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.
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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://blog.therealitaly.com/.
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!
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.