I wished. Language is much more than words.

Your biggest challenge:
Without a doubt: bureaucracy! And not just the Italian; the American bureaucracy is just as inhibiting. Getting accurate information as to immigration and visas is almost impossible. The laws are evolving daily due to the European Union?s influence so it is often difficult to find someone that actually has current information AND knows how to implement it. The American Embassy in Rome is very nice, but the availability of information is generic at best. And the consulate office in Palermo is nonexistent?.they don?t even answer their phones!

What did you do to feel at home or adapt here?
I opened myself up to the possibility that perhaps my life up to the point I had entered Italy was only one form of reality. The values I had as an American living in the fast lane were not applicable in an ancient and culturally rich country. I learned to relax, set priorities based on smiling rather than dollars and most of all I listened and watched the people around me. Do I agree with everything they believe? No?..of course not. But I learned that there are many ways to perceive a thing, and that each of those perceptions can be a

(e.g. tricks for learning the language, getting along at work, securing a
supply of stain remover from home, joining an association.

I love this question?.it shows your heart! Tricks for learning the language?..hmm?.I guess the most important thing is just not take it too seriously. Be polite, sincere and warm. The difference in dialects can be intimidating, but if you listen to the rhythm and music of the language, somehow it just sort of grows inside you. The streets are the best place to learn to speak, every shop and street vendor is willing to give lessons in pronunciation and vocabulary. And if you need a translator, ask a child!

What do you still have to get used to/learn?
Siciliano! It is different from the Italian language and is so soft and sensual. I live in a neighborhood that used to be one of the most dangerous in Catania, but is now just ?quaint.? However, they all speak Sicilian rather than Italian. It is like living in what I imagine 1920?s Chicago would have been like. The culture is a bit different, but in no way is it inferior. It is rich in the very culture that has made Sicily such a survivor. They have been invaded by just about everyone in the world, and still maintained their cultural basis. It is exquisite

Compare an aspect (or aspects) of your home town (or other place you’ve
lived) to current town.
I can?t really compare living in Catania to living in Nebraska. It would be like comparing oranges and ladybugs! Food is much cheaper here. Housing is expensive in the city when compared to other places in Sicily, but not to the US. However, there is no way to prepare anyone for the traffic! It is terrible! And I have driven in China, Japan, London, Malta, Australia and even Los Angeles. Catania has streets that are several hundred years old. There is no plan or grid, because the city grew up around the foot of the volcano and shaped its streets to run around the hills and valleys reaching the sea. Someone along the way tried to organize things by setting up a system of one-way streets. However there seems to be no logic in the design that I can find. And you have to remember, they are only one-way if you are not a taxi or bus. For those elite vehicles, there are no really set rules. And then there are the scooters, and yes I have one too. There are rules for them, but no one really knows what they are!

Latest pursuits:
My latest pursuits include watching the geography of a land change before my very eyes due to lava flows, learning the intricate rules of dating in Catania versus the rules in the rest of Italy, finding the best discos and dancing places, trying to prioritize my favorite wines in my life, learning about Italian cheeses and the most important of all?.sitting on my terrace and looking at either the volcano?s plumes or the sailing boats on the sea. And I have lately discovered off roading Italian style. It is so civilized.

A preconceived notion about Italians/Italy that is not true:
That the men are aggressive testosteron-filled brutes! Yes, they appreciate women and love to look at us. But they are gentlemen and if you are not interested, they politely nod and offer other kinds of assistance. They do not mean offense by their frank looks, it is just one of the cultural norms here and should be accepted as such. I find the men here charming and sweet and have often had strangers ask me if I need assistance if they see me walking in the dark. Many a time, someone in the neighborhood has walked me to my door without saying a word. Just a smile and nod of their head when we part. I work until after nine most nights and so in the winter I often walk home, which is about two miles. When I enter the area near my home, I will hear voices in the darkness asking me if everything is OK. I never experienced that kind of protection circle anywhere else.

A preconceived notion about Italians/Italy that is true:
Customer service is a nonexistent concept in most places. They do not do anything in a hurry and rarely will you find a truly happy clerk. I get greeted by name and receive smiles and greetings now in many places, but it took time. The tourist places are of course more genial, but if you stray into the normal world here, you will often find shop clerks that act as if they are not pleased to make a sale! It is not true of course. It is just another facet of a culture that is different from ours. You have to be patient and remember that there is a huge difference in Italian time and American time. For example, if they say it takes ten minutes to walk some place, expect it to take at least 30. It is the same with service.

Your response to the following question: “I really want to live here, but I don’t speak Italian or have a job. What do you think?”
I would say to talk to some of us that have been here more than once and for an extended time. It depends on the intent, expectations, and preconceived ideas of the person wanting to come over here. If you are willing to admit that you will have to learn everything in a new way, then you will love it. But if you try to live here with your American values and attitudes, you will find yourself running into innumerable walls. Tolerance is not just a concept, it is a way of life.

How would you sum up your Italian experience in a word (and why)?
Love. I learned to love myself here, I learned to love my country (the USA) in a completely different way here in Italy, I learned to love those things about the world that were only concepts before coming here, and most of all I learned that it is possible to love a place completely.

Italy’s best kept secret (music, culture, food, way to get round things)
Intelligence! I am not sure how, but somehow much of the world looks at Italy as a nice quaint historical place from the movies and Roman epic poetry. The Italians are so broad minded in so many areas it is uncanny. They speak several languages, which is not only logical but necessary considering their location and level of commerce. They still learn ancient Greek, Latin and philosophy in their grade schools. The number of premium mathematicians, engineers, physicists and other scientists in this city alone is staggering. They debate political situations with extreme grace and passion and with a level of knowledge that I have never encountered anywhere else.

Dianne Drew (Salerno, Campania)

First Person: Real Life In Italy

Each month we introduce you to someone who has made the dream of picking up and moving to the Bel Paese a reality. In their own words they share the good parts, the bad parts and the just plain absurd moments of day-to-day life in Italy.

Looking to move to Italy? Try the reader-recommended Survivor Package

ID Card:
Dianne Drew has a post-secondary education in photography as well as sculpture and graphic arts. She has eight years experience as Shitasu Therapist and more recently Stone Therapy. She worked for a large company in the film industry — distribution
and legal affairs — until being downsized three years ago.

Currently living in: Salerno, Campania region. Update: In 2013, Dianne wrote in to say she’s left Italy. The post is an interesting snapshot of her early times there and a region a lot of expats don’t go to, so the post will live on…

By way of:
Born in Thunder Bay, Ontario Canada…moved to the ultra-clean, conservative
Toronto in the early 90s.

How (or why) did you get here from there?
I have an odd fascination with Italy since I was a child – the people,
culture, the arts… It was magnetic for me, I had to see it all. My first two-
month trip at 15 years old changed my life, I went again at 21. Years later I
was downsized from the job I loved and the pace finally got to me.
I needed a new environment. Italy was my light at the end of the tunnel. I decided to
make another trip to ‘scope’ it, after I had decided this, I went on an
Italian chat line to get some feedback from Italians on places to live,
conditions etc… I did my
‘scope’ trip over a year ago and from that my decision was that, I was going
to do anything and everything to get here.. I took two jobs and was a
part-time lab-rat for medical studies (don’t laugh, the pay is excellent!).

What role did language skills play in your experience?
It was top priority. I discovered it is crucial in the south, as few people
speak English here. In Toronto I bartered my Shiatsu services for private
Italian lessons and it gave me a basis and a bit more of an understanding of
grammar so I could take it from there. The dialect is a crap shoot though.

Your biggest challenge:
Getting the renovations on my rental apartment completed. A job that was
supposed to be a 20-day cosmetic job turned into a full blown 2.5 month
reno. Before I knew it parts of the ceiling were on the floor, bathroom
fixtures and pipes were ripped out of the walls. (We are not living in a
Home Depot society here). The independent contractor often did his own thing,
as opposed to my specs… I was like pseudo-babysitting.. some things I had
to compromise on as it was way too much of a hassle to have it corrected.

What did you do to feel at home or adapt here?
I do love it here… but I am still working all the crinks, It’s only been
3.5 months. Patience is a challenge sometimes. I had a number of my personal
things from my old place shipped here and that gives me a familiar sense of
comfort in my new space. I also have great friends that send me my fave Chai
tea and pecans from back home!

What do you still have to get used to/learn?
Language is a big thing and the slow pace. Coming from a place where one
person does the job of four turns you into a bit of a maniac. It can take
months to get a simple task completed here, where in my former home it’s
several errands per day. For me, a lot of the time the lack of urgency
involves nepotism (I am still waiting for my drawer pulls… two months
now)… but on the positive side I have got many things for free or really
inexpensive this way. (damn this word – PATIENCE)

Compare an aspect (or aspects) of your home town (or other place you’ve
lived) to current town.
I saw Toronto change over the years.. the people, the place. It became
cold, increasingly violent and strangers stopped greeting each other and
making eye contact. Toronto was segregating not integrating during a time
where it was evolving and searching for a specific ‘New york-style’
identity.
Salerno is the opposite, even though I am a non-Italian and my language
skills are not perfect, people here have welcomed me with open arms, they
are open, friendly and have given me much encouragement…Salerno is what
it is and everyone seems to be contented with that.
In Toronto apartments are in abundance. But here, I was really lucky to find a place
to live as they are somewhat scarce and some did not want to rent to a
foreigner…

Latest pursuits:
I just put the finishing touches on the guest room in my place, that I plan
to rent to budget travelers and students…like a pseudo B&B with kitchen
access. I want to show people what a gem Salerno is so that they
will be able to experience it on a budget.
I am preparing to market myself and find work/clients in the area doing
Shiatsu and Stone Therapy.
Finally, I would like to search out others from North America, UK or Australia
living in the area to form a social group for occasional get-togethers and
to share experiences.

A preconceived notion about Italians/Italy that is not true:
If you are a woman, men aren’t waiting around corners or outside your hotel
to pinch your ass. (I read something like that in a book once).

A preconceived notion about Italians/Italy that is true:
They are very generous and hospitable. The things people have given me/done
for me has gone way beyond what I had ever thought.

Your response to the following question: “I really want to live here, but I don’t speak Italian or have a job. What do you think?”
Research…go to the consulate web sites to get info, or make an appointment with
someone there, have a lot of questions. Keep up to date…laws and
stipulations can change at the drop of a hat.
Take language lessons – this is so IMPORTANT.
You need to be very resourceful. Books on living here are great but will
only tell you so much, find others that have made the move and listen/read
about their experiences.

How would you sum up your Italian experience in a word (and why)?
A fabulous insanely decadent designer shoe that gives you blisters at
first…but once broken in, they make you feel totally fabulous.
other than that…Challenge. The biggest/best of my life.

Italy’s best kept secret (music, culture, food, way to get round things)
The regional ‘dolci’ of Campania made with sweet ricotta cheese…they
have indeed fallen from heaven.
The mozarella di bufala of Campania…is to die for… it’s nothing like
the hard yellow chunks we get in North America.

David Thorpe (Scalea, Calabria)

First Person: real life in Italy

Each month we introduce you to someone who has made the dream of picking up and moving to the Bel Paese a reality.
In their own words they share the good parts, the bad parts and the just plain absurd moments of day-to-day life in Italy.

ID Card: David Thorpe. I am English and work as a telecoms engineer in
Nottingham. At the moment I live in Nottingham, UK. However for one week in four I live in Scalea, Calabria. I am also the webmaster of www.scalea.info ,a site in English aimed at helping people visit or move here.
I live with my fianc?e Melanie. I am 24 and she is 23. You can
contact me on info@scalea.info

How (or why) did you get here from there?
For years I have dreamed of owning my own place and
living in Italy. My girlfriend Melanie gave her full support and liked the
idea. When I told people what I wanted to do most of them probably thought
‘they’ll never do it, just dreaming!’ And to be honest they were correct.
Until one day I woke up and just knew it was the right thing to do. I sat
down and trawled through the internet looking for property, areas, prices,
what to do etc… I worked out that I could raise just ?25,000 (about
?35.000).
So with that my search was narrowed down to just a few places — no
Tuscany for me! I knew that I wanted a place near the sea that was easy
to maintain and didn’t need much work doing to it. That when I discovered
Scalea in Calabria, There were lots of different properties in my budget all
near the sea. But for that price it was only natural to wonder ‘so what’s
wrong with Scalea’. When we visited Scalea for the first time we were amazed
with the town, it was an ideal place because all the shops stay open over
winter. The weather in Calabria is fantastic where the winters are not
really winters (like a British early October!) The scenery is beautiful,
looking one way you see snow capped mountains and the other way you see
bright blue sea. We looked around several properties and found the one we
liked and the rest is history!

What role did language skills play in your experience?
Anybody who says you don’t need to speak any Italian to live in Italy is so
wrong. Where I am in Calabria there isn’t one person who speaks English so
Italian is an absolute necessity. However learning Italian is challenging
and fun at the same time, I went to night school once a week to learn basic
Italian, after that I have learnt the rest by being there. This is the best
way to learn in my opinion.

Your biggest challenge:
Paying bills in Italy is a nightmare! Especially ICI (council tax). I am fed
up of queuing at the post office just to be sent elsewhere to queue to be
sent elsewhere(and it goes on).

What did you do to feel at home or adapt here?
De-clutter! Italian homes (in a newer building) are very cluttered indeed.
So a few trips to IKEA were needed and lots of clutter was thrown away
(there was even a Wild West style holster for the igniter thing that lights
the gas oven!). Also get some nice sunglasses, my fianc?e had to get
a very nice leather handbag!

What do you still have to get used to/learn?
When to change from saying buon giorno to buona sera (there never seems to be
a set time of day; somewhere around 15.00), also paying for a coffee after
I’ve finished it and not before (they are more trusting in Italy).

Compare an aspect (or aspects) of your home town (or other place you’ve
lived) to current town.
Cost of living: Nottingham — through the roof, Scalea — cheap (?1000 a year)
Petrol: Italy slightly cheaper
Job opportunities: Nottingham — Lots of jobs for anyone willing to work,
Scalea — None!
Weather: I don’t really need to answer this one!
Crime: Nottingham — Shootings galore, Scalea — you can leave your front door
open…

A preconceived notion about Italians/Italy that is not true:
People tend to think all Italians like and eat pasta for every meal, when in
fact there are many other things here (meat, pizza, fish etc…)

A preconceived notion about Italians/Italy that is true:
Very family oriented. Family & community are everything.

Your response to the following question: “I really want to live here, but I don’t speak Italian or have a job. What do you think?”
Slow down mate; take things one at a time. You have to pin point the exact
things you want and then go for it. A lot of planning is involved. And start
by learning Italian.

How would you sum up your Italian experience in a word (and why)?
Surreal – sometimes I cannot believe I have my own place in paradise, just
the small things like picking an orange off one of my trees seems so
surreal!

Italy’s best kept secret (music, culture, food, way to get round things)
The South (Calabria in particular) – I have traveled all over Italy and the
Calabria has it all, there is more than enough culture to go around. The
weather is great, the food is spicy, the sea is warm, and the people are
friendly and down to earth. Property is so cheap here. The cost of living is
less in the south. Also the scenery is very rugged and very contrasting, you
can go skiing in the winter and sunbathe for 75% of the year. The
road links are good and also the rail links are good.

David N. Welton (Padua)

First Person: Real Life In Italy

Each month we introduce you to someone who has made the dream of picking up and moving to the Bel Paese a reality. In their own words they share the good parts, the bad parts and the just plain absurd moments of day-to-day life in Italy.

Looking to move to Italy? Try the reader-recommended Survivor Package

ID Card:
David N. Welton, programmer/consultant specializing in Linux, Apache and open source software, have been in Italy on and off since 1995. I’m from the US, 28, and live with my girlfriend, Ilenia.
You can find more about me & my business at http://dedasys.com/ and a collection of anecdotes about life here at http://dedasys.com/padovachronicles.

Currently living In: Padua

By way of: I was born and raised in Eugene, Oregon, and have lived in Portland,
Oregon, and San Francisco, California.

How (or why) did you get here from there?
It’s a long story, but the short version is that, growing up so far from “the rest of the world”, the idea of going somewhere new intrigued me. Italy seemed like a pretty cool place, with friendly people, good food, lots of beautiful places to ride my bicycle, and pretty modern, too. I went to Italy to live the first time in 1995 and stayed a year, working as an English teacher.

I had the opportunity to come back in 2000, when I played a part in the acquisition of a firm in Padua by the company I was working for in San Francisco, Linuxcare. After the end of the dot com bubble, I didn’t really consider going back to the states, and struck out on my own.

What role did language skills play in your expat experience?
I spoke Italian pretty well in 1995, the first time I came here, thanks to the excellent Italian program at the University of Oregon.
I think that was pretty important in being able to find work, friends and integrate well.

Your biggest challenge:
The bureaucracy is certainly awful.

What did you do to feel at home or adapt here?
The internet helps a lot, because I can read and write English and keep in touch with people without paying a lot of phone bills. Occasionally, I go to the English language bookstore and buy something to read. On the whole, I feel quite at home in Padua – I have a lot of good friends here, know the city and the area and even some of the dialect. I think knowing a place well helps you to feel at home.

What do you still have to get used to/learn?
I’m always learning new, strange things about Italy. My wonderful girlfriend, who is from Padua, was surprised to see that sales in stores happen all year round in the states – apparently, their seasonality in Italy is no coincidence – they are regulated by the government!

Compare an aspect (or aspects) of your home town (or other place you’ve lived) to current town.
Eugene is like Padua in that they are both medium-sized university towns that are still small enough to get around in by bicycle. I like that in that it makes a place feel easier to get a grasp of and more livable.

On the other hand, I think there is more to do in Padua after the university – the local economy is very strong.
The people are less laid back than in Eugene too, which is fine by me because I like to be active!

Latest pursuits:
I’d like to participate in some “gran fondo” bicycle events this year, but that will require regular training – we’ll see if I have time! As always, I’m involved in lots of various free software projects like Debian Linux and the Apache Software Foundation.

A preconceived notion about Italians/Italy that is not true:
The stereotype of greasy overweight people. Italians, like most of the rest of the world, are on average thinner and in better shape than people in the US.

A preconceived notion about Italians/Italy that is true:
The bureaucracy and driving. No one ever uses their horn in Oregon unless there is a serious problem on the road! Padua isn’t as bad as Milan or Rome, but it’s still not what I was used to growing up in mellow Oregon.

Your response/advice/warning to the following question: “I love Italy! I really want to live here, even though I don’t speak Italian or have a job.”
Go for it! But be realistic and try it out. Don’t get any preconceived notions of how long you are going to stay and what you will be doing. Just try it and see how it goes.
Go home when you feel like it instead of dragging it out…who knows, maybe you’ll be back – that’s what happened to me.

How would you sum up your Italian experience in a word (and why)?
Una favola! (a fairy tale, ed. note)
So many things have gone right for me here and I feel very lucky every day to have managed to get myself over here and thrive.

Italy’s best kept secret
How rich each little bit of the country is. Almost every little town has something interesting, beautiful, historic or noteworthy. You can see all kinds of great and famous things in the big cities, but even the small towns have a lot to offer, and are much more relaxing. Not to mention the amazing variety, from alpine villages perched high in the dolomites with green meadows in the shadow of jagged peaks, to the sun-drenched southern beaches of Sicily, where on an extraordinarily clear day you can see Africa.

Judy Witts (Florence/Certaldo)

First Person: Real Life In Italy

Each month we introduce you to someone who has made the dream of picking up and moving to the Bel Paese a reality. In their own words they share the good parts, the bad parts and the just plain absurd moments of day-to-day life in Italy.

Looking to move to Italy? Try the reader-recommended Survivor Package

ID Card: Cooking teacher (www.divinacucina.com) and Italian life coach is what I have put on my business card!
In Florence since 1984, organizing culinary programs, walking tours and wine tastings for one day or one week.
The life coach part started as a joke as so many of my ex-clients have moved here with my help.

Besides teaching and taking people on tours, I have a dining guide for Florence and Chianti. This satisfies my art desires since I do all the photos for the site and the research. I continue to study art here in Florence whenever I can and do marbleized paper, bookbinding and ceramics.

Currently living in:
Florence…when teaching and when off in my home in Certaldo, southwest of Florence, 14 kilometers from San Gimignano.

By way of:
I was born in Memphis Tennessee, but raised in the San Francisco Bay Area. I lived in San Francisco for 7 years before moving here in 1984.

How (or why) did you get here from there?
I had been to Europe several times ( four trips including one alone for 9 months) and had never been to Italy.
One of my roommates in SF had just returned from a year in France and one in Italy and said, “You’ll love Italy and Italy will love you.”
I was ready for a change in my life and decided to try it out. Spent a month in France before heading down into Italy, and planned on returning to France if I wasn’t happy here.
I was a pastry chef in a 5 star hotel and wanted to expand my cooking abilities. I knew French cuisine well, but only Italian American food which didn’t really thrill me.

What role did language skills play in your experience?
I did not speak Italian when I moved here, but took a month of lessons when I arrived and purposely stayed away from English speaking people to get a full immersion into the language and the culture.

Your biggest challenge:
Bureaucracy is probably the most stressful part of being in Italy. Americans have an inbred sense of doing things the “right way” which in Italy doesn’t always make it the right way, and surely not the easiest!
When I was trying to get my permesso di soggiorno and independent work permit it took me three years! Because the business I wanted to open didn’t exist, yet one of the prerequisites is you need to do something that an Italian doesn’t or can’t do: the perfect Catch 22.

What did you do to feel at home or adapt here?
I really tried hard to learn not only the language but to understand how the Florentines lived. Instead of insisting on trying to do things as I had in the States, learning a respect for the people and adapting to how they live makes it a lot easier. Not trying to do things the American way, changing my mind set and learning to take life slower.
Watching TV helped in learning the language, also reading magazines about food for me gave me a vocabulary so I could talk to people about what interested me.
Once I could eavesdrop, I knew I wasn’t alone anymore. Listening to people talk on the bus, gave me more language lessons that were useful in expressing myself like the locals.

What do you still have to get used to/learn?
After 20 years, Florence is home but I would really like to take some time to perfect my Italian. It is so much more important to me to just say what is on my mind, I speak quickly and I still make mistakes, but I don’t worry anymore.
Having lived through a house restoration here, I need to learn how to deal with the government red tape system, I got caught in it and almost didn’t survive.
Never again will I totally restore a house, only decorate!

Latest pursuits:
After teaching cooking for 15 years in Florence, I am moving my classes out to Chianti. I hope to spend more time writing, doing photography and hope to publish a cookbook I have been working on.

A preconceived notion about Italians/Italy that is not true:
When I have traveled in Mediterranean countries I always thought they were so chauvinistic, all you ever saw were the men hanging around the bars all day. Now I know it is because the wives have thrown them out of the house so they can clean and cook in peace!

A preconceived notion about Italians/Italy that is true:
Men love their mothers! Family comes first.
The whole family system here is different, where kids stay at home until they are married and often afterwards too. The parents seem to allow lots of freedom for the children and hence there is no need to move out so they can live as they wish! Whereas in America moving out is part of growing up, being independent, but perhaps also growing away from family.

Your response to the following question: “I really want to live here, but I don’t speak Italian or have a job. What do you think?”
I don’t think it is as easy as it was when I came. Bring enough cash to support yourself, learn the language and jump in!
Be creative, perhaps what you to do for a living isn’t what you can do here, it is a great place to start a new life learn a new skill and recreate yourself.
If it is meant to be, it will happen.
I don’t think Italy is for everyone, for most it is a fabulous place to visit and to visit every year. But living here is much different than being on vacation.

How would you sum up your Italian experience in a word (and why)?
EXQUISITE… I have found a country where my passion, food, is one of the
focal points of family life and pleasure.
I studied art in college and then found food as a way to support myself, from waitressing to being a pastry chef to teaching cooking and organizing culinary tours in a country immersed in art and artists. I get it all!

Italy’s best kept secret (music, culture, food, way to get round things)
The untouched villages and towns off the beaten track. This year I went to Puglia, adored it, driving down from Florence was quite an experience.
Puglia was like Italy Greece and Mexico all in one.
Because Italy has only been united for such a short period of time, the difference in the regions in culture and cuisine are still quite incredible and fascinating.

Celia Abernethy (Lecco)

First Person: Real Life In Italy

Each month we introduce you to someone who has made the dream of picking up and moving to the Bel Paese a reality. In their own words they share the good parts, the bad parts and the just plain absurd moments of day-to-day life in Italy.

Looking to move to Italy? Try the reader-recommended Survivor Package

ID Card: Celia Abernethy, self-employed website developer and Internet consultant.
Age: 33

Currently living in: Lecco, 46km North of Milan.
By way of: Born and grew up in Oceanside, NY, on Long Island. Then to Europe by way of in London, Paris, Madrid and Barcelona.

How (or why) did you get here from there?
I started working as a model while attending college in NY, then I was ?sent? to work in Europe. I settled in Milan in 1992. At the age of 26 I was already ?too old? for the business. I went back to school in Milan and to support myself, I worked at an American bar/restaurant at night and on weekends. I started working as a web developer after my studies in 1997.

What role did language skills play in your experience?
I have to admit, I didn?t speak Italian the first few years I was here. I (as many) didn?t think I?d be staying here that long. When I went back to school, the courses were all in Italian and I learned fairly quickly. I also have an Italian companion that is very patient. Now I am quite confident with Italian.

Your biggest challenge:
I still haven?t gotten my Italian driver?s license. Partly because of fear. I have made the pledge to do it this year by summer time. (American driver?s licenses cannot be converted here.)

Compare an aspect of your town (or other place you’ve lived) to current town:
The only comparison I can make for Oceanside and Lecco are that they are both a 40 minute commute in the train from a major city. In Oceanside I was close to the ocean and here in Lecco I am near the lake. I now see boats on a regular basis again. Latest pursuits: I have started a printed newsletter in English and Italian for independent professionals working as ?liberi professionisti.? A group of us meet once a month in Milan to exchange ideas and experiences — www.sohoprofessional.net

A preconceived notion about Italians/Italy that is not true:
Everybody in Italy is friendly. It is a myth that everyone is warm welcoming and will invite you to meet grandma and cook you pasta. It may be true in the south, but most certainly in the north of Italy the people are more reserved and formal.

A preconceived notion about Italians/Italy that is true:
Italians pride themselves on quality. Traditions and values have been taught to one generation after another and you can find some of the best handmade goods and not to mention foods, wine and pastries!

Your response to the following question: “I really want to live here, but I don’t speak Italian or have a job. What do you think?”
Do it! If you don?t have a go, you?ll kick yourself for not trying. Give yourself a time limit. I did. At a certain point, I said ?if things don?t happen for me here, I?m leaving?. Two months before my ?deadline? I met my boyfriend and consequently, I stayed.

How would you sum up your Italian experience in a word (and why)?
Stabilizing. After many years of traveling, I have found my home in Italy. I am able to create a solid base for my future and I always find new opportunities for growth both intellectually and spiritually.

Italy’s best-kept secret?
Pizzoccheri. It might not sound too interesting in English (buckwheat noodles in butter and garlic) but when the Valtellinese cook up a pot and serve it with a bottle of ?Sforzato,? it?s magnificent!

For more on expat life in Italy, First Person Interview Archive

Nehemiah Hunter Brown (Florence)

Each month we introduce you to someone who has made the dream of picking up and moving to the Bel Paese a reality. In their own words they share the good parts, the bad parts and the just plain absurd moments of day-to-day life in Italy.
Looking to move to Italy?Try the reader-recommended Survivor Package .

ID Card:
Nehemiah Hunter Brown – musician, singer, writer, arranger, vocal
coach. Age: 50 – Grandson of an American slave.

Currently living in:
I have lived in Florence for 6 years.

By way of:
Born in Charlottesville, Va., lived in Mass. and 15 years in California (San Diego and San Francisco).

How (or why) did you get here from there?
At the end of 5 years working in the investment industry I decided to return to college to study the Italian language.

What role did language skills play in your experience?
The fact that I did do some study before coming to Italy, gave me at least some sense of security while traveling and in my rapport with Italians. (It’s hard – not impossible – to “break the ice” when you don’t speak the language.)

Your biggest challenge:
My biggest challenge has been the difference in the way Italians and Americans think. We think 7 days a week,(continuously, working) 5 + the
weekend for many Italians. (Many places and services don’t exist on the weekend) We also believe, “Volere ? potere,” after years of a patriarchal society, many Italians ask permission instead of exercising their freedom to do something, that is unless the family is from the
aristocracy; in that case we often see the face of the “ugly American”.

What did you do to feel at home or adapt here?
My degree counselor told me to stop speaking English or I would never adjust to the Italian culture. A part of that was the insistence that
everything must be done the American way; The second key was to stop living like a tourist and start living as a resident. It really helps when you
need to do reality checks. It also helped to learn to express my anger in the Italian language.

What do you still have to get used to/learn?
I still don’t have a good since of direction in the cities like Florence. I call them circular Labyrinths.

Compare an aspect of your home town (or other place you’ve lived) to current town.
Florence is very much like my hometown Charlottesville (I love it but there is no ocean/breeze); It is also much like San Francisco, where I lived more
than 15 years before moving here. There is always something to do but you have to research the choices. It is cosmopolitan like my two other favorite cities.

If you think in terms of the high exchange rate, lira/dollar, it is not expensive to live here. However, if one thinks and is paid in lire, it is very expensive. Consider the cost of food; sometimes it seems more expensive than San Francisco. The bus systems sucks, especially when there is a strike, which is often…busses, trains, airlines. Information, of the transit nature, is difficult to come by. Rarely is there an announcement of your particular stop. You just pray that you can read the schedule, if you find one, or that someone is getting off where you are supposed to go.

Latest pursuits:
www.florencegospelchoir.com. My friends, here, encouraged me to go for it. It helps to be patient here and to remember the there are some things only God can do. My latest pursuit is to create two choirs in two prisons in Florence. One is at Solliciano, the men’s prison and the other is at the women’s facility in Empoli. After 3 weeks things are going well.

A preconceived notion about Italians/Italy that is not true:
I don’t know that I had one.

A preconceived notion about Italians/Italy that is true:
I had a notion that Italians know their friends better that we know ours. Friends spend a lot of time together; at first I thought that it was strange. (Like, “we just saw each other yesterday or earlier today, and you want to spend more time together? Don’t you have a life?) Friendships are a
great part of a person’s life here, and they last a long time.

Your response to the following question: “I really want to live here, but I don’t speak Italian or have a job. What do you think?”
My response is that one should prepare. Go to some night classes at the community college (like I did) get a good Italian teacher who teaches Italian culture and you will be In Love with the culture, in a realistic way. Don’t be clandestine about your stay in Italy, it takes a little doing but you can be here, legally. It helps to have friends that know the law–policemen, lawyers, notaries and accountants.(You need to have faith, it’s not enough to be a blond, female and American).


How would you sum up your Italian experience in a word (and why)?

“Un miracolo” (the challenges) I came to Italy 6 years ago to study. I had problems with my financial aid (it was late and /didn’t arrive/or was cut without notice), my father died 5 months after I arrived, there was an air strike so I couldn’t return home for the funeral. My oldest brother died last year. For me living here was not an escape from the states or from being a Black man in the US, with all its challenges. (I have been called everything, by
my fellow Americans.)

The rewards have been that I have studied at The University of Florence for 3 years, performed for Ferr? and members of the fashion scene at the prestigious Pitti Immagine. Last year I performed for the Pope John II at the Vatican (2 days) and at the Olympic Stadium before 75,000 people and the Italian soccer team.

I am a resident of Florence Italy, and an honorary citizen of Santo Stefano di Magra, in the province of La Spezia. I have held numerous seminars on Jazz, Gospel and Spirituals and American Music all over Italy. I teach at two Elementary schools, and an Italian high school. I have been interviewed/ in Italian magazines, newspapers and television as well as Switzerland and Portugal.

My languages skills are improving constantly as I have to communicate at a technical and business level.

Italy’s best-kept secret:
The small communities are the best-kept secret because there you find many cultural events organized at a very high level that manage to include everyone.