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.
I’m Clive Hawkins, 34, and I teach English as a foreign language to adults in a private school. I’ve lived in Sardinia for 3 years and have just committed to at least another year here.
Currently living in:Cagliari, Sardinia.
By way of: Watford, UK.
How (or why) did you get here from there?
I’d grown tired of life in the suburbs of London and had felt that there was a lot more out there than just the 9-5 routine I was following. Therefore I decided to take an English teaching qualification, something I’d wanted to do for years, which has given me the opportunity of working almost anywhere in the world. I chose Cagliari because at the time I had a girlfriend from here so it seemed as good a place as any to start my travels. (Note to self: It really is time I moved on? This isn’t travelling!)
What role did language skills play in your experience?
I arrived here without a word of Italian so completely relied on my girlfriend to help me get through daily life. At the time this was obviously invaluable but with hindsight it encouraged me to be lazy with regard to learning the language because the need wasn’t there. However, even this still left me severely limited in what I could and couldn’t do so after a couple of months I started to knuckle down and was surprised to find it wasn’t as difficult as I’d expected. An almost immediate result was that the local people became more accommodating as they could see I was making an effort.
Your biggest challenge: My biggest challenge was adapting to just how difficult and time consuming some things can be to do here. The infamous bureaucracy you hear about ISN’T an exaggeration! Even with locals to help me I found myself being passed from pillar to post as nobody seemed to quite know what they were doing. You just have to bite the bullet and get on with it and eventually you’ll get all the pieces of paper you need to be legal. Patience really is a virtue here.
What did you do to feel at home or adapt here?
I was very lucky that when I came here I was with my girlfriend and stayed with her family, so I never had the misfortune to feel lonely. Her family and friends were all very friendly so I was never short of anyone to show me around or help me. I’ve since discovered that this is a typically Italian trait. You really would be hard pushed to find more hospitable people.
Also finding a job almost immediately helped, especially one in an English school working with English people. It was good to be able to chat in my own language and be around people with a common culture. They also provided invaluable advice from an English perspective on how to survive. Find your own, but not to the exclusion of the locals or you’ll never adapt!
What do you still have to get used to/learn?
It’s an old cliche but the driving is abysmal. The sheer arrogance of a large proportion of the drivers is incredible. The concept of waiting patiently does not exist and they’re happy to risk their lives just to gain a few precious metres in traffic. In fact this attitude is also reflected anywhere where waiting is involved (not the life threatening bit, unless they catch me on a bad day!) i.e. bars, shops, banks etc. It’s just one of those cultural differences you have to get used to. So as not to get too angry I’ve now found myself doing the same hey, when in Rome!
Compare an aspect of your home town (or other place you’ve lived) to current town.
Don’t get me wrong, as I’m proud of where I come from, but one of the biggest differences between Cagliari and Watford is what happens after dark. In my home town (and I guess this goes for most of the UK) there is a greater drinking culture and inevitably more violence. Here, in Cagliari, people seem to be able to have a good time without getting drunk (some do, obviously, myself included!) and as a result I can honestly say that in 3 years I’ve never seen a fight! (football stadium aside).
Another noticeable difference is how people spend their free time. Here they seem to do more with it, whether it’s playing sport, going to the beach or even just taking a walk to the piazza and meeting friends for coffee. Sunday evening isn’t spent at home feeling fed up that tomorrow is a work day; they are happy because it isn’t Monday yet!
Living on an island in a city by the sea my pursuits tend to be beach-orientated, even if that mostly involves only relaxing with a good book, swimming and chatting with friends. A recently broken toe has put paid to football and tennis (at least that’s my excuse anyway!)
A preconceived notion about Italians/Italy that is not true:
Italian women are ugly and become fat on their 30th birthday. This is so NOT true.
A preconceived notion about Italians/Italy that is true:
They’ll argue for fun but don’t take it personally!
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. Study a bit of the language before you get here, even if it’s just basic courtesies for shops and bars , you’ll soon pick it up when you get here. As for a job I guess that depends on the individual i.e. qualifications, whether you can come and work for a branch of your current company, what you’d be prepared to do etc.
Try to sort out as much of the paperwork you’ll need BEFORE you get here (if possible) and be prepared to adapt. Finally, don’t be afraid to talk to people ? you’ll find them very open and usually pleased to have the chance to show off their English.
How would you sum up your Italian experience in a word (and why)?
Life changing. (I know it’s not one word but I can?t think of only one, and I’m a teacher! Che vergogna!) Why? Because I’ve become more relaxed, more open-minded, healthier and as a result a lot happier.
Italy’s best kept secret (music, culture, food, way to get round things)
Summer outdoor discos. Great music*, great locations, great vodka tonics and great company. Dancing as the sun is rising really is a lot of fun!
* Joe Dolce, Renee+Renata and Spagna are NOT typical of Italian music ? trust me!