Moon Living Abroad in Italy
© John Moretti, from Living Abroad in Italy, 2nd Edition.
Used by permission of Avalon Travel. All rights reserved.
There are as many reasons to come to Italy as there are people who do. To cycle through the cypress-lined hills of Siena; to study the frescoes of Giotto in the Scrovegni Chapel; to lie on the rose-colored beaches of Sardinia; to ski in the Alps; to eat porcini and drink Brunello di Montalcino in the Apennines; to wander the streets of Rome—all these beautiful experiences draw the crowds to Italy. But what keeps people coming back, perhaps for a lifetime, are the Italians themselves.
The Human Touch
When you step off the plane in Italy, feel the balmy breeze, and hear the conversations of people who don’t seem to have a care in the world, it’s as if you’ve returne d to a more innocent time. You can see the relief on Italians’ faces when they hear their own language and share a wisecrack with a perfect stranger about a baggage belt that’s taking hours to get rolling. This is our country, they think, warts and all, and we wouldn’t have it any other way. They may have just returned from a business meeting in London or Munich or Brussels, all very impressive places where everything goes according to schedule, but people often seem as if they’re not enjoying themselves.
Sure, there are Italians who feel exasperated with a lot of things about their country, but they’ll rarely complain about it. When faced with a long line at the post office, they don’t fume over it and stamp their feet, but rather occupy themselves with more important thoughts, like where to go for dinner that night, or else strike up a conversation with the person next to them.
This human touch, a tolerance bordering on appreciation for the country’s blissful imperfections, is what makes everyday events like grocery shopping in Italy more a recreational activity than a chore. It’s not a matter of driving to the supermarket and loading as many plastic bags into a minivan in as little time as possible. Instead, you’ll walk down cobblestone alleys to markets where vendors spend the time to tell you how to prepare a certain fish, or what vegetable to choose as a side dish, even if it means that the person behind you has to wait a few more minutes.
An American in Rome
Of all the patience Italians possess, they seem to reserve the most for their American visitors. Some Italians, along with other Europeans, criticize U.S. foreign policy. But on a personal level, Italians and Americans share many of the same values, and any minor American deviation from Italian cultural norms is greeted with immense tolerance.
For one thing, this is shrewd diplomacy. The millions of dollars that Americans spend in Italy every year represent a good portion of the nation’s tourism income, which in turn is a significant source of total revenues. When Americans stop coming to Italy in large numbers, as happened in the months following September 11, 2001, the service industry gets very jittery.
Italians have hosted Americans and American businesses for a long time now and are used to their quirks. After World War II, U.S. soldiers patrolled the streets of Rome and Naples, followed by the American café-dwellers of the roaring 1950s. The 1954 film An American in Rome is about an Italian so enamored with America that he pretends to be from Kansas City. The movie takes a few good-natured jabs at the baseball hat–wearing, spaghetti-slurping crowd, but the nasal American accent of actor Alberto Sordi is still endearing to the Italian ear. In the 1980s, McDonald’s, basketball, and Coca-Cola were king, and to some extent they have endured the vicissitudes of style and the antiglobalization movement of the late 1990s. The symbols still conjure a Sordi-esque vision of a wide-eyed, youthfully energetic people.
A Land of Plenty
Millions of Americans come to Italy every year, and after just a two-week stay, many of them feel so at home that they are already scheming to make the move. It’s hard to leave Italy behind.
The Mediterranean climate is one of its greatest selling points. In the spring, it is warm and not too wet. In the fall, it is cool, sometimes a little damp, but not too windy. In the winter, you need just a medium-weight jacket and an umbrella. Summers are very hot, except in the mountains and at the beach, where all Italians enjoy the month of August. Then come the rains, like clockwork on September 1, and tanned faces return to the city to do it all over again.
Because of this balmy Mediterranean weather, Italy calls itself “the garden of Europe.” All along the highways, in small towns, and everywhere in between, the country is teeming with azaleas, bougainvillea, roses, grapes, and palm trees. The hills are alive with olives, citrus, chestnuts, mushrooms, watermelons, cherries, pears, and apples. Corner vegetable stands overflow with locally grown bright yellow peppers, green onions, purple eggplants, many varieties of ripe tomatoes (in at least three different shapes), apricots, artichokes, green and white asparagus, and avocados. If you locked yourself in the kitchen with a full day’s worth of groceries, you could prepare everything in your favorite cookbook and still have much of the bounty left over.
If it seems like Italy is all about eating, that’s partly true. Daily schedules, conversations, TV shows, and just about everything else revolve around the lunch table, but in between bites, Italy has a lot more to offer. For one thing, there are thousands of ways to burn off the calories without ever going to the gym. With access to a mountainous landscape and spectacular coastline perfect for outdoor sports, Italians rarely bother with exercise machines, and instead enjoy some of the best skiing, cycling, hiking, swimming, and sailing that Europe has to offer.
Alternatively, an unparalleled wealth of art and architecture is just a short train ride away in a città d’arte such as Florence, Venice, Bergamo, Padua, or Rome. There are more than 3,000 museums nationwide, but really the whole country is an outdoor museum with some three millennia of history on display.
Italy affords something for every taste, and with so much diversity, the biggest decision you will face is where to live. If you enjoy sunshine, laid-back living, and couscous, you can find them in Sicily. If you prefer snow and fondue, head for Val d’Aosta, with all the cultural appeal of Milan and the littoral luxuries of the Riviera both just a short drive away. Those who imagine an Italy of frescoes, wine, and refined cuisine will gravitate towards the center, while the more stereotypical Italy of chaos and pizza is still there for the asking in Naples.
Editor's note: See Living in Italy: Key Websites and Articles for the precise information you seek regarding all aspects of life in Italy.