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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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’
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
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.