First Time On Surviving In Italy?

Your First Time Here? STOP. This is mostly a humor blog. If you’re offended easily or struggle with sarcasm or irony you should skip my website and watch this instead. Also, I swear ALL THE FUCKING time and ramble on about the capybara. You still there? Winning! I’ve Put Together Some Of My Most Popular Posts For You To Start With:

LIFE IN ITALY

21 Ways To Survive Being An Expat 

Why Everyone Should Live In Italy At Least Once In Their Lives

Christmas In Italy 2013: The Time The Blowdryer Ate My Mother-In-Law’s Head

13 Things That I’ve Learned From Marrying An Italian Man

17 Signs That Italy Might Make You Crazy Or Homicidal

Italian The Hard Way

10 Reasons That I’m Surprised That Someone Married M.E.

In My Husband’s Family, Leaving The Table Is Like Announcing You’ve Eaten A Child 

TRAVEL ITALY

Dining In Italy: How To Avoid Making An Ass Of Yourself

Rome With Rick Zullo

Travel Bologna With Sarah Dowling

5 Steps To A Non-Conventional Night In Florence

A Weekend In Chianti

Vacation Apartments In Florence: How To Overcome Writer’s Block (Or Just Hang Out).

MOVING TO ITALY

Moving To Italy: Studying And Living 

Frequently Asked Questions: Jobs, Immigration, Circumcision, Love

31 Reasons You Would Be Better Off In Italy

How To Move To Italy

 

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5 Hours To Go: The In-Laws Cross The Atlantic

The next three weeks should be hell super fun. I’ve cleaned for a total of 12 hours in the past few days. I’ve washed every, single thing in the house. We dusted the baseboards, cleaned the fridge and freezer, the oven, and wrapped presents. You see, the Obamas  my in-laws are joining us in the US to spend Christmas with my parents.

My husband has been singing his usual Christmas song while I organize things. His version is terrifying because he only knows one line, “You better watch out,” which he warns over, and over again, threateningly. In his version, Santa is not only watching for naughty behavior, but is also a serial killer, ready for bloodshed.

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Maybe I can just hide in my hair.

 

At least it makes me giggle. Laughing breaks up the stress. I’m trying to focus on humor with all the cleaning, the planning, the preparing, the impending meltdown.

“What do you mean there’s no bidet!? We need at least a bucket or something!” My mother-in-law tells my husband on the phone last week.

I whispered, “What does she need a bucket for?”

Francesco cupped the phone, “You know, like a bucket to use as a bidet.”

I fluffed Oliver’s newly washed bed, “And how exactly will they lower their 60 year old asses into a small bucket?” I wondered.

We ended up buying the bucket, of course, which is now under my bathroom sink waiting. How they’ll use it, I have no idea. Frankly, I don’t want to know. I agree with them, the bidet is awesome but a bucket seems primative. It’s what poor people in those sad commercials-living in a foreign land in cardboard house-use for their weekly wash-up. It’s not really something you’d expect to find in bathroom in Arizona where they’ll be joining us for one week before we head to Utah for another week, then Vegas. They arrive in exactly 5 hours and 30 minutes. They’ve been to Germany but otherwise this is their first real trip outside of Italy. They’re main concern was not the plane exploding over the Atlantic or being eaten by sharks but whether or not we had an adequate butt washer.

They had other, more mild concerns, of course.  My MIL is worried that American lemons are not good enough to make cookies. What kind of food would they eat and who would be preparing it? Legally, how much food could they get away with bringing in their suitcases? What about Prosciutto? When my husband told my mother-in-law that she could not bring half of a pig with her she thought for a minute, “It’s okay, I’ll just tell the security guard that my daughter-in-law is pregnant.” I’m not pregnant and what pregnant woman requires four pounds of dried pork? What would I be birthing that would require that much medicated protein?

Don’t mind this leg. There’s a fetus in need of nourishment, officer.

 

“They’re going to show up naked,” I warned Francesco. I wouldn’t be surprised if they teetered off the plane with one change of clothes in order to make room for an entire ham, pasta, tomato sauce, lemons, grappa, and random greens my father-in-law harvested from a nearby field. If they were other people and not them it would be pretty cute (for those of you new to the blog, I’m not a monster, we’re dealing with some very special people here). It’s not that I hate them or even dislike them. I somehow even love them (stockholm syndrome). But they are impossibly difficult to deal with. Three weeks, 24 hours per day, with any in-laws is just insane. That amount of time with my in-laws is just asking for someone to self medicate or admit themselves to the loony bin.

In embracing humor we’ve also been making bets about the first round of shit talk they dish out. I voted on things that are typical and a sure win: “You’re hair is ugly, I don’t like your makeup, why do you dress that way, and you should get rid of your dog.” Francesco tried to be more optimistic, voting for: “The house isn’t clean enough, the food is all shit, your coffee is terrible, and why won’t you guys have a baby? Do you not understand how sex works?” Followed by a possible diagram situation or a series of uncomfortable jokes.

I’ll be keeping a roster in my office. Winner gets…something. What should the winner get? A cyanide tablet to escape to freedom.

Five more hours. I should shower. Or sweep. Or just cry into the bidet bucket so they can wash their asses in my tears. Wish me luck!

Please share your in-law horror stories with me. Or your insane holiday stories with me. Let’s all bond over other people’s insanity.

7 Really Great Resources That Will Prepare You For Italy

This isn’t a real post so I apologize. It’s more of a post answering emails. Sort of. I’m often asked for resources and recommendations on moving to Italy, so, alas, here is a roundup of my favorite resources from my little Amazon store. It also kinda supports my alcoholism wine habit. I hope you find some of the resources helpful. Am I missing something? Tell me! I’ll add it.

I suppose it’s common sense that knowledge and understanding can greatly enrich your travel experience, yet, I didn’t realize that nor did I prepare at all. When I decided to move to Italy I was more focused on preparing for the school I would be going to and not at all worried about preparing for living in another country. I figured I’d just learn once I arrived. I did learn, gradually, but more than that I spent a lot of time confused, while looking like a complete moron. The more you know about Italy the more you’ll be able to enjoy your time there right from the gate.

Italian culture is complex, the way things work, the way the people operate, can be impossible to appreciate or understand without some historical context or alcohol. It’s a rich country with thousands of years behind it. Thousands. Of. Years. So, there are so many dead bodies under the streets. That’s like the US times ten or fifteen or…What is it? I suck at math. Anyway, you’ll fit in better, you’ll see things deeper, and you’ll have a richer experience if you’ve taken the time to learn as much as possible. I know for a fact that my experience as a student would have been a lot better (and I would have looked a lot less stupid) if I’d taken the time to do some reading before jetting of to good ole Italy. So, if you’re planning a trip to Italy or you’ll be studying or moving there soon, these are my top picks from my little Amazon store of the best resources to get you in the know as fast as possible. Seriously, I have like 100 but you’ve got shit to do and who has time for more than 7 when you’re packing?

1. The Documentary Italy, Love It Or Leave It. 2014. This is a new, funny and moving documentary about two young Italian men as they try to understand why so many Italians are leaving their country. During their search for answer they cover an array of social problems from marriage equality to fascism. It’s touching, and it will quickly give you an understanding of what young Italians are struggling with. You’ll come away with a deep sense of the modern culture and history. It’s a must see.

Italy: Love it or Leave it

2. The Complete Idiot’s Guide To Learning Italian. No, I don’t think you’re all idiots but this is one of the best books I’ve read as far as breaking down grammar, etc. Textbooks really complicate the whole process of conjugating verbs, etc., but this book makes it easy as hell. I took lessons, have an Italian husband, but this book is where I actually learned HOW verbs work. Admittedly, I am much better at hear=repeat, than “break apart and put back together.” It’s because I hated puzzles as a child.

The Complete Idiot's Guide to Learning Italian, Fourth Edition (Idiot's Guides)

3. Language tools: Now, from my experience, the best language tool ever for learning Italian is Rosetta Stone. This shit worked amazingly well. Both myself and my roommates learned a huge amount of our conversational skill with the program. However, it’s expensive and might only be worth the money if you want to work on fluency. If you can’t shell out the money for it, sell one of your kids or try DuoLingo.com or Babbel.com. I’ve used both and I love them both for learning new languages. Duolingo is free, but Babbel is like 7 dollars per month or something. I have Duolingo on my phone (the app is awesome) for both spanish and french, and I use Babbel to keep building my Italian and improving. Really, really great tools. I highly recommend starting this asap. The more Italian you speak, the better your life will be in Italy. Take it from someone who avoided learning it for as long as possible (because I’m an idiot).

Learn Italian: Rosetta Stone Italian - Level 1-5 Set

4. Family Politics By Paul Ginsburg. Dr. Ginsburg is one of the most important historians in Europe. He teaches at the University of Florence and his books offer incredible insight into Italian culture, history, and society. You can’t understand Italy without understanding the family dynamics and how they came to take shape. My life in Italy completely changed once I married into an Italian family. The family dynamics are so complicated, interesting, strong, and incredibly annoying in many ways. All of his books were very helpful on my depressed days when I was wondering, “what the hell is wrong with these people?” Ah, answers! Plus, I’m friends with his son who is also a total badass.

Family Politics: Domestic Life, Devastation and Survival, 1900-1950

5. La Bella Figura. You need this book. That’s really all I’m going to say about it. It’s a great cultural guide and it also covers the infamous Bella Figura,  a concept that is so insanely Italian (and it’s one of the cultural things that frustrates me the most, especially in the south). Impress, Impress, IMPRESS. You can’t live in Italy without this book. You just can’t. It will be one of the best things you’ve read. Plus, it will probably save your Italian friends and family (or partner) some embarrassment and frustration.

La Bella Figura: A Field Guide to the Italian Mind

6. Italianissimo. This is a great coffee table book, it’s gorgeous, and it’s funny. You’ll learn a ton of useful things about culture, the history of words, Italian hand gestures, all with the help of badass photos. I have this on my coffee table. My friends find it highly amusing.

Italianissimo: The Quintessential Guide to What Italians Do Best

7. In Pursuit Of Italy: A History of A Land, It’s Regions, And Their People. Alright, so this book is really in-depth, a little heavier, but you’ll understand so much about Italy and the people who live there after you’ve finished it. Also, you’ll appear smart and educated at dinner parties.  In order to understand Italians it’s absolutely necessary to know the history and the complexity of the different regions. Italians often have the assumption that Americans are uneducated about the entire world outside of the US so prove them wrong by arming yourself with all this fancy knowledge. Really. Especially if you want to make roots in Italy, you’ll need to understand it so you can do better in battle. By battle I mean dinner parties.

The Pursuit of Italy: A History of a Land, Its Regions, and Their Peoples

BONUS: The film Marriage Italian Style with Sophia Loren. Italy’s cultural obsession with the madonna/whore complex is amazing/weird and this movie (among plenty others) highlights that dichotomy of the “Italian woman,” as depicted by the patriarchy better than most. Basically, just ignore my rambling and watch it. It’s a really good movie.

What is your favorite resource? Have you read or used any of these? Were they helpful to you in any way? Please let everyone know what resources have helped to enrich your Italy experience, learn Italian, or fill in the cultural blanks for you!

10 Surprising Ways That Studying In Florence, Italy Will Change You

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1. You’ll become addicted. There are few people who study in Italy and think to themselves, “Meh, whatev, Ohio is way better.” Once you’ve lived in Florence there will probably be a small part of you that always wants to return. You’ll develop a permanent sort of nostalgia for the place.

2. Your friends will be totally annoyed with you. “In Italy…” for the five-millionth time will get old and everyone will want to slap the shit out of you. Instead of talking about Italy, just gaze longingly at your scrap book. Eventually you’ll resort to hours on blogs about living in Italy.  <—-Winning!

3. When you return to the US you’ll be appalled by how the guys dress (with the exception of NY, of course). You’ll probably get all judgy about outfits and demand that your boyfriends dress better or, if you’re a guy, you’ll probably get teased for not dressing like a basketball team member anymore. You’ll open your closet and lovingly stare at your skinny jeans and v-neck sweaters that you want to wear but can no longer muster the confidence.

4. Anytime someone makes pasta or pizza it will remind you of how much people suck at making pasta and pizza. Everywhere is terrible except for your beloved Italy.

5. Florence will become a perfect place in your mind. “That would never happen in Italy,” or, “In Italy the men actually shit rainbows. Real rainbows. It’s like Rainbow Bright in every bathroom.”

6. The rest of university will seem lame especially if you’re studying architecture, art history, fashion or anything that’s better in Florence. Going back to Minnesota or wherever will suddenly feel like your education is being stolen from you. How can you possibly learn about Di Vinci like this?

7. If you’re a woman, you’ll be so resistant to cat-calling that you’ll no longer notice college perverts. Is that guy screaming, “WHATSUP LADIES!?” You hardly noticed, you’ve been getting screamed at for months, in Italy.

8. Back in Merca’ at least once you’ll  attempt to buy booze you’re not old enough to buy. Or, if you’re over 21, you’ll try to skip down the street with a bottle of wine, only to be tackled by your friends as they wrestle the jail sentence out of your hand and toss it into a bush. You’ll forgive them as you lay crying on the sidewalk.

9. You’ll feel larger than life and probably become a little cocky. Living in another country is hard. Once you’ve mastered that it’s impossible not to feel like the master of the universe.

10. You can make a game out of confusing the shit out of your parents and childhood friends at home. The entire experience will change parts of you that you don’t even notice were changed. Everyone else will notice. They’ll probably talk about it behind your back while mimicking you with large hand-gestures.

Making Mixed Babies: Ranting About The Obvious Difficulties Of Raising Multicultural Children

I don’t have children. If you would have asked me if I wanted them in my twenties I would hissed at you, covered my vagina, and ran screaming in the other direction. I would have basically done the exact same thing regarding marriage. I always like the idea of someone wanting to marry me but I never intended on actually sealing the deal. It was just nice to know that if I did want to actually get married someone would have done it, I guess. That’s what being twenty-something, somewhat insecure, and an asshole will do to a person. Anyhow, all of that changed when I met Francesco.

I knew in a very real way that we would be getting married. Sure, that waivered a little here and there with some of his bullshit but I worked through the problems with him instead of shooting him in his sleep which was huge for me. Not shooting your boyfriend is love. In a lot of ways Francesco has changed the way that I think about a lot of things. He’s changed the way I view the importance of family, how I approach and solve problems (I care to actually solve problems without hurting him or his feelings…so that’s new), and I actually want to have children. Well, let me rephrase that to be honest, I would like children in our lives who are of our genetic makeup. I don’t want to actually have babies. Being pregnant, sick, tired, and giving up wine sounds shitty. Then, squeezing some giant thing about of my vagina which is a lot smaller than a baby sounds like torture and something out of an Alien movie. I’d totally adopt but that’s too expensive and nobody would probably give me a baby. The point is that he’s made me want to have a family because I want us to be surrounded by loved ones and family for our entire lives. I want to be seventy and painting with my grandchildren. I’ve never believed that the point to living is breeding, or that women’s job on the planet is to have kids, so I’ve never been that inclined to have a family before. I’ve always seen child-rearing as a massive job of huge importance, of huge responsibility, and not something that people should “just do.” Having children to me is one of the biggest decisions of a person’s life and is therefore kind of terrifying. If you add the potential for cross-cultural, international problems to the mix.

Image: AnAmericanInRome.com (check out the blog, it's great).

Horse Baby Food In Italy. Image: AnAmericanInRome.com (check out the blog, it’s great).

And that’s what we’re fighting about right now. We’re trying to decide on which country we plan on raising our kids in. It doesn’t sound that pressing since we don’t have kids but it kind of is because we’ve been talking about starting a family this year or next year. So, where do we want to be? Which country would we like to be living? Where is the best place to raise children? I’ve talked with a bunch of other expats about this but the topic gets a little insane. People get surprisingly defensive and rabid about Italy when discussing children (certain psychos totally lose their shit. I hope you get an incurable yeast infection). I get it, nobody wants to think that the decision they’ve made was a bad decision and so people don’t want you questioning that decision by asking stupid questions about it. I get it. However, I need to ask and talk about it because it’s a big deal to me. As the child of mixed parents, I know what it’s like growing up with parents from two different planets. This weighs on me. My father immigrated to the US 35 years ago and yet my siblings, my father and I, have problems seeing eye-to-eye over a lot of things. The way we communicate is different, the meanings behind the things we say to each other is often misread or misinterpreted. My father feels like he lacks identity with us and therefore instead of having American kids he encourages us to hate that side of us. “You’re Persian, you don’t have the genetics of an American.” When we do things that he likes, we are Persian, when we make mistakes it’s because our mothers are American. He desperately seeks to have some kind of cultural connection with his children, it bothers him that he can’t understand many of the ways that we think or see the world. He doesn’t understand why I can’t Facetime him every day, or why I’m less than thrilled to Facetime my family in Iran for six hours on Sundays. I love them, they are my family, but I can’t speak on the phone for longer than one hour. What is there to say? “WHAT IS THERE TO SAY!? Just be in the conversation of love! Just laugh and love!” My father cannot understand how his daughter has become so “American,” in her priorities regarding family. My father listens to Iranian music on full blast on his Iphone, he encourages my sisters and I to dance to it while he laughs and claps enthusiastically. Last time I was home he videotaped it and then watched it over and over again. Seems creepy to Americans, but dancing for family is about as Persian as Persian can get, even at 33 years old. It’s not uncommon for expat parents to struggle to relate to their children culturally or for the kids to feel a slight disconnect as well. I’ve grown up with it for my entire life so telling me it doesn’t exist…well…it isn’t true.

And that scares me.

I feel like no matter where we raise our kids there will be a disconnect for either me or Francesco. It’s really about picking the place that is best for the kids but also the place where maybe the cultural impact will be less difficult for us as parents. Both countries have their good points, both have their bad. A lot of expats struggle with this aspect because they see Italy with rose-colored lenses but I simply can’t. I’ve read too many damn articles, too many studies. I have an education in Sociology, I study society, even when I’m not trying to. Nowhere is perfect. Which place will allow us to raise children that are diverse, open-minded, and will allow equal appreciation of Italian, American, and Persian culture? As a person, I’m most concerned with balance, mindfulness and an acceptance towards religion, an equality of the sexes, and the ability to live life without being swallowed by expectations. People say, “Your kids will be how you make them,” but I feel like they’re underestimating the power of social norms. Society shapes you even when you don’t realize you’re being shaped. It shapes how people interact, think, feel, even how they commit suicide. Nothing goes untouched.

Image: Wikipedia

Image: Wikipedia

When I announced that I’d fallen in love with an Italian man, my father said, “You don’t know what you’re doing. Cross-cultural relationships are more difficult than you can imagine.”

For once I have to say that my dad couldn’t have been more right. BAAAAAAAAH! I’m going to stab myself with a fork. Maybe you guys can help me with a pros and cons list?

Foraging, Toxoplasmosis, And Eating Until You Die In Cassino, Italy

One morning while visiting my in-laws I sat on the balcony sipping an Americano while watching my father-in-law forage in a nearby field. I could make out a bundle of something under his right arm, on occasion the sun would reflect off of the scissors in his other hand. He’d bend down, pop up, take a few steps and repeat. The man must have been getting one hell of an ass workout.

The foraging field in Cassino

The foraging field in Cassino

“Francesco!” I yelled,” I think your father is foraging random greenery from that field nearby. Can you make him stop?”

Francesco appeared in the balcony doorway, cradling our poodle, “Why would I stop him?” He squinted towards the field, “it’s for dinner.”

“Nooo!” I panicked, “We’re going to get toxoplasmosis. That field is home to about six-thousand feral cats. There was a dead one just lying here the last time I took Oliver out to pee. Which reminds me that Oliver pees and shits there.”

Francesco shrugged and reached for my coffee cup, “Don’t be so dramatic! He’ll wash them and cook them. I had toxoplasmosis when I was younger. It’s not like it would kill us.”

I was no longer looking at my husband, rather, I was looking at a man who had a disease associated with ingesting cat shit and he was slobbering all over my coffee. How had I not known about his infestation of icky before I’d signed legal documents to bind myself to him.

“Why are you glaring at me?” He smiled, “Is it because I had that and now you’re grossed out?”

“Yeah, exactly. Get your hands off of my coffee. You’re lucky you weren’t pregnant. You would have had a Toxic Avenger baby.”

“Huh?” He went back inside.

I really wasn’t that surprised that my husband had contracted a crap disease since at that very moment his dad burst onto the balcony with his glorious bounty, chest puffed out, arms full of green bushes. “You eat the poops of cats,” I mumbled as I walked inside.

When I first moved to Italy I thought, “Pasta! Pizza! Wine!” but that was before I realized that pasta and pizza were just the two Italian dishes that were easier to market to the rest of the world. Some of their other dishes just didn’t catch on in the same way and rightfully so. I was surprised the first time I found Baby Bird Stew, on the menu at a friend’s house, a dish that is exactly what it sounds like: Baby birds, in their entirety, in tomato sauce. Another time a restaurant served us Illegal Boiled Baby Fish that looked more like boiled semen. Then there’s the horse, the pigeon, the cow balls, the stuffed lamb brains, sheep intestine panini, and stomach lining soup. I could now add, “Cat Crap Field Greens,” into the mix of things that I just couldn’t convince myself to try. It’s not only because the food is “weird,” but also because I was vegan for ten years and animal products just kind of scare me. Plus, brains are gross. Zombies eat brains, not people.

Mmmm. Lamb brains (yes, seriously).

Mmmm. Lamb brains (yes, seriously).

Francesco’s family finds my weak stomach both hilarious and puzzling. But how did I know I wouldn’t like cheese with worms in it? Come on! It’s a specialty from Sardegna! I agreed with them that there was no way to know for sure but I certainly wasn’t willing to try. Yes, it was probably because the food in my country is weird. Yes, it’s probably because I grew up eating Kraft Mac And Cheese. I agreed that yes, that’s exactly why I couldn’t possibly know anything about good food. 

Most of the food is quite delicious in Cassino and the surrounding cities. The food in the south is, and I say this expecting people to get really regionally defensive, my favorite food in Italy. It’s surprisingly diverse and very “comfort food,” in it’s simplicity. My favorite restaurants in Italy are in Cassino. You have Al Mulino, an impressive, incredible restaurant with super fresh dishes made from scratch that surpass many of the restaurants I’ve eaten at abroad. There is also Bianco/Noir, a fish restaurant that serves dishes like Branzino packed in sea salt and spaghetti alle vongola. In Cassino, as with much of Italy, everything is seasonal. In the Autumn we eat a lot of Zucca (pumpkin), squash, greens, simple cooked proteins often simmered in tomato sauce or lemon and oil.

Oysters on the half shell

Oysters on the half shell

Pasta with clams and parsley

Pasta with clams and parsley

My mother-in-law is an amazing cook and can whip up a fifty-course meal in three hours which takes another 7 hours to eat and I leave sick, heavier, tired and grumpy. The seafood in Cassino is often fresh and prepared with minimal ingredients and processing which is delicious, perfect, and totally created another culinary complication for me. Fish is served intact with it’s head or legs or whatever still attached. The first time I ate shrimp with my in-laws I stared at it for a long time trying to figure out what to do with it. I stabbed, poked, and pulled at it for twenty minutes. My husband eventually felt sorry for me enough to pull my plate over to his to help me. He had a look on his face like I’d just asked him to teach me to write my name. My father-in-law shook his head at me, stabbed a shrimp head from my plate, and popped it into his mouth. “Crunch, crunch, crunch, kist americana…”

Most days in Cassino we eat pretty typical things. I start the day with a chocolate brioche-which tastes like heaven and is usually freshly baked that morning-and Capuccino. It’s a sugary, caffeinated combo, a rush followed by a terrible crash, and withdrawal, similar to meth. Probably. For lunch if we’re lucky my mother-in-law makes roasted potatoes, broccolini (ideally not from the cat field), and meatballs or some protein followed by fruit and walnuts (that have occasionally been filled with a worm or two as they were pulled from some random tree nearby). If we’re not lucky my father-in-law makes some perverse version of Minestrone: Water, frozen vegetables, clams and calamari (no broth, flavoring, salt or pepper). Dinners are usually light, a homemade pizza made with broccolini and kalamata olives and occasionally sardines or Zuppa Di Fagioli e Verze (soup with beans and cabbage). Holidays or special occasions are when the hours of eating, and the random weird are brought to the table. You’re moving away? BALLS! Come to our house! GUTS! That’s when the “statement” dishes are busted out along with the delicious, less “bold,” recipes. It’s important to make an impression.

Ricotta And Spinach.

Ricotta And Spinach.

Food is something you give to people you care about, food is how you connect, how you impress, and how you love. You adore your family by stuffing them full of anything and everything you can buy or possibly find.

That one day that my father-in-law was stalking the nearby fields for edible greenery was for a party we were having with friends. He wanted the best cuts of meat so he called all of the butchers personally, he wanted the best produce so he and his wife visited a number of markets, and he wanted fresh so he spent the day out in the sun picking what nature provided. The Mozz Di Bufala was made the day before, there were homemade canned and pickled vegetables, meats from animals raised just down the road, and cheese from a place not even 15 minutes away. There were also other random body parts that in the US we often toss away. That’s the beauty of Cassino cuisine, really. They still have that old mentality that food is food, food is currency, everything that can be consumed, should be, nothing should go to waste, and if the toxoplasmosis doesn’t kill you, the fields are ripe for the pickin’.

THIS IS A COSI POST! CHECK OUT WHAT THE REST OF THE GANG IS SAYING ABOUT FOOD THIS WEEK ON MY COSI PAGE.

How To Fight Expat Depression: Just Remember You’re Not Alone

Let’s talk about the thing that nobody ever wants to talk about because it sucks: Depression. Usually it’s only a matter of time before expats experiences some form of situational depression, anxiety, or the need to hide under their bed with a bottle of wine for days on end. Hell, you don’t even need to be an expat. Sometimes life is just overwhelming and hard. Sometimes we are all going to deal with depression. It sucks. It’s hard. But at least we have each other.

Living abroad means a lot of things, a lot of conflicting things.  One minute life is a paradise and you find yourself  drinking cheap wine in a vineyard, tasting olive oil in an olive grove, laughing to yourself as old men wave to you in the street. Then five minutes later your world is full of confusion, humiliation, it’s a cataclysm of WHAT THE HELL AM I DOING!? This “what the fuck,” moment often happens after your dog poops in the street and an angry shop owner comes out to scream at you while you’re cleaning it up, your papers have been lost or denied by the consulate, your partner moves you into a family commune, or you end up in a house in the middle of nowhere surrounded by wild boars and the sound of deafening silence. Sometimes a breakdown can happen if you’re spending too much time alone or surrounded by people you like but don’t at all identify with.

gif: wheninlawschool.tumblr.com

I’ll never forget the first time I had a total mental breakdown. I was at one of my husbands’ friends’ home and everyone was joking around and laughing but I couldn’t understand why any of their jokes were funny. I just couldn’t get it. I was sitting at a merry table, while everyone was having the time of their life and I was totally bored out of my mind trying my hardest to relate to anyone on even the most basic level. It was as if the room froze, I looked from face-to-face, then back to myself and thought, “I don’t belong here.” I went to the bathroom and held back tears. Nobody was being mean, nothing was terrible, but it finally hit me that I didn’t connect with anyone in Italy at all at that point.  And I didn’t understand it because at home I could get along with just about anyone. I felt like an asshole and totally isolated. It was really, really rough.

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Expat depression and overall insanity is totally common and you know what? It’s normal. One of my best friends just moved to London from Utah. She’s been totally dying to get out of Utah for years but when I Skyped with her and her husband the first thing they both said was, “This is really difficult. How did you do this?! Having a mental breakdown is a very real thing! Who knew?!” These are intelligent, hard-working, totally amazing, normal people. Okay, normal is a stretch, since she’s one of my best friends, but you get the idea. Living in a foreign country is really difficult for everyone at one point or another whether or not you speak the language. Living in Italy is even harder for us from the anal-retentive English-speaking world because the culture is so different from ours. Dr Kirsten Hogh Thorgersen wrote,“When you arrive in a new culture, you’re shaken in self-confidence, and the more different the culture is, the greater the challenge.”

The difficulty of living abroad often leads to anxiety or depression. In my case it lead to some weird form of social anxiety and agoraphobia where I would come up with any excuse I could to avoid leaving the house. And despite what many people think, depression doesn’t necessarily mean that you feel sad. You could be depressed and not even know it. Signs that you’re depressed:

  • difficulty concentrating
  • insomnia or oversleeping
  • irritability
  • significant changes to eating patterns
  • lack of interest

The worst part about being depressed abroad is you feel totally isolated and misunderstood within your new country, but also nobody at home gets it either. I mean, you’re abroad! How can you be depressed!? Well, unfortunately, it can be really depressing even if you live in a century-old city with incredible food. It’s okay. You’re okay! Every day I receive emails from expats who are struggling abroad. They feel stupid or confused, they’re angry or isolated, and I do my best to remind them that they are all epically awesome because despite the difficulty they keep on keepin’ on because they are total badasses. That’s right! Even if you’re in Italy having a hard time, you’re a badass! And you’re not alone.  You’re a part of the expat mafia, a group of rogue crazies who had the guts to put themselves out there even when things became rough. Sure, an old woman called you a foreign sack of shit, some embassy denied your paperwork, and your in-laws are trying to move into your guest room as you read this sentence…BUT! At least you’re doing something that most people would never get the opportunity to do in their lives. So, it sucks, it’s frustrating, but it’s an experience that can help you grow in new ways, too. And we’re all growing together! That’s exciting, right? I know, I know, but it feels terrible.

Photo: Hypescience.com

I’m a perfect example of a romantic, europe-obsessed woman turned Italy-repulsed homicidal maniac. It can happen to even the most positive, happy, well-intentioned of us. You’re not broken or somehow deranged for experiencing frustration. You’re in a foreign place and it’s normal to have one or two-hundred major meltdowns for various reasons. I mean, for the first time since being a child you’re thrown into a place where you don’t know how to navigate anything. Plus, you have to start over. It can be frustrating to start your life all over from scratch. New friends, new city, new apartment, new coffee maker. It’s a lot to take in, guys. And there will be days when you don’t even recognize yourself anymore. That was the hardest for me because I liked myself before I moved to Italy, damnit.

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So how do you deal with it all? How to help alleviate that sinking black feeling, that rapid heartbeat, or that strange new fear of going outside?

Take it one day at a time. On days that are really bad just try to focus on one positive thing. Write it down, put it on your wall! Or in my case, I combatted my depression with goals and activities. I started THIS BLOG (thank depression for that!), I wrote a book and a screenplay, I also learned how to Flamenco on YouTube. Yes, seriously, i’m terrible and it’s embarrassing but now you know my secret. I’m sure the people who lived downstairs wanted me to trip and die. Depression is hard but you can beat it! Beat the shit out of it. And, more wine, of course.

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FIVE WAYS TO COPE WITH EXPAT DEPRESSIONS (Kick It’s Ass!)

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1. Make a goal or a list of goals. If you’re working towards something you’ll feel accomplished. Have a task to do every day. Take some pictures, spend the day outside stalking people like an anthropologist. You’d be surprised by how relieving it can be to follow someone in a supermarket whispering, “I’ve just spotted a middle-aged Italian woman buying what seems to be some kind of bread. She’s making her way towards what appears to be salami! Just get a look at her in her natural habitat! She’s examining it! She’s purchased the salami with tiny, round metal objects and paper squares. How fascinating!” Start a blog, or keep a notebook! Venting can be very helpful. Get it out! Take some online classes or take a class in your area. Painting, language, cooking, whatever! Check off some goals you’ve always had but never had time to accomplish!

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2. Yoga. Every morning when you wake up, tune into YouTube and do a yoga video. Those videos will really help you to relax yourself. Exercise is a great way to combat fatigue, depression, and anxiety. Plus, it never hurt anyone to get a smokin’ healthy bod.

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3. Hang out with people you love from home! Sure, you can’t invite them over but you can do activities with them on Skype or Facetime. Invite one of your friends to do a cooking date with you. You guys can cook together, drink wine, via Skype! It’s totally fun and worth it.

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4. Get out of your house, even if it’s just to read a book at a cafe. If you’re anything like me, I get depressed when I’m home too much but I also hate leaving my house when I’m depressed. It’s a pain in the ass, really shitty, super frustrating cycle. Force yourself out! Sign up to one of those meet-up websites like: http://expatitalian.meetup.com. Always take a friend with you or meet in a very public place though. People are usually friendly and normal but can be rapey and psychotic. Go volunteer to walk dogs at a local shelter or buy cheap dog toys and donate them. Teach English.

5. Learn everything you can about the culture. The more you know and understand the less you’ll feel like an outsider. I mean, you’ll probably always feel like an immigrant, but at least you won’t feel like a total weirdo who is always in the dark. Plus, you’d be surprised by how useful it can be to be a cultural know-it-all! Learn the history, the language, the art, the food, become a master of it all and then just rub it in everyone’s face. Just rub it right in. That feels nice, right? Rub a dub.

Bonus: Try to remember that expat depression is usually situational and temporary. If you push yourself out and on you’ll improve hugely. If you have a history of depression or your depression persists and you’re thinking about suicide or self-harm please seek out a therapist for help. I’ve been to therapy and it’s awesome. You’re important, you matter, and I’d miss you.

Have you experienced depression or anxiety abroad? Please, share your story in the comments below so others can learn, relate, or find ways to cope. And of course, “share,” if you’re feeling sassy.

*This post is just suggestions and personal experience. I am obviously not a doctor or any kind of professional.

Dog Boarding, Adoption, And Dog Parks In Florence, Italy

Ponte Vecchio

I’ve written about Oliver, my poodle, a number of times on this blog. Most of you know him as the neurotic, adorable, asshole that he’s matured into over the years. I really like him, despite the fact that he’s taken a dump on. my. bed. recently as an act of biological warfare in retaliation for being left alone for a few hours. I love dogs and I enjoy writing about them; deep down (or not so deep, really) I’m a crazy dog lady.  I know that a lot of you (especially you, Sid) are crazy dog people, too, and since a lot of my readers have just moved to Italy or are planning on it one day, you could probably use a dog guide of sorts AND our dog sitter in Florence wanted to sponsor a dog guide so everyone wins (and I get approximately 5 bottles of wine). So, ta-da! Here is a mini guide to having a dog in Florence, Italy. Please share all of your favorite dog-related info in the comments below and I’ll add it to this guide. I’m sure I’m forgetting a lot of things.

Let’s start with housing. “Do most apartments allow dogs?” is one of the most common questions people ask me here. From my experience, finding an apartment that allows dogs is fairly easy. We’ve lived in four different places with Oliver and nobody so much as batted an eye at him. Not even the psycho landlord who lived below us while going through a divorce who often screamed, “I’m going to kill you!” into the phone at all hours of the day and night. If he allowed dogs, probably everyone does. It’s a good idea to tell your potential landlord up front that you have a dog before you sign any papers. It’s also a good idea to say things like, “He’s extremely good and mentally stable,” which is a lie in our case but it works.

As I’ve mentioned in posts like, A Table For 2 1/2, Sir, or Growing Up In Italy: A Dog’s Story, Florence is extremely dog-friendly. They can go most places with you. A few exceptions of places they can’t go: grocery store, movie theatre, hospital or the Farmacia. Just look for a sign. No sign? They can probably go in then. So, it’s pretty unlimited in the fun things you can do with Fido. One of our favorite things to do with Oliver is to take a nice stroll through the city center, some shopping, and maybe a coffee or some lunch/dinner. Most of the retail assistants know his name and allow him to run chaotically through the store to play because Florentines are for the most part super dog-crazy. There are always the exceptional assholes but they usually live in the country with the scary Italian hillbillies (yes, those exist, it’s like The Hills Have Eyes meets La Dolce Vita).

Dog Parks: 

If you want something more dog-specific, there are a number of dog parks in the city. Most of them have separate areas for large and small dogs. Keep in mind that a lot of people don’t fix their dogs so if you have an intact male, you might want to avoid other intact males. Intact males can be more territorial than their neutered counterparts. People will often scream to you when you enter the park, “IS IT A BOY OR A GIRL!?” in an attempt to segregate the area. I’m waiting for the dogs to catch on and start a movement.

Our favorite is a fenced dog area in Campo Di Marte right next to the stadium. There is also a park for children which is nice if you have kids. Oh, and they totally also have outdoor workout equipment that is badass so you can get all hot and sexy while your dog acquires real estate with his pee.

Pick up your dog shit, guys. Don’t be nasty! In the summer make sure your dog has plenty of water. Many businesses will have water bowls out for public use (but there’s always a chance of your dog catching a cold or respiratory infection with public drinking bowls).

Any dog parks that have been left out here that you love? Tell everyone in the comments below!

Adopting A Dog: 

If you’re interested in getting a dog I’d recommend first asking yourself these five questions (FRANCESCO!):

1) Can I afford a vet emergency that might cost me hundreds of euros (and happens at least once in your dog’s life)? Can I afford HeartGuard every month and preventative for leishmaniasis (it’s eventually fatal but can be treated for a long time. It’s common in Italy). Can I afford vaccinations, training classes, and a pet deposit for apartments? Dog sitting, boarding, or air travel? What if your dog has skin allergies, develops diabetes, or goes blind?

2) Can you devote 15 years to a pet? Dogs live for a long time. Small dogs live for a REALLY long time. Oliver is like the Noah of canines and will probably outlive me just to really be a dick.

3) Do I have TIME for a dog every day? They need training, playing, toilet breaks, walks, and professional grooming? Some breeds must have professional grooming monthly (aka poodles) and require hair trims, nail trims, ear waxing, anal gland expressing, etc. What about when you have children? Will you still have time to balance a needy infant and your Terrier who has skin allergies and separation anxiety?

4) What if your dog develops behavioral issues? Do you have the patience to spend one hour every day toward fixing his/her issue? Many dogs will regress if there is a change in their environment. Can you re-potty train if for some reason your dog decides at three that going outside is no longer cool? What if the suddenly develop a weird thing with vomit and they bite you every time you get too drunk and barf? This sounds like I’m making a joke, but it happened with Oliver. What if your dog is like a Bonobo Chimp and humps things constantly in response to everything that happens in his life? Can you handle the constant embarrassment of your dog raping stuffed animals during dinner parties?

5) Do you know anything about dogs? How to train them (positive reinforcement is the most affective and professionally recommended but also the most time-consuming), how to keep them healthy and mentally engaged? Do you have the time and willingness to learn all of these things which can take hours, and hours, and hours, and weeks, and months? I adopted Oliver after working with dogs for like 10 years and he still exhausts me.

If you haven’t given up on ever owning a dog after this list then yay! You’re ready for a dog! Please consider adopting a homeless dog. Italy has a problem with dog abandonment. Come August every year a number of selfish assholes just let their dogs go on the street. The owner wants to go on vacation and realizes stupidly that they didn’t make arrangements for someone to watch their dog. So, they just throw them out for the city and private sanctuaries to deal with. Rescue dogs are perfectly good dogs, they’re usually already potty-trained, and they are waiting for a second chance at an awesome life with someone who isn’t a total jackass. If you’d like to adopt a totally badass dog who is homeless or abused because some people are terrible people, here are some sites you can check out. In Italy there are hundreds of thousands of dogs in shelters and Italians rarely adopt these dogs. Most of them live their entire lives in the shelters that are understaffed, and “for profit.” I’ve read some disturbing articles on the horrible conditions of these shelters. So, really, consider adoption if you’re open to an adult dog.

If you’d prefer a puppy then you’re a bad person who definitely won’t get into heaven. Just kidding. If you’re going to go the puppy route, be prepared for teething, potty training, and hours upon hours of training and patience galore. Please, avoid pet stores or puppy mills for both genetic reasons and to avoid contributing money to shitheads. If possible, find a nice family who just happen to have a litter and isn’t breeding their poor dog to death. I’ve had both rescues and Oliver who we got as a puppy from a friend who responsibly bred his bitch, Sheena, (by bitch I mean she’s a huge jerk) and while puppies are PUPPIES (amazing and smell like heaven), my rescue dogs were easier (no potty training!) and I loved them every bit as much. Plus, I got to relay their depressing stories at the dog park, note how I saved them, then bask in the glory of being such a good person. Oliver, on the other hand, is more embarrassing because I accidentally created the monster that he’s become. The only card I can play is, “his mom is named Sheena, she has a bang-scrunchy, it’s obviously genetic.”

Animals Up For Adoption 

Adoptions OIPA

Union Friends Of Dogs And Cats

Animal Shelters Tuscany

Have you adopted a dog or cat in Italy? Share your story here and please tell people where you found your little fuzzy sidekick.

Dog Boarding And Daycare In Florence, Italy

One of our largest struggles with having a dog in Florence is that there is not the plethora of dog sitting services that I was accustomed to in ‘Merca. Sure, you can find random ads taped to walls in the laundry matt, “Dog Sitter!” with little phone numbers you can tear off in the bottom, but I’m not really a fan of leaving Oliver with people who don’t have a legitimate business. I tried, once, and not only was I anxious the entire time but the person we left him with was not at all experienced with dogs which became more and more apparent when we picked Oliver up and she said, “He didn’t like to be left without you. He whined a lot. I can’t watch him if he whines.” Of course he whined, he didn’t know you AND your house smells like Turtle. He knows a serial killer when he sees one.

We found Florence Pet Sitting randomly online in like 2012 after suffering a torturous year without someone to watch Oliver. We filled out the contact page on their website and waited to hear from them. Later that day the owner, MaryAnne called me to learn more about Oliver. She asked a ton of questions. It was nice to have such a lengthy conversation with her because I felt like she actually cared about understanding my dog more than just landing a client. The chat was also a nice opportunity to get to know both MaryAnne and her super sweet Italian boyfriend who co-runs the business with her. MaryAnne was a vet tech in the US before relocating to Florence which is awesome because she knows what to do if for any reason Oliver ingests something weird, and I was super excited that she spoke English because all of Oliver’s commands are in English. Watching our groomer scream, “basta! BASTA!” to our clueless dog was painful enough, I didn’t want to leave him for hours with someone he couldn’t understand. We used MaryAnne a number of times, he was always happy to see her, and always came home in tip-top shape. Many of my friends use her, too, and they all love her.

MaryAnne began Florence Pet Sitting in Florence years ago. She was originally based out of her apartment in Santo Spirito, doing in-home sitting, dog walking, house visits, and all that. She recently expanded and opened a new facility that I’ve heard is totally badass (sadly, I haven’t had the chance to see it yet, but soon!). The new place is in a renovated workshop located in the historical district of S. Spirito, in the Oltrarno. The entire facility is open to pets, no cages, no dog runs, with 24/7 supervision. They can nap on beds and couches or hop around with their newfound fuzzy friends. Every dog gets a locker for their own food, toys, whatever, which is super cool. Florence Pet Sitting also offers relocation services, walking, in-home visits, daycare and boarding. The rates are very fair, especially for Florence where I’m convinced most of the pet sitters are actually leprechauns and will pretty much charge you your first born and a pot of gold. One thing that I really love about MaryAnne is that she sends photos and updates constantly which I need because I’m a worst-case-scenario panicky person when it comes to my dog. Also, when we pick up Oliver she gives a full rundown of his entire stay which is fun and nice to hear. My one complaint is that she gets booked up super fast and Francesco and I are terrible planners. Try to book as far in advance as possible (I’ve found that at least five days is best) but for holidays play it safe and book a few months out if you can.

If you’re looking for a professional, English-speaking pet sitter with over a decade of dog experience, who also has a website (magical in Italy), and who will keep you constantly updated via email, text or Whatsapp, contact MaryAnne.

Veterinarian Services:

Our vet was located in the Statuto area and it was one of the 24/7 places that have a bunch of vets working all the time. Their service was good, and convenient, but I didn’t love that there was always a different vet and at every visit we had to spend 20 minutes going over Oliver’s history. However, it is awesome that they are always open and they’re not that expensive. We took him to a few different vets for specific issues but were never insanely blown- away with anyone so I’m kind of useless in this area. Who would you recommend?

English Speaking Vets In Italy

24 Hours Vet Clinic

Other Useful Pet Information:

Best Pet Shops In Florence

Moving Pets From The US To Italy

Dog Training With Victoria 

Related articles

*This mini-guide in progress was brought to you by Florence Pet Sitting.

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