Being An American Expat In Italy Means Always Missing “Home”: Culture Shock And Reverse Culture Shock

United States and Italy

United States and Italy (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Culture shock is a real thing. People experience it in different ways with varying degrees of severity. The time it takes to adjust is also different for everyone. I hardly noticed the culture shock when I first arrived in Italy for school because I was surrounded by so much familiarity in the midst of all of the differences. However, when I decided to stay in Italy with only one friend and my boyfriend there the entire thing changed and I experienced an array of feelings that spanned enthusiasm to suicidally shitty depression and isolation. When I’m in Italy, 90% of the year I miss parts of the United States. I miss my friends, my family, efficiency, and things like “doggy daycare.” The other 10% of the time that I’m in the United States I miss Italy. I miss the food, the long walks through winding streets, I miss being able to take my dog with us to hang out, cheap wine, and grocery stores that carry real food.

There is no real solution. Being an expat is accepting that something is always missing, nothing ever feels complete. You’d think that you could just pop back and fourth to have everything but reverse culture shock is a very real thing too that can be even more of a mind-fuck than normal culture shock that one experiences when moving to a foreign land. When you leave the homeland for years you never quite feel “at home” ever again because home is more than one place now. In the US I miss the places that I met my husband and our memories together. I miss the calm lifestyle, wine outside on the patio with Oliver tangled under our feet. I miss the stench of Florence and the irritating and loud Italian women talking about how stupid are their husbands in the street. In Italy I miss sounding intelligent. I miss talking about sociology and life with the command of language available only in my native tongue. I miss sarcasm and irony which are not common in the Italian culture.


Italy (Photo credit: Boston Public Library)

When I come back to the United States, time has passed, my friend’s children are older, I’ve changed, they’ve changed, and while I have the most insane/amazing friends in the world, it still takes a minute for us to get over how weird it is that I’m sitting in front of them in real form and not on Skype. In the US I forget that I can pick up a phone and call people, so I never do it. I feel panicked in massive grocery stores, I try to bag my own groceries, and when people speak to me with an accent of any kind for reasons I can’t understand my brain tells me to switch to Italian. Can I help you ma’am? Si, aspetta…vorrei…a new brain. What the hell is wrong with me!?

I’ve yet to find a solution to this problem. Maybe it’s easier if you do a 6 month split between countries? Maybe I just don’t Skype home enough? Maybe my friends DON’T VISIT ME IN ITALY ENOUGH (bastards!). It’s hard to say. What I do know is that when you move abroad you’re getting so many amazing, new experiences. You’re growing, and changing, and seeing incredible things. Yet, every day for at least a little while you’ll miss your childhood friends, the ones who understand you and don’t think it’s that weird that you hate cooking, swear like a truck driver, and treat your dog like a human toddler (back off! I like my fucking dog okay!?). You might miss the humor that is native to your tongue (and humor is completely cultural, it differs hugely from place to place). You might miss pop culture references, like when I tell my husband that he dances like the 80’s cartoon version of Optimas Prime and he stares blankly at me and says, “What’s the hell is dat?” Is it worth it then to always be missing something? I’m not sure. It’s just my reality now.

I think what I’m getting at is that everyone I enjoy should follow me from country to country and stop depriving me of a complete life. I think that’s fair.



What I Do When I’m Not Writing Here. 

Devil insects, Emergency Death Storms, And Allergies. 


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19 thoughts on “Being An American Expat In Italy Means Always Missing “Home”: Culture Shock And Reverse Culture Shock

  1. I so relate~I think about becoming an expat (where?) and start missing friends, pets and my son.  He does not like to travel…I guess if we gotta have problems these are good ones to have, yes?  Choice is a bitch.

    Are you in Florence now?

    All the best, Helena


  2. I couldn’t agree with you more. There is nothing like being in the states where I have command of the English language and don’t sound like a toddler (i.e. in Mexico) and everyone gets my cultural references.

    But at the same time, I have definitely changed in ways that are different from my family and friends. All we can hope is that one day, it will make a beautiful quilt rather than pieces laid out in piles looking to be connected🙂

  3. I’m so glad to hear that I’m not crazy for missing the States while living here in Italy and missing Italy when I’m in the States. I can’t tell if I’m more American or Italian, as I’ve been going back and forth since a kid, but this time is so different…maybe it’s the rent, bills and work, still dealing with culture shock and it completely resonates when you wrote “In Italy I miss sounding intelligent. I miss talking about sociology and life with the command of language available only in my native tongue. I miss sarcasm and irony which are not common in the Italian culture.”
    Thanks for making me feel a little closer to sane and not so alone. I have a photo-blog and am trying to build up the courage to start writing as well, thanks for a good model. Ciao!

    • You are definitely not crazy. I’ve spent five straight years in Italy where I missed some aspect of the US everyday (giant gyms for affordable prices, doggy daycare, efficiency). I’m in the US now temporarily and I’m missing Italy. I’m glad you enjoyed the post. Thank you for the kind words.

  4. I’ve yet to have the chance to live abroad, but I can relate in that I’ve lived all over the US. I often get cravings for regional foods I’ll probably never have again. Or I’ll wake up one morning and think of how beautiful it could be when the sun peaked out through the clouds during the misty Oregon rain and I’ll wish I’d have paid closer attention. When I lived in New Orleans last, I missed my friends in Denver- but then I came back to Denver, stopped talking to all of those friends and miss the hell out of everyone and everything in all of New Orleans! Obviously I can’t be satisfied.

    I’ve completely come to term with the fact that most friendships are my job to maintain should i choose (though facebook helps with that.) People who will call/text me every day when I live in the same area as they do may never contact me again if I move so much as 100 miles away, though they’ll be elated to hear from me if I make the effort. People don’t visit, there’s some weird phenomenon where people think that because YOU moved away, YOU have all kinds of money and can better afford to visit them. And some people are just lazy and/or afraid to leave their comfort zone, so they won’t travel. (I’ve actually yelled at people, “Because heaven forbid you see something that isn’t Cleveland, right???”) My other pet peeve? If I do go visit whatever city, it never fails that someone will insist I go to their neighborhood or house to see them, a request I typically answer with, “Yeah, see I did the first 1000 miles worth of travel, I’m assigning you to the last 50. If anyone wants to see me, I’ll be at X place at X time.”

  5. I’m an Italian-American, dual citizen and everything, and I now live and work in England. I know EXACTLY how you feel about all this. I’ve written a few posts about it as well. We all go through it differently. I’ve found speaking to my parents weekly on FaceTime to be really helpful. Hang in there! xx

  6. “I miss sarcasm and irony which are not common in the Italian culture.” Seriously? Or are you being ironic?🙂 Because everybody knows that Italy is the founding country of irony and sarcasm. Especially Rome. Most of the times, when I use irony in N.America, I have to explain that it’s not a mineral. Let alone sarcasm: it’s beyond the American common sense.

    • It’s actually really funny that you say that. I had a talk the other day with some of my Italian friends, one who is Roman, and they all said that they didn’t get “American humor because it’s too sarcastic,” and Italian humor is more “straightforward and obvious.” I’m a very sarcastic person and in my 5 years in Italy, so far, not even my close friends can tell when I’m joking or not. Maybe your friends are just different (or they’ve traveled outside of Italy). I’ve also never seen sarcasm on Italian TV or in movies, so I don’t think that culturally it’s a part of the humor. But I don’t mean to say that NO Italians are sarcastic or ironic, of course there are exceptions (you are obviously one of the few exceptions I’ve met).😉

  7. Ciao! First of all congrats on your article! Love it!
    Then…being me an Italian working with Americans, i can totally uderstand you! Your home is where your heart belongs to! Every country has its own pros n cons but what I think is that we are travellers in our world, finding other lives and embracing different cultures! Very proud of your experience!

  8. Pingback: Before I Moved To Italy I Was “Normal” | Living In Italy.Moving To Italy. Loving In Italy. Laughing In Italy.

  9. You hit this right on the head.. there’s always something missing when you’re on the other side.. 6 months in NY, 6 months in Italy.. perfect life. sigh🙂

  10. I have never been to Italy, but after spending a year in Argentina, time in Peru, and over two in Korea (woven in between with years in the US), I understand this feeling so well. Actually, I was thinking about it earlier today, and I’m so glad I found your article . . . I was starting to think there was something wrong with me. Like, why am I not content just in the place that I am? Am I broken? Why am I not just happy with a decent job and a nice place? Sometimes, being an expat–and then a returned expat–feels like being in love with someone you can’t have.

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