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.

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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