What is living in Italy like?

living in italy what is like

Living in Italy is for me, a dream come true. I first came to Italy to visit my baby sister Sharon. She wasn’t a baby at the time, and nor was I. But she has always been and will always be “my baby”. That was over 25 years ago. I was in my late twenties and I missed her desperately. She had come to Florence to study art restoration and I couldn’t bear being without her. I came for a visit that turned out to be for the rest of my life. 

I had studied art history at university, so I knew what beautiful creations I was about to set my eyes on. I didn’t speak a word of Italian. I had no idea that this would become my home when I left Toronto. I was meant to come for a few weeks and then go back to Toronto and start a new job. 

I took the train from the airport to Florence and entered the Santa Maria Novella Train Station. This was before they had digital arrival and departure boards. What existed before those was a deafening board with black metal panels which had white numbers and letters on them. Instead of updating the arrival and departure board with silent red dots, it was a chaotic, constant, heinously loud shuffling of these metal plates that were in constant motion. It was the loudest place I had ever been, apart from a concert, where the noise is intentional. This was just “noise” for no good reason, other than the fact that this is how it was. Just how it was. 

At that moment, I felt the strangest feeling. Exhausted from a long haul flight, carrying a huge and heavy duffel bag (I have never been a light packer, and this was before suitcases with wheels), I should have felt completely alienated. I had no idea where I was or how to get anywhere, or do anything. But I felt like I had suddenly landed At Home, for the first time ever. 

People always presume that I never left here because I fell in love with an Italian. That wasn’t it. I fell in love with Italy. True, I did fall in love with an Italian a couple of years later, but what I fell in love with was Living in Italy. 

Quality of life in Italy

I fell in love with going to the market to buy fresh fruit and vegetables. I fell in love with going to the caffe (which they call bar) in the morning and drinking my cappuccino standing up, and getting crumbs from my sfoglia pastry all over my coat. I pretended to understand what was going on as I listened to all the different types of orders flying at the bartender over the “banco”. I remember the most incredible one coming from a very elegant woman who ordered a caffè macchiato caldo in vetro. That took so long to say! What could it be? The bartender got busy and quickly delievered her an espresso with a dollop of hot milk, in a glass espresso cup.  I bought a dictionary. I bought grammar books. I dove into verb conjugations. I road the bus and picked up Ho fatto/I did, Ho mangiato/I ate Ho bevuto/I drank. The world was opening up. Months later, I would buy a television and watch the Maurizio Costanzo show at night. I didn’t understand a word that anyone was saying for months, until I did. 

When I went home to visit my family, after changing my return flight date, about 6 months later, I was already speaking Italian pretty well. I didn’t have a teacher, actually, I was teaching English in order to pay the rent in a tiny loft with frescoed ceilings near the mercato di San Lorenzo. The language just flowed inside of me, and I was a sponge for it. On that visit back to Toronto, one of my aunts was telling me how much she loved visiting Florence. She shared her favorite spots, and I told her mine. Her eyes lit up remembering the beauty. Then she smiled at me and shrugged and said: “well, now you are back to reality”. 

That’s when I wondered to myself what that meant. Wasn’t life in Florence real? To me it had become the only reality. And I made the choice to stay there and to make it my home.  

Living in Italy as a North American : some tips!

So if you are considering a move to Italy, or even just an extended holiday, here are a couple of vital pointers to ensure that you have the best experience possible. 

  • Number 1. Embrace the notion of lack of efficiency. Throw out the window the notion that things will “work” the way that they do in North America. I remember trying to get my first hydro and gas bills set up in Florence and having to take an day off work. Yes, this was over 25 years ago, and Italy has come a long way, but we are still decades behind. Just last week I was helping a client who bought a home, transfer the bills into her name. I think I have probably spent longer on the phone, and writing emails than I even did that day in Florence. If you let these things get to you, they will drive you crazy. If you embrace the dysfunction as part of the charm of Italy, and are able to let go of the “snap my fingers” way of expecting things to get done quickly, you will win your first star. 
  • Number 2. Be patient. The same patience goes for cooking. Anything that is delicious probably takes time. Risotto has to be stirred gradually. Yes, I admit that I have tried microwaved versions that I have even enjoyed.  But the process of stirring the broth in bit by bit, and having the kitchen steam up as you fill the whole house with the perfume of white wine and parmesan cheese is what makes it taste so much better when you finally sit down to enjoy it. Patience. Take your time. Piano, piano
  • Number 3. Let go. It’s about slowing down, which for me is still a challenge, but definitely a necessary one. Sometimes I wonder what kind of a nut I would have turned out to be had I remained in Toronto. Even after all these years, I still walk too fast, and work too hard. I am proud of being Canadian. It is that ‘difference’ that allows me to appreciate the Italian lifestyle more than even an Italian does. Everything is still so beautiful to me here. Every day, I am amazed at the beauty of this place: the nature, the culture, the history, the food, the traditions. appreciate what is at my doorstep and I never take it for granted. The best way to get the most out of Italy is to “let go”. Once you can do that the magic ensues, and you will be swept away by the dolce vita lifestyle. 

Are you dreaming of living in Italy just like I used to?

Well, that’s my job, to help you live your dream too. Let’s see what can I do for you.

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