Why Italy Isn’t Special

Let me help you freak out really quick because I know that’s what a lot of you are going to do right now. You’re thinking, “What the fuck did you just say? Italy isn’t special?! How dare you! How dare you. If it’s not special than leave!” Yes, I’m an asshole, yes, I swear, and yes, sometimes I write critically about my second home: Italy. Now, that we’ve totally lost it, let’s get to the post.

I started blogging in 2007 with my other blog Dirty, Filthy, Things. It was a blog where I wrote (and still occasionally write) about my life, my childhood, and social problems. I studied sociology in college, have been in and out of activism for most of my life, and I care deeply for anyone or anything that can’t stand up for itself. Sometimes way too much. Writing is cathartic for me, it’s something my college psychologist recommended in order to better deal with my anxiety, depression, and otherwise “crazy,” cyclical thoughts that go round, and round, and never stop. Haven’t tried it? Try it. Scribble out that crazy and you’ll feel a million times better. Writing gets things out of my head, away from my body, so I can calmly live without it eating my brain. I also know from experience on both ends that writing can help other people make sense of their world, it can change people, it can change the world. The internet is both amazing and terrifying for this reason: Ideas spread quickly. It’s good because it gives the world the ability to connect, to understand one another, to work out problems, to work on ourselves, to make the world better, but it also gives a platform to assholes (like ISIS or the KKK) who spread ideas that are not progressive, are rather rooted in hate.

When I blog in DFT, I sometimes write critically about the US, about gender inequality, racism, the porn industry, about my dog, and the problem with assholes owning dogs, I talk about the right to choose, and social injustices that people of color face on a regular basis. I also talk about my mom, how she has worked as a stripper, a construction worker, and a nurse in her life. Or my father, the immigrant business man, who banned tank tops from our house and forbade me to talk with male store workers because “we all know what men tink, Misty.” I talk about the dichotomy of my upbringing: Rich and poor, white and brown, protestant and muslim, conservative and hippy-liberal. I write about these things to have a better understanding of them, of myself, and to give other people with similar lives something to relate to, or people with difference lives something to laugh at or appreciate or inspire or to make them cry or call their parents and say, “thank you for being normal.” You’re welcome. Also, to lend a voice to issues that need to be addressed out loud as a form of support, and in hopes of changing things for the better. I won’t lie, it’s also nice just to vent once in a while, and even that can be useful at both understanding myself, and the world in which I grew up: Somewhere between the US and Iran. And later Italy.

I moved to Italy in 2009 for art school. I stayed to start a design company with my friend Jessica. We both fell in love there and then stayed even longer to be with our partners. After growing up with my dad, though we’re close and I love him, I never wanted to marry a foreigner. That shit is hard. It’s hard for the kids who get lodged between two worlds they never really belong in, and it’s hard for the parents who are always a little bit stuck in misunderstandings. It’s also good. One (who is drunk) could say I’m “well rounded,” on top of being completely fragmented.

ME in Sperlonga with Francesco in 2013. I LOVED IT. So fun.

ME in Sperlonga (Not Sperm-Longa…apparently) with Francesco in 2013. Gorgeous and so fun.


I began blogging about Italy just to process the difficult things that were happening in my life. The frustration of cross-cultural dating, of in-law problems, and to document really embarrassing, funny, or wonderful days that I had so I wouldn’t forget about them. Life is short. I’m scared of forgetting even a moment, be it terrible or fantastic. The longer I lived in Italy the more I became interested in social issues, politics, and economics. The same things that were relevant to me in the US became relevant in Italy because it was my new home and I planned on living in Italy possibly forever. If it’s my home, and I want it to be a great place for my children to grow up, I’m going to address social problems. I’m going to complain about flaws in the system, in the culture, things that we as a society could do better. It needs to be talked about or it can’t change and the entire point of being alive is to leave the goddamn world in better shape than how we found it.

Talking about problems can make them go away. And that’s why I have and always will on occasion turn a critical eye on any place I call home, or any part of my identity. It’s an obligation I think we all have in existing in the world. Italy is beautiful, amazing, I love it so much, but it isn’t perfect and she isn’t special. I’d no sooner call Italy perfect than I’d wave an American flag and scream AMERICAN NUMBER FUCKING ONE! It’s the same thing, only a different zip code. Both seem ludicrous to me. Every country has it’s beauty, and every country has it’s dark-side that could use a little bit of fixin’ so the world can be that much more badass. And so I can analyze myself later on to see where I need to improve, grow, or grow-up (and I always need to grow up).

I realize that “better,” can also be subjective. I won’t deny that I can approach things from a completely ethnocentric, egotistical, asshole perspective of a know-it-all American (which is exactly 1/2 of my identity). The irony doesn’t escape me that I’m from a country that was colonized by a country that gave the world the “We are all that is right in the world,” imperialism for the “good of the people who don’t know any better.” But then again, so did Rome, the Persians, the Greeks, the Turkish, the Arabs….everyone. Basically everyone is just a “know it all,” asshole at the end of the day.

It’s really the way we all approach the world, with a myopic view, narrow-minded, comparing things to the only things we know. This is also why nobody is really “right,” when discussing certain things in any country. Even locals, Americans in the US, or Italians in Italy, are not great at discussing their own culture or issues because they/we tend to base everything on our own damn friend group and family. And this is why I think dialogue is so important.

I try my best to acknowledge that I’m just as narrow-minded as everyone else, and attempt to avoid it by using statistics, news sources, and interviews as the backbone of any social commentary that is not an opinion/bloggy piece. Sometimes I’m successful, and often I’m not (depending on how distanced I am from the topic).

The important part is just getting it out there for others to see, react to, think about, relate to, or argue against it (ideally like an adult). Others would disagree. David Sedaris once said something along the lines of, Foreigners are the lowest form of life in any country. So my job as a foreigner is (as many see it) to shut up and just enjoy the goddamn Tuscan sun. I do that, too. I enjoy all of the things that Italy has to offer which is vast and plentiful, but I also feel an obligation to Italy, as I do to the US, to write openly and honestly and at least acknowledge the unsavory (like violence against women, like race issues, like homophobia, or the terrifying resurfacing of anti-semitism in Rome). And really, why must the world be so one-dimensional?

Like most foreign nationals, I choose to love Italy despite it’s flaws, not because I pretend they don’t exist.


23 thoughts on “Why Italy Isn’t Special

  1. Another awesome entry. I come to see and realize Italy is just like the States. Beautiful countries yet there are the imperfections. Looking forward to read more of your blogs and honest thoughts.

  2. Well stated. It’s so easy, especially for those who don’t travel, to be ethnocentric. Nothing is as good as “home” – until you leave, and realize that some things are better.

    Travel – it does a body good. Great post, M!

  3. Great post! It’s important to shed light on the good and bad of any place, and to recognise that no place in the world is immaculate, there’s always a dark side.

  4. Very well stated, from both the views of an American and a “foreigner.” Without dialogue we will never learn, grow and improve and realize this “we are the better than all the rest” attitude is really quite a joke and rather ignorant.

  5. Excellent Post. No country is perfect and brushing issues under the table or constantly saying ” we are the best” stagnates a country and it’s people instead of helping them assimilate in today’s global society.

  6. Some very good points and astute observations as always. The world needs more people like you who live and let live, and just let others express themselves for who they are, without judging them (unless of course, they’re hurting others). Unfortunately, much of the human race is still very primitive, ignorant, and backward (despite all the technology in this modern world). By this, I mean in the way they accept those who are different from them and respect them for the unique, spiritual individuals they are – animals included.

  7. Hi Misty, love this blog, there’s a modern day Luigi Barzini in you! You’re so right here. It’s important to see the good bad and ugly. I can see all those in my own country but it doesn’t mean I don’t love it. And when I first spent time with my hubby in Italy all I could see was great weather, food, wine, beauty. Now I know her better I also see how difficult and unfair (im English we like a bit of fairness!) society is and how hard it is to navigate even for a local. On the ignorance point I once had to go to Vegas for a Tea convention (random) and my cab driver told me that if you go to Vegas there is no need to go to Europe because you can see it all there….

  8. Lovely post as always Misty, I honestly think that we as humans are programmed to defend any decision we personally make. whether it be Americans or Italians staying in their own countries or us immigrants in another one. We are all inclined to believe that ‘our choice’ was the ‘right choice’ even if that is totally subjective. I think we bloggers should share what we really feel a place, no matter what kind of crazy comments we get. Good, bad, in between..

    On a side note, we as humans need to be categorized and categorize everything that we know (speaking if that you should totally check out the new NPR podcast Invisibilia!

    • Georgette, that’s absolutely true. Remember the insanity that ensued when I brought up the topic of raising kids in Italy? I’ve never seen grown ups turn into tantrum throwing children so fast in my life. People were name-calling, fighting, and, of course, telling me I should never have children because how dare I question whether or not Italy is the best place for child-rearing?! I think there is a huge problem with the idea that Italy should be perfect. It stunts fixing it (also for the locals) and it hugely disappoints people like us who are shocked to find that it has normal country problems. It’s like finding out that your supermodel girlfriend has herpes. Such a pretty package, until she drops her knickers. I haven’t checked out the podcast but I will this afternoon!!! Thanks Love!

      • I would love to see the post about raising children in Italy. Spending a lot of time there with my toddler I’m often asked some very interesting questions about my parenting compared with Italians.

      • I’m not suprised at all. People (not just Italians) become completely loopy when children are the topic. In fact from the moment you become pregnant people like to give you their opinion on everything you do.

  9. Girl, I absolutely agree that dialogue, open, confrontive, disagreeable, uncomfortable dialogue is necessary to understand a position, to organize our thoughts, to purge ourselves of negativity. Now…you’ve justified it, but haven’t done it. Why isn’t Italy special? What are the problems, specifically? What about the racism in Rome? What about the xenophobia of oh-so-many Italians and how is it manifested? What about gender inequality? Aside from the man at the ferramenta refusing to look at me, only my husband, when buying shower fixtures, or the plumber needing my husband’s approval to go ahead with a project, how else? Where else? What about treatment of immigrants? What about the Africans who live in a compound down the hill from me and are DISALLOWED to leave the compound…40 men with nothing to do for months on end–is that a recipe for disruption? What about the friggin’ bureaucracy? Our Post Office isn’t open in the afternoon, ANY afternoon…couldn’t do our business until they opened the next morning? Is this a state-funded service or not? And speaking of the Post Office….we can’t guarantee ANY piece of mail will arrive ANYWHERE…you pay your money and take your chances…..Okay, I’ve vented, but I need more from you than just a blanket statement that says “Italy isn’t perfect.” Specificity, please.

    • Haha fair enough. I’ve actually written about all of these things over the years (and gotten plenty of hate mail over it, one asshole threatened to shoot me…that’s always fun). I haven’t written much about the post office but I’ve definitely covered the other areas. You’ve just given me an idea to make a category called “Italy isn’t perfect,” and put a series there.

      • Im not there any longer, after 3 years we had to return to USA. I don’t miss being treated as a second class citizen because Im female nor witnessing painful racial discrimination, I don’t miss the crazy mid-day closings. But so many of the things that are “wrong” with Italy are directly related to what we love about Italy. Ranting over what we perceive as wrong is fine among others from our own country. but, whether we like it or not, those wrongs may not seem so wrong to Italians. In the group of expats we knew it seems people either got it and loved being in Italy or just did not and should not live there.
        Your posts are so excellent as a way to cope and to look outside ourselves to appreciate the sights, sounds and differences in the world- and also to level our expectations of any place we find ourselves.

  10. I love your comment. It makes me like you very much : raw, fragile, fun, spontaneous and wise. You wrote THE thing I needed to know : I need to write.
    Sometimes we feel we’re going nowhere, or going through a particularly autistic and reclusive phase during a cold Winter. Brain and emotions feel stuck.
    I read your post and had a revelation. That’s it, I have to WRITE it, that gooey like feeling in my brain, all the stuff that keep me from being my normal light, happy, nifty, jumping self.
    Now it feels like the energy is beginning to move around, the fog is clearing up, I synchronistically get useful information from everywhere, things are beginning to materialize, I feel I made a huge quantum leap, and some wishes are coming true (dear gods of synchronicity and luck, I want you to know that I also wish to return to *not special* Italy this year…).

    Great! Thanks! You are the spark I needed. xoxoxox

    P.S. : Italy isn’t special. You are!

  11. I love your comment. It makes me like you very much : raw, fragile, fun, spontaneous and wise. You wrote THE thing I needed to know : I need to write.
    Sometimes we feel we’re going nowhere, or going through a particularly autistic and reclusive phase during a cold Winter. Brain and emotions feel stuck.
    I read your post and had a revelation. That’s it, I have to WRITE it, that gooey like feeling in my brain, all the stuff that keep me from being my normal light, happy, nifty, jumping self.
    Now it feels like the energy is beginning to move around, the fog is clearing up, I synchronistically get useful information from everywhere, things are beginning to materialize, I feel I made a huge quantum leap, and some wishes are coming true (dear gods of synchronicity and luck, I want you to know that I also wish to return to *not special* Italy this year…).

    Great! Thanks! You are the spark I needed. xoxoxox

    P.S. : Italy isn’t special. You are.

    • Haha no. I haven’t read it! I’ll definitely have to read it now. Actually, I was inspired to write this by talking to other expats who get yelled at all the time for writing critically about Italy. Even writing divorce stats can get you a ton of hate mail from expats and Italians alike (who desperately want to believe that Italy is a wonderland…and it is…but it’s also reality and reality isn’t perfect).

  12. Great post! I’ve been following your blog for a while and absolutely love your writing style. I’ve been in living in Italy since June, here in an immersive study abroad program through the University of California at the University of Bologna and this post really hit home for me. While my love for Italy is and will forever be part of me, living, studying and working here has made me fully aware of the multitude of problems that make life here as a foreigner and even as an Italian difficult. It’s definitely not all pizza, pasta and gelato and I think it’s definitely important to talk about the things that aren’t always so easy to talk about. Brava!

  13. I’ve survived 3 years of Italy. Without getting arrested (caught), without getting into a major fist fight (and I emphasize major because yes, I almost did throw down on a playground once with a mother that needed to be dealt with), and without inciting a riot and subsequent revolution at the Vatican (because it needs to be done).

    Instead of fighting everyone and everything in Italy, as my former self did, I’ve instead learned to laugh loud(er), drink a glass of wine, and just enjoy the circus we call, “La Dolce Vita.” Italy is no worse nor no better off than any other country. Italians are just as screwed up as the rest of us. Watch their “Isola dei Famosi” sometime, and you’ll see the parallels with “Jersey Shore”. We all need help.

    As far as being a “foreignor” well that’s just silly. We’re all inhabitants of this Earth, the only “foreignor” I see is the foot fungus living illegally on the toes of the Ligurian coastliners last summer, but a bit of apple cider vinegar will cure that. In a world where we all live, a separatist mentality just isn’t cool, and it’s also waste of time. We all belong where ever we choose to be.

    Italy is changing every day, for the better, or at least that’s what I choose to believe. Call it drunken optimism, call it “well, they do have great semi-nude beaches here.” My daughter is growing up here, and she’s turning out ok, even better once I can convince her Dad to let me homeschool her, ha ha.

    The point is, life is too short to stay somewere that bunches up your knickers. So, if you don’t like where you’re at, then move, or learn to cope. That’s what I’m doing, even if I have to meditate and yoga-my-thighs-into-oblivion to keep from strangulating the next spaghetti head that says something arrogant to me.

  14. You’re such a rockstar, Misty! I am so thankful that I stumbled upon your blog last year. I’ve yet to find a blogger that keeps it as real as you do. As a 21 year old American student graduating very soon, I’ve been seriously considering moving to Florence post-grad. By reading your blog, I truly feel that I will be able to make an informed and educated decision, and not one that is driven by any type of rose-colored glasses! I can’t wait to see what you write about next. Thank you!

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