An American Expat in Italy Goes “Home”

As many of you know, I was back in the US from mid-November to late December. This was my first trip “home” since February 2004.

Yes I write it in quotes; as much fun as I had there, you see, I was also extremely excited and happy to get back to P, the pooches,

and the three kids (who, incidentally, we believe may all be pregnant!).

Stateside, I spent lots of time with family and friends, visited Philadelphia, New York City (where I met two online friends for the first time and met up with an old college friend–none of whom are shown in the photo below!)

and Washington DC,

helped my mom make cookies (which she sells for Christmas),

and shopped. A lot. The Christmastime prices in American malls? Worth the price of the airline ticket, quite frankly.

For instance, P was amazed that I could get him a pair of Levi’s for $30 (€21) when they cost, oh five times that here. My other spectacular purchases for myself include a new iPod Touch (to make it easier to read English language books, mainly) and a new external hard drive.

NB: Anything technological/electronic costs *way* less in America than it does in Italy.

My biggest culture shock actually came very early on in the trip when I couldn’t. stop. speaking. Italian. It was the weirdest thing! On the plane over, no matter what language the person addressing me was speaking, I would answer in Italian…and only sometimes catch that I had done it–once purely by the blank look on a fellow passenger’s face.

The two hardest things to stop saying were “Ciao!,” “Grazie!,” and “SΓ¬!” So I imagine I just looked like a really pretentious American for at least the first few days of the trip. Oh well.

The other thing that was hard to get used to? Things being open in the afternoon. So strange to be able to go shopping or *gasp* get something to eat between one and four! Lovely.

I still have lots of photos to go through and post on Flickr (and possibly here), and probably a lot of mental processing of the whole experience. Soon I’ll be publishing my Top 10 Realizations After Being “Home” for the First Time in Nearly Six Years so please check back!

31 Beans of Wisdom to “An American Expat in Italy Goes “Home””
  1. 01.11.2010

    I think we can safely say you’ve become completely Italian! πŸ˜‰

    Hmmm certainly in many ways I’m used to the European lifestyle πŸ™‚

    .-= Absolute Vanilla´s last blog ..The Unbearable Dysfunctionality of Being (with apologies to Milan Kundera) =-.

  2. Gil
    01.11.2010

    When you and your mom make cookies you make cookies! That picture looks like it was taken in a bakery in Italy! Good thing you remember how to write in English! If this blog was in Italian it would take me all day to figure out what you wrote.

    Haha, don’t worry Gil–NO danger of that happening. And that was actually just a small part of the cookies…oh the batters!!!

  3. 01.11.2010

    Wow! does your mom ship those cookies to her customers from out of state? I would adopt her for my next holiday! lol πŸ™‚

    She only shipped out one set this year on special request…but arrangements could be made πŸ˜‰

  4. 01.11.2010

    I’m sure there was a lot of culture shock! It’s only been 3 years since I’ve been back but I’m sure I would have a hard time adjusting.

    In some ways, it was really like I’d never left…but I do attribute a lot of that to how connected we can be via Internet these days πŸ™‚

    .-= Mary´s last blog ..Twins =-.

  5. 01.11.2010

    Frank cannot remember that nothing is open between 1 and 4 or on a Sunday night! Here you can get gelato or caffe on a Sunday night but no stores are open.

    Sunday is just a killer here…although on the other hand, it’s usually a rather relaxing day. Even if I spend part of it cleaning, I know the rest of it won’t be full of running around!

  6. 01.11.2010

    I often have the same problem of switching gears, though sometimes worse: for some unexplainable reason for the first couple days I tend to speak to my wife in English (we normally speak only Italian) and my English speaking relatives in Italian.

    I also couldn’t get used to the store hours again: one night I decided I had to go to the grocery store and get something at 11:30pm just because I could, I missed it so much.

    Another thing I love in the States are the Dollar Stores, which besides all the cheap “junky” stuff that the Euro stores have over here and are only at Euro stores, also have enough good “remainders” that are really bargains worth stocking up: I got beautiful 2010 calandars for lots of people for $1 each! Plus 8-packs of velcro cable ties when in Italy they cost €4 per five-pack. The back of my desk has never looked neater.

    Oh excellent on the dollar stores! They really *don’t* just have junk…I don’t know about those velcro cable ties…may have to send my mom on a mission! Interestingly I didn’t have a problem switching back to Italian when I came back….

  7. Lesley
    01.11.2010

    Oh Michelle, I know just what you mean about Grazie, Ciao and Si.
    Even when we pop to the UK for a quick visit it is impossible to stop using those Italian words that are now completely second nature….

    Isn’t it funny how you really just don’t even think about it?!

  8. mah
    01.11.2010

    Coming back the modern squalor and the widespread urban blight of Calabria – after some days spent in the splendor of NYC – must be really hard, must it?

    Please feel free to go be depressed in your own life, mah; I couldn’t be happier with mine <3

  9. 01.11.2010

    I’m always affected like that. I can’t help but saying bonjour when I walk into a store…at least the first few days I’m back πŸ™‚

    Oh my! I almost forgot a conversation I had with a stranger in Philly…when it was time to end it, all I wanted to say was “Buon giorno!” and couldn’t figure out how to say the “right” thing; finally he said, “Have a good day!” and I was thinking, “YES! That’s it!!!” Hahaha πŸ˜€

    .-= meredith´s last blog ..les soldes =-.

  10. 01.11.2010

    I had the same problem, automatically responding in Italian and reaching for English words sometimes. Weird feeling! I also still forget that things are open all through the afternoon (and was shocked to see how many places are open 24 hours around here!)
    Bentornata in Calabria. Sounds like our kids have been…uh, frolicking! πŸ™‚

    Indeed they have! Hopefully we can meet up when you’re here πŸ™‚

    .-= Valerie´s last blog ..In The Homestretch =-.

  11. 01.11.2010

    Welcome home!

    Grazie πŸ™‚

    .-= LindyLouMac´s last blog ..Christmas Greetings. =-.

  12. 01.11.2010

    Loved this post – I am going back to Switzerland in a couple of weeks since late 2002/early 2003, so I am really wondering how the culture shock will affect me.

    Oh wow, you’re in a similar boat, so to speak…can’t wait to read about your experiences!

    .-= City Girl´s last blog ..{City Girl Eats} Noshtopia’s Peppadew and Edamame Hummus =-.

  13. 01.11.2010

    Neat! Can’t wait to hear more.

    More coming…but please be patient πŸ™‚

  14. mah
    01.11.2010

    so you’re very fond of unfinished buildings and urban blight, are you? πŸ™‚

    Me? So glad you asked!

    I love medieval villages with character and stone buildings with well-earned battle scars of times and people past; I love walking the same narrow, winding streets that my great-great-grandfather walked as he set off early in the morning to do thankless work in a baron’s field; I love rolling green hills full of olive, lemon, and mandarin orange groves that have fed many generations of not just Calabrians, but Italians as well; I love waking up in the morning and going out on the balcony to take in the fresh mountain air with NO pollution, looking out to the pristine Ionian Sea, deciding whether I’ll take a walk on the beach or go further into the mountains to tend to the campagna that gives us so much in return for our hard work; I love my neighbors who are never without a smile, a kind “ciao,” an offer of coffee, and most likely a plateful of something delicious, either homegrown or homemade….intanto adoro la mia vita in Calabria….

    But on another note, have you ever seen rundown areas in cities (no matter what country)? Or other small (and large) towns around the world that are slowly dying because the younger generations are leaving for work in the cities (yes, I come from one of those in the US, so I assure you they exist there as well)?

    It is easy to look anywhere and criticize as nowhere is perfect. We can choose to see ugly or we can choose to see beauty–no matter what situation we’re in. You may do as you please. I’ve made my decision.

  15. Kristin
    01.11.2010

    Mom’s cookies look …. delicious!! I’m so disappointed we couldn’t meet up – I brag to everyone I know about my wonderfully, brave friend who picked up her life and moved to Italy. Miss you!

    You would’ve had some if the Blizzard of ’09 hadn’t hit! Miss you too! xo

  16. 01.11.2010

    Welcome back, Michelle! I can’t believe you hadn’t been to the States since 2004, you must have had a lot of reverse culture shock on many levels! I get it in both directions…from here to the States and from the States back to here! LOl!

    I didn’t get much coming back here, but I think it’s because the timing was so lopsided…only six weeks there after six years here; it’ll be interesting to see what it’s like the next time I come back here after perhaps not taking so long to get used to there…if that makes sense πŸ˜‰

    .-= saretta´s last blog ..Lover’s Field =-.

  17. Lisa
    01.11.2010

    When I lived in Rio and returned to the states for visits or spent summers in France to study, I did the same thing you did, Michelle, for the first few days. Be it the US or France I would unconsciously throw out the fun and casual Brazilian greetings like …”Oi, tudo bem?” and “Obrigada” to the natives. In the US I got strange looks, while in France they’d asked me, “Vous Γͺtes brasilienne?”
    And yes, I too, would go on shopping sprees while in the US, since somethings just couldn’t be found cheaply in South America.
    I’m so glad you had a wonderful visit to the states. I hope to get to Philly in the next few months.

    Hah, funny to be mistaken for yet another nationality! The prices in the US are just *so* much better on so many things…I ended up saving money (so to speak!) even with the extra luggage charges. Enjoy Philly! I really think the city has gotten nicer since I’ve left–both aesthetically (especially around the Art Museum) and personally…so many random good mornings and hellos πŸ˜€

  18. 01.12.2010

    Welcome home! Glad to hear that you enjoyed your visit back in the States.

    Each time I go back home, it takes a few days to readjust as well, like shopping at Walmart on a Wednesday. I miss my Sunday shopping. πŸ™‚

    Well, welcome home.

    Thanks Rosa πŸ™‚

    .-= Rosa´s last blog ..New Year’s Resolutions with Nigella =-.

  19. Eleftheria
    01.12.2010

    I know EXACTLY what you mean.
    I left in 2002 and went back last year (2009).
    On my flight from Germany to the US which was with Delta, I had not see that many Americans in one place in seven years.
    The flight attendant asked me something before takeoff and I answered in Greek.
    I had lived most of my life in Seattle however my parents now live in Florida, there I experienced a whole new culture..shock!! Not to mention I left in boots, wool jacket and scarf only to arrive there and see that I was the only one not wearing shorts and a tshirt. I did get some weird looks on the plane from the other passengers and some people at the airport.

    Haha, yes I only had a little bit of a climate change since the weather was actually pretty mild in Philly when I landed…turned quickly to snow though! Seeing so many Americans in one place *was* a weird thing! My first experience with it was at the Rome airport. Soooo strange to hear all that English with accents from all over the country!

  20. 01.12.2010

    Welcome Back,
    Just wanted to let you know that I added your site to my list of Southern Italy blogs.
    Yours was the second one I ever found.

    Thanks Di! And piacere πŸ™‚

    .-= Di´s last blog ..From Pausa to Passeggiata =-.

  21. 01.12.2010

    I look forward to reading more about your USA culture shock. I have done the same thing with words like ciao and grazie in the states. Certain words become so automatic!

    Haha, good to know I’m not alone πŸ™‚

    .-= Mental Mosaic´s last blog ..2010 Predictions =-.

  22. 01.12.2010

    Great to have you back! I totally get your culture shock. I usually speak English at home and try to go back to Canada once a year so I don’t have too much of a problem switching back but whenever I answer the phone I have to really concentrate and stop myself from saying “Pronto”. Oh, and I also say “Boh!” a lot.
    The one thing that I found since I left was how much English (esp. slang) has changed over the years and how archaic I must sound to my friends. I’m still stuck in 1996! In my day, one would say “I really LIKE living in Italy” but now it’s all too common to hear “I’m really LIKING living in Italy” Ugh!

    Oh I haven’t heard that…maybe it’s a Canadian thing? Interesting! Also, “boh” is definitely another one! As is “Mah!” πŸ™‚

    .-= Milanese Masala´s last blog ..Sant’Ambrogio Winterlude =-.

  23. 01.13.2010

    Your children are pregnant-not to ask a dumb question-how if they are all female-what is the gestation period for mama goats. Seems like you had a wonderful time at home. 6 years that is a long time.

    Not a dumb question! We borrowed a male to put in with them for about a month in the fall; they have 150 days of gestation, which means if they’re with kids, they’ll deliver in March-ish πŸ™‚

    .-= Esme´s last blog ..Butternut Squash Cranberry Hash =-.

  24. 01.13.2010

    I sometimes find that even being away for a few weeks gives me a new perspective on my home in London, or England. I’ll be interested to read your further thoughts.

    Thanks for coming by Jenny!

  25. 01.13.2010

    I love your blog! I’m so happy I came across it this morning. I truly think it was a case of serendipity because I had just been to the profumeria in a small town near my house and my heart was bleeding for America. I also live in Italy and have done so for 15 years. I don’t know when I am going to get used to it.

    I relate on so many levels to your dual lives in US and Italy. The two worlds, the languages, the cultures are so different yet so similar I think you could write forever and never exhaust the subject.

    The cost of living here to me is so over the top expensive. I bought suitcases full of things in the states last summer. I wish I had bought the right top of Ziploc bags at Walmart because I have yet to find them in Italy. I tell you, my mother-in-law who cooks round the clock would love them. Unfortunately I got baggies which are so not the same.

    I dream of the racks and racks of affordable cosmetics such as Maybelline. Today at the perfume store – if you can call it that – they sold everything from Dior to cat litter. Don’t ask me why. I picked up a mascara that I know only costs $9 in the states and here they want $26. I put it back fast.

    Please keep up the good blog content. I appreciate it. Have a great day. Love your life in Italy. It’s such a beautiful place.

    Julie

    Please feel free to visit my blog. I’m a blogger at http:www.jangelos.wordpress.com

    So happy you stopped by, Julie! Ziplocs were *absolutely* in my suitcase…yes, I took them out of their boxes and kind of just stuffed them anywhere they fit πŸ™‚ I look forward to reading your blog as well!

    .-= Julie Angelos´s last blog ..74th day blogging with 1650+ visitors. WT? Cranking out fresh smiley blog content daily. =-.

  26. Welcome home Michelle!

    I speak mostly english here (I’m working on that ) but when I was in St. Martin I would answer French speakers with Italian. I couldn’t for the life of me say “oui” or “merci” instead of “si” and “grazie”. My brain was very confused!

    Haha, I imagine! Especially with two romance languages floating around….
    .-= nyc/caribbean ragazza´s last blog ..7.0 earthquake devastates Haiti =-.

  27. 01.15.2010

    Hi Michelle,

    Love this post. Wow about waiting 5 years to return. Can’t wait to find out your realizations. Next time you are in nyc give me a call. admire your blog very much and would be fun to have coffee.

    Just so you know even after a week in Italy I have trouble switching back to bye, thanks and yes. And I’m not even fluent.

    ciao!

    L

    Would love to meet up with you too, Laura! This time I had one day in NYC and realized VERY quickly that I needed at least two more to meet up with all the wonderful friends I have in the metro area….

  28. Glad to know you were able to go home after quite a while in Italy! I can relate to speaking the foreign language despite being in your home country. I couldn’t stop speaking in Japanese on the first days in the Philippines too! And worst of all? I kept on bowing my head – very humiliating and definitely look strange to other non-Japanese people!!

    Haha, that’s funny Grace! Glad you stopped by πŸ™‚

    .-= Grace @ Sandier Pastures´s last blog ..A taste of Japanese school next year =-.

  29. 03.09.2010

    Hey Michelle!

    Finally I’ve been able to nearly catch up with all the posts you’ve written since the birth of your blog! lol Glad you had such a great time here in the States. I must say that in 2008, when I spent 3 months in Italy, I too responded to everyone in Italian, and not intending to. For those 3 months, Italian was the only language I spoke, except when I called my parents once a week. For some reason, “si'”, “grazie”, “permesso”, and “ciao” flew out of my mouth every time I answered someone. It was really strange. lol

    Hope all is well in the Bel Paese!

    It really is amazing how quickly those throwaway phrases become second nature! Glad you’re caught up; thanks so much for making the effort!

  30. Martha
    07.05.2010

    I’m pretty slow on the trigger responding to your posdt but I just saw it..in fact I just clued into “BE” during the AK blow out.
    I live in the Casentino in Tuscany. (I’m a suvurban Philadelphia native.) First time I went home after 4 years I was in a Target in FLA around Valentine’s Day and remarked to my friend that it was nice that the Target employees were wearing red t shirts for V Day. The I got my change and saw the rainbow effect on the bills and mentioned that to her, too. “Wow, look at this money.” I’m sure the woman behind me thought I’d just gotten out of the slammer. Si, grazie, prego, ciao all stayed with me. And I LOVED going to the store anytime I wanted to!

    Haha, so true — the money has definitely changed! Glad you found me πŸ™‚

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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Recipes

 

Homemade apple butter
Green beans, potatoes, and pancetta
Glazed Apple Oatmeal Cinnamon Muffins
Pasta with snails alla calabrese
Onion, Oregano, and Thyme Focaccia
Oatmeal Banana Craisin Muffins
Prosciutto wrapped watermelon with bel paese cheese
Fried eggs with red onion and cheese
Calabrian sausage and fava beans
Ricotta Pound Cake