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Adjusting to Expat Life in Italy | Bleeding Espresso Bleeding Espresso

Adjusting to Expat Life in Italy

Optical illusion on FlickrI’m finally getting around to answering more of your questions from way back when. After today’s answers, the only questions that remain, I believe, are blogging-related, and I’ve answered those in my FAQ page. Have you seen my new FAQ page by the way? Go ahead, click it! And let me know what you think!

OK, back to today’s post, which answers some questions about adjusting to life as an expat in Italy.

1. Janie (whose blog seems to have disappeared! Aiuto!) asked how I was received by the residents.

Actually *really* well. Sure, many wondered why I would choose to move here and be (gasp) so far away from my mother, but the villagers have always been really helpful and kind, even before I knew P.

I’ve mentioned plenty of times that it’s not uncommon to be given bags of fruit and other edible gifts, but the villagers are also always up for a chat or to help carry packages as well; in general, I have to say the people here are just nice, or at least they have been to me.

2. Knowing that I’m a lot addicted to reading, Franca asked about buying books here.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: I’m *really* spoiled when it comes to books. People (including my mom) send me them rather often, and I also get quite a few review copies through the blog.

I very rarely order books, but in the past, I’ve just ordered through Amazon; you can use the UK site if you’re worried about shipping issues. There are also some Italy-based sellers such as IBS.it, Webster.it, and LaFeltrinelli.it that carry some English-language books as well.

Cucumber flower zoom on Flickr3. Franca also asked about dealing with being away from family.

Hmm. Well, that’s something that is undoubtedly different for everyone. I consider myself extremely close emotionally to my family, but I haven’t lived physically close to them since I was 17 (except for a few summers).

I’ve had to rely on phone calls, letters, e-mails, etc., to keep in touch for quite a long time, so I suppose in a way I’m kind of used to being away from them now. The holidays and certain special occasions can be difficult, but how do you get through anything tough?

Me? I cry or I don’t; I keep myself busy or I don’t; I reminisce about the past or I don’t; I plan trips home or I don’t. You know, I don’t know. It’s really hard for me to give advice on this because what works for me won’t work for everyone–heck, what works for me one day may not work the next.

I guess my best advice is that you do your best to work through the feelings of missing your loved ones in your home country, and if you really feel like you’re unhappier here than you would be there, you move back.

Or at least that’s what I would do. I think.

Fellow expats or those who have moved away from “home,”
what are your adjustment tips?

35 Beans of Wisdom to “Adjusting to Expat Life in Italy”
  1. 06.23.2009

    Sounds like a wonderful lifestyle.

    I enjoy it, Grace:)

  2. Gil
    06.23.2009

    I just love how your neighbors just share the fruits of their labor with you. We’ve experienced some of that from the various people we have rented from in our various vacations in Italy. It seems that they are always overgenerous in giving!

    It’s really a great system…right now we have lots of cucumbers and figs, so I’ll be distributing them later 😉

  3. 06.23.2009

    @Franca, most major cities have at least one bookstore which is pretty well stocked in recent fiction and Italian themed fiction, and sometimes some technically-oriented books (Hoepli in Milan, esp. many tech and medical books in English). Many smaller stores, and many summer beach-area stores will have a small English section with very popular books (es. the HP series, Donna Leon, Dan Brown, Grisham, etc.). Bigger or more touristy cities (es.: Milan, Venice) have several or many stores with more extended choice (es.: Feltrinelli), including “all-English” bookshops.

    English books tend to be much more expensive in Italy at stores – often €10-12 for a basic paperback, €16 for trade – it seems to be instead of $1.50 per €1, it’s €1.50 per $1 cover price). Venice has a used English bookshop (Marco Polo, near the Malibran theatre), and some bookstores have a used section where you can find English books (La Toletta in VE, the American Bookstore in Cordusio, near the Castle in Milan). Also school-area book stores (University areas especially) tend to have new & used English books (like the Libraccio chain in Milan).

    Amazon.co.uk usually has a good selection at reasonable prices, but the delivery times, from direct experience with a number of orders, particularly around August Summer and Christmas/New Years seasons, can be variable to disastrous.

    Thanks so much for this Jacques; I should clarify that Franca actually has moved to Puglia, which is why my response leaves out major city info…I suppose I was answering her question on a more personal rather than general level. Thank you for filling in the gaps!

  4. Dominic
    06.23.2009

    In terms of expat tips (and I’ve only been away 2 months so it’s still early days…) I find it’s now so easy to stay in touch that it doesn’t feel as remote as expected.

    Once you’re set up with Skype, email, facebook etc (and of course old fashioned letters) it’s easy to maintain regular contact. You could also set up a family/friends blog to keep everyone updated with your news and share photos.

    The hardest part is probably the time difference – we’re 7 hours ahead of home which can make it trickier to co-ordinate calling but you quickly learn the best times for everyone. It can also help to keep a regular slot for communication, even if it’s just a once a week. In many ways I feel I’m in more regular communication as an expat than I was back at home and I definitely don’t feel out of touch.

    There are some events you may have to resign yourself to missing out on (e.g. friends’ weddings) especially if you’re a long way from home, but it can help to balance this sense of not being there with the reasons you’ve gone abroad in the first place and the adventures you will have that you may not otherwise have had at home. I think it’s also important to embrace your new life abroad – the more committed you are the more you’re likely to settle in and be better prepared for dealing with being away, whether by exploring the local culture or just having a bigger social network to support you when you’re missing home.

    As Michelle says, it’s probably different for everyone, but hopefully these tips may help if you’re thinking about trying out expat life.

    Excellent advice, Dominic! Thanks for taking the time to type this out 🙂

  5. Ciao Michelle! Great tips! Thanks for those Italian websites for ordering books. My mom sends me books, too! 🙂 I have ordered books from Amazon UK once, and my order came very quickly. As far as adjusting to being away from family and friends… I agree that it is different for everyone and also different for me day by day. I would say… communicate communicate communicate! I have found that almost every one of my friends or family communicates in different ways, and so I have learned that and keep in touch with everyone in different ways. Some through email, some through gmail chat, some through Skype, some through Facebook, and some only through snail mail. Learning that helped me keep in touch with everyone better. But it does take time and effort, but in the end I feel close to my friends and family as much as a I can. But, like you, I have lived away from home (and out of state) from my family since I was 17 as well. I think that does help with the homesickness. But then you just have to take it one day at a time!

    Feeling connected is so important, isn’t it?! I’m the same–keeping in touch with different people in different ways. Whatever works!
    .-= Laura at Ciao Amalfi´s last blog ..Evening Sunshine in Amalfi =-.

  6. The invention of Skype has been great, especially for talking with US friends. Parents are a bit old for this technology while they still have dial-up in the house but VOIP has allowed me to get friends to call without having to worry about long-distance providers and costs.
    For all of you are homesick now, check out delta.com with great rates (due to the bad economy) to go to the US for Christmas.
    It’s also nice being close to at least my husband’s family, whom I get along with well, fortunately.
    Buona permanenza in Italia for all of you other ex-pats.

    Having an adopted family here helps too, yes, whether it’s actual in-laws or great neighbors 🙂

  7. 06.23.2009

    I was very grateful, and in fact I still am, to have bought a smallish photo album back when I was getting ready to move here. I went through my own and my family’s albums, and pulled the ones I loved the most. I refer to it often – whether to show people my family and friends, or to simply remember. It’s the one thing I’d never be an expat without, non-essentially speaking.

    I’ve found Italians all over Italy to be ridiculously kind, generous and patient with me as a foreigner. As a matter of fact, I was just struck again today when speaking with a friend – I told him I was leaving on the nigh train, and he reacted as if it would be the most fun thing in the world to drive me to the train station. Seven years on, stuff like that still makes me tear up.

    Absolutely agreed on both accounts 🙂

  8. Excellent tips. It’s much easier to be an expat now thanks to the Internet. I keep in touch with my family/friends through Skype and my parents called me pretty much every week.

    My parents moved back to the Caribbean once they had retired. I was living in Los Angeles so I’m used to being far away from my family.

    As far as making the process easier, I can’t stress learning the language enough. While in some big cities many people speak English, learning the language makes is easier to feel at “home” in your new country.

    Another biggie is don’t expect your new country to be just like your old one. I’ve met unhappy and bitter American expats who constantly compare Italy to America. They are two very different countries and cultures.

    As a first generation American I grew up hearing the same things from my relatives (the Caribbean vs. America) and while I understand it, it can make your stay in your new country unbearable.

    The country-comparing is definitely a bad expat malady, indeed.

    .-= nyc/caribbean ragazza´s last blog ..Perfect weather for sipping a Mojito outside. =-.

  9. 06.23.2009

    This isn’t an adjustment tip, but for what it’s worth, in many ways, having observed our exchange daughters and son and my own, limited experiences living abroad, it’s somewhat easier being apart from family when you ARE very close emotionally to that family – a. because you’re in touch so regularly, and b. because you’ve got that great foundation in the first place.

    And thank goodness for Skype!!!

    So true, Jen; on the one hand, I think people here are shocked when I say I’m close to my family because how can I possibly be so far away from them?! But as you say, it’s almost a prerequisite…unless of course you’re getting away from them precisely because you don’t want to have anything to do with them. In a strange twist of irony, I’m listening to “If You Love Someone, Set Them Free” by Sting right now….
    .-= jen of a2eatwrite´s last blog ..A Bit of This and That: Stratford, some really good coffee, and a great local book club =-.

  10. 06.23.2009

    Don’t leap to the conclusion, folks, that everybody gets hooked up to great communication services. My telecom online account is not working, the help phone number has ONE thing you can do on it and I am paying a third party for access at about 100 euro a week! My connection at best is 52,000bps and that means no Skype. My gifts for birthday and Christmas have been stolen at times, and lately get slammed with customs or IVA charges in spite of the law that we are to receive a reasonable amount of gifts duty free. They don’t make it easy, not one bit.
    Some of the other details will be different for you Michelle, because you are a dual citizen as well as a nominal expat. You have rights some of us do not have. More power to you. Only another 15 months until I can ask for it, but I hear it can be another 6-10 years to get an answer! I should have married that street crazy I met the first week I was here. At least he was a citizen.

    Hah, maybe he’s still available Judith? 😉 Yes, the telecommunications and parcel deliveries can *definitely* be touch and go here…I’ve also had my share of issues and am sure to have many more 🙁

  11. Lesley
    06.23.2009

    We have been amazed by the kindness of our neighbours, shop-keepers, bar owners etc.
    Learning the language is hugely important I think – and being able to converse you can have lots more fun.
    Our social life since moving to Calabria has been amazing, we have made so many new friends of all nationalities – not just Italians – and we are in the midst of a social whirl which will last until October and then will continue over the winter at a slightly slower pace (which will give us a chance to catch our breath a bit).
    This helps with missing family as we are so busy but we have Telecom Italia’s Teleconomy International service at 10 euros a month that allows us to ring all of Europe, the US and Canada completely free. We make very good use of that as well as Skype and Facebook.
    I am also a member of bookcrossing and have made lots of virtual friends. We post books to each other and can follow their progress, sometimes they make trips right around the globe. Take a look here:
    http://bookcrossing.com/friend/iwanttobeinital

    Thanks for the link Lesley! And yes, the language is *very* important. Italians are very happy that you’re trying 🙂

  12. 06.23.2009

    Ciao Bella!
    Well certainly a lot to say about this topic.
    I think each of our experiences and circumstances, what lead us to our new country, are different but the feelings we experience in regards to our home country are probably very similar. Like you, I am very close to my family. It’s usually the first thing out of my mouth when people ask (and it happens often), “How do you like Perth?” Somewhere in there I manage to mention that I miss my family.
    As for tips, follow your heart. It really does know best. I could easily get discouraged about things but I make the choice to not let that get in the way of living life and enjoying all the challenges along the way.
    x

    I think people sometimes forget we have a choice, especially in how we deal with things…it’s *so* important to choose to not let certain things bother you as an expat. It could be the number one survival tool in fact! Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Collette 🙂

  13. 06.23.2009

    It sounds like you have a wonderful life there! I think it is great that you have a sense of “community”.

    Thanks, Lori; it’s definitely a welcoming place 🙂

    .-= Lori´s last blog ..Churches =-.

  14. Amy
    06.23.2009

    My husband and I have travel to Italy (Florence/Chianti area) and fell head-over-heels in love. We would love to move, but having 3 children, ill parent, job, etc. It’s completely impossible at the moment. Love your blog. Can’t wait to read more.

    I’m blogging about becoming frugal. I jokingly decided to give up bottled wine in exchange for boxed wine. I’ve been pleasantly surprised that there are some very nice boxed wines. Supposedly, boxed wine is appearing more and more in Italy. Is there any truth to this??

    Stop by and visit if you ever get a chance: http://www.frombottle2box.com

    I have seen some boxes here, but I haven’t tried them. I’ve always heard that there are some good ones, actually…I think people just have to get over the snobbery part of it 😉

  15. I was similarly close to/arm’s length from family when I lived in Hawai’i, and email hadn’t caught on yet. It was challenging, but we made it work. I’m actually in better contact with most of my family now that I’m on the Mainland than I was when I lived in the immediate vicinity. So email/Facebook/Skype FTW.

    Also, what’s key is truly being at home wherever your home is: permanent or transitory. That means really spending time with and getting to know your neighbors. For me, that’s the whole reason **to** travel…

    I’m with you; being farther away really makes you make the effort or else you don’t and relationship wither away–and I’m definitely with you on the “home” thing. It’s a feeling that’s difficult to put in words, but you know it when you feel it. Kind of like love in that respect….

  16. 06.23.2009

    Thanks for answering my question about how you were received by the locals. I too live far away from my family (on different coasts) so I can understand how it can be-especially at the holidays. I’m sure your family just wants you to be happy and if living in Italy with P. makes you happy, they’re happy too! (hopefully my link will work now-don’t know how it changed-www.paninigirl.wordpress.com)

    Yes, works now! Phew! And I do hope my family is happy for me since I really can’t imagine being anywhere else right now….

  17. 06.23.2009

    I think it’s a trade off, just like everything else in life; we give some and get some. You have wonderful new friends there, new family, a new life, and the friends, family and life that you had in the states was what you traded.
    I don’t think that they can really be compared so much, it’s apples and oranges, but you let go of one world to hold on to a new one, and it is good.
    And you are happy, most of the time, which is the best anyone can ask for, I think.

    HUGS Cara, XOXOXO

    Scarlett & Viaggiatore

    Your last line sums it up perfectly 🙂

    .-= Wanderlust Scarlett´s last blog ..Wandering Westward ~ Destination Six =-.

  18. 06.24.2009

    I can’t imagine that it would be easy all of the time and I’m sure there are some wonderful things and some things you miss. Life is about balance after all…

    With great risk comes great reward. Good on you for following your heart and your dreams.

    George

    Thank you, George. As with anything, there are good parts and not so good, and you learn to appreciate the good more than be annoyed by the bad…or you don’t stay, I don’t think.
    .-= Tumblemoose´s last blog ..What It Takes to Make It Writing Children’s Books =-.

  19. 06.24.2009

    Sounds like a wonderful life! A few years back we moved from California to North Carolina, I guess it’s not exactly the same – we still work with the same language (mostly) and the laws & taxes are the same – but we’re still away from family & friends we left behind. Email, IM and Vonage help keep contact with loved ones and the cost is minimal.

    Oh I think your move is pretty equivalent in terms of moving from one culture to another 😉 Thanks for the tips!

    .-= carrie´s last blog ..Happy Father’s Day =-.

  20. 06.24.2009

    @Michelle,
    not very homogeonous is that state, Italy it is not, as a sager one than i might say it.
    I realize further south there are more difficulties in availability, and did cite resources for people further north.
    In some even remote areas down south though (Stromboli last Summer, a relatively isolated Sicilian vulcanic island) I found a book store with a relatively sophisticated selection of English books, I must admit, and not many English speaking tourists around…

    As to communications, it has come a (very) long way from my hard plastic “gettoni” holder in the 80s that held enough “slotted” SIP coins to call home for a few minutes.
    With the Skype flatrate packages for €7-8 per month to be able to call US land and cell lines unlimited, I call lots more relatives at home in the States than I ever have before. And the quality of the phone calls has improved tremendously, from the “echo echo echo” of even 10-15 years ago (bad satellite reverb) to most normal, or even skype calls now, recently sometimes better than “normal” calls. Go figure.

    Yes there are great differences throughout the country…too funny about the gettoni! And I agree: sometimes Skype quality is actually better than normal ones….

  21. 06.24.2009

    P.S. when my folks were young (I was still only 4 way back in the 60s) they decided to move from Cleveland to Chicagoland for a job opportunity for my Dad.
    It seemed a tragedy (I can still sort of remember Serious Family Arguments [capitalized on purpose, they seemed that serious] about it).
    Every visit to my grandparents was considered a special trip (7 hours by car) back then.
    Now the same thing is happening between my daughters and their grandparents/aunts/uncles in he States from Italy. Except my daughters talk to their grandparents a lot more (and at much lesser costs) than I ever did.
    Seems a lot simpler now than then, I think to the benefit of many. I hope.

    I think you really nailed it, Jacques, when you say things are much simpler now…I couldn’t agree more. I’m not sure I could’ve made it here as an expat 20 or 30 years ago….

  22. adf
    06.25.2009

    Does anyone remember when the phones used to “click” so you knew how much time you were using? I love how technology changes.

    Whenever I’m away from my family (in the States) I use VOIP to call. Try the program VOIPstunt; it’s good. I used to call Italy on it, but I have to buy more credits. 😀 U.S. to U.S. calls are, of course, free.

    Also, a great website for cheap airfare is http://www.vayama.com.

    Thanks for the tips, adf!
    .-= adf´s last blog ..E ho chiuso… =-.

  23. 06.25.2009

    Good post-I actually wondered how you got your books.

    Glad you enjoyed; I couldn’t live without books!
    .-= Esme´s last blog ..The Night Gardner Giveaway =-.

  24. 06.25.2009

    the grass is green on all sides… especially here with all the rain we’ve been having! Calabria is beautiful… can you imagine Calabria with a low unemployment rate and an organized government? It would be the perfect place! Then again, I guess many of the beautiful things that exist now are probably products of other not so great things.. which makes it what it is. STILL BEAUTIFUL. By the way Michelle, would love to get your opinion on Centro Commerciale Due Mari if you’ve been. Hope you’re well!

    *LOVE* that mall, Joe. Really. I only wish I lived closer so I could go more often. Or actually that wouldn’t be such a good thing, so perhaps I should just count myself lucky to be far enough away that it can’t be a daily thing 😉

  25. 06.25.2009

    Hey, first things first. Thanks for stopping by my blog. I’ve done a few posts like this and I enjoyed reading yours.

    My tips are:

    1. Get a support system of people in your new country, locals or other expats.
    2. chat regularly with people back home´.
    3. Regularly browse websites or news sites from your country so you dont feel out of the loop.
    4. Webcams!
    5. Care packages help!
    6. Planning trips back home helps too. It’s expensive especially now. But, it gives you something to look forward to if you are really missing home.

    Excellent advice, Sara; thanks for coming over and sharing 🙂

  26. 06.26.2009

    I was actually thinking about writing a post like this. I will link to you.

    Looking forward to reading it, Sara!

  27. 06.28.2009

    I think to happily survive life in a different country from your own you need to be curious, open to other ways of thinking, willing to risk making a fool of yourself on a regular basis, and you must accept the fact that you are different from the locals and will always be a foreigner, no matter how well you acculturate. If you can embrace all those types of “difference” it helps!

    p.s. we do have a Feltrinelli in Bari (Puglia) with a good selection of books in English! And many local books stores will order English-language books for you, if you prefer not to order on-line.

    Oh thanks so much for sharing that, Saretta! Good for Bari! I hope they’ll move into Catanzaro soon. And I completely agree on your tips as well 🙂
    .-= saretta´s last blog ..Summer Tips #2 =-.

  28. Franca
    06.29.2009

    Hi Michelle! Thanks for answering my questions! Sorry I’ve been out of touch. Hasn’t been easy adjusting. Miss home a lot. And now I’m expecting my 2nd child and am thinking of going back home to give birth there. Do you have any tips about for me? Haha. It would definitely be tricky since I’m unemployed and uninsured. Anyway, thanks for your wonderful blog. I wish I could muster enough courage to create my own blog. I would love to get free books like you do!!! But I feel like my life is so boring. Take care now. 🙂

    Yes, the unemployed and uninsured in America thing stops many of us from going back for various health care, I’m afraid. Anyway, I can’t imagine life as a new mom expecting #2 can be *boring*! Try dipping your toes in the blogging water for a bit over at Blogspot or a free WordPress…you might just find you like it 😉

  29. Ilene
    02.28.2012

    For discounted books in English, try Daedalus Books in Maryland (google for website). An ex-pat friend in Genoa gets books from them for a low shipping fee.

    michelle Reply:

    Thx for the tip!

  30. Calabrian Kathleen
    05.15.2012

    Thanks Michelle for sharing!!! It brought tears to my eyes – your adventure! My father’s family left Marina Adore in the early 1900’s and I was one of the first to revisit it nearly 100 years later. Finding the village was a very intense experience for me and I am forever changed by visiting there. My heart was cracked open!!

    There is something so compelling about Calabria. I am thrilled to find your blog.

    Thank you and ciao!!

  31. michelle
    05.18.2012

    Thank you Kathleen! Glad you had such a wonderful experience as well 🙂

  32. 07.19.2012

    Sadly, I cannot say the same for Northern Italy. No one has ever given me fruit from their garden or so much as offered to carry a heavy parcel to my car for me! If it wasn’t for my husband I think I would move to another part of Italy to experience what everyone else here is talking about.
    I started to study Italian then stopped. The more I understood what people were saying the less I wanted to learn. I have had some good moments here but I find that I need regular trips back home to recharge my soul.
    As for keeping in touch, technology is great but my parents are getting older and it’s hard to think about how much longer they will be around and if I should visit more often.
    My tip for adjusting would be get a pet and a hobby. No matter where you live both of these things can be fulfilling. Even if I was in Canada I would have good days and bad days…but generally Canadians are much friendlier than the Italians I’ve met and this has been my biggest disappointment.

    michelle Reply:

    Best of luck to you on your journey, Leah 🙂

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Michelle FabioMichelle Fabio is an American attorney-turned-freelance writer living in her family's ancestral village in Calabria, Italy and savoring simplicity one sip at a time. 

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Homemade apple butter
Green beans, potatoes, and pancetta
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Pasta with snails alla calabrese
Onion, Oregano, and Thyme Focaccia
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Fried eggs with red onion and cheese
Calabrian sausage and fava beans
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