Moving To Italy: 7 Things I’d Do Differently The Second Time Around

Sadly, I’m not a time traveler. I know that now you all think less of me, and that sucks, but I just wanted to be honest with everyone. But IF I COULD go back in time there are no less than 4,543 things I would do differently. How I went about moving to Italy would  probably be in my top 10 because I could have done it a lot better and my life would have been so much easier for years and year.

Vantage Points

1.I Would Have Learned More About The Culture: Without a solid grasp of the culture you won’t be able to understand your surroundings, to communicate, or to really understand the people you’ll meet, your partner (if they’re Italian) or their family. Americans, more than anyone, will not understand why this is number one or they’ll be like, “they like spaghetti, I get the culture.” The reason that Americans have a difficult time grasping how culture impacts communication is that American communication is really straightforward. Note: This has nothing to do with honesty. Americans can be liars (has anyone heard a Trump speech lately?) just like anyone. Again, it’s not about honesty, it’s about how we communicate. There aren’t a lot of hidden meanings in American communication, there’s no double-speak (unless you’re a politician or a Fox News anchor), and you don’t really need to understand the culture to understand what people are saying necessarily. Sure, there might be miscommunication, like how F used to always tell me, “well, nobody just says what they mean, so I don’t really understand what you’re trying to say.” And I was like, WHAT THE FUCK ARE YOU TALKING ABOUT!? Italy is not that way. Half of what people are saying is hidden below the surface and you have to understand the culture to get it. It’s not because everyone has some insidious intent, it’s just how the culture works. You can learn Italian, you can speak it fluently, but without a very solid grasp on the culture you will still be losing a huge amount of all communication. And, frankly, you’ll just be confused as shit all around. You’re thinking, “cool, I’ll just learn it from my husband or wife or nonna.” No, you won’t. Because they don’t often even know that what they’re doing is cultural or different from you. If you’re about to visit Italy, study in Italy, or move to Italy, you want to start reading, RIGHT NOW.

Resources For Learning About Italian Culture (From my Amazon Store)

2. I Would Have Learned Italian Months Before My Departure Date: Most likely you’re thinking like me and many of my friends who moved to Italy. “What better place to learn Italian than in Italy?” Trust me, no. You will learn Italian in Italy, for sure, and it is easier when you’re hearing it every day, but that first year that you’re there and unable to understand a goddamn thing is frustrating, isolating, and annoying as shit. Plus, people will expect you to speak the language even if you’ve been there for 20 minutes and the pressure certainly doesn’t help. Want to move to Italy? Great! But seriously, spend the money and buy Rosetta Stone, right now. No, you don’t have to buy it from my Amazon store, you can also buy it from Barnes And Noble. And, download Duolingo to your smart phone. The app is free, and even 15 minutes per day will be a lifesaver when you’re lost on an Italian street, unable to find your way home or your boyfriend’s mom is saying crazy shit to you and you need a classy response. You’re probably rolling your eyes at the Rosetta Stone, and so did I, until my roommate in Italy was able to speak Italian like a superstar 3 months into using it while I was barely able to name common household pets. It works. Use it.

Tips For Learning Italian While Still In The US

  • Rosetta Stone
  • Duolingo
  • Watch Italian films with English subtitles at least a few times per week (Sophia Loren films are a great place to start and work your way up to contemporary films).
  • Listen to Italian music, find the words in English, and it will help you memorize them by singing along.

3. I Would Not Have Spent Money On Dumb Shit. You’re moving to a new country and you’ll be tempted to buy 10,000 things before you go. Don’t. Italy has everything you could possibly need. And, their clothes are nicer and often cheaper than in the US. Save your money, get to Italy, and then buy all the shit you’ll need. The one exception might be makeup or skincare if you’re super particular. If you’re picky like me, then maybe you want to bring some of your favorite face stuff. Yes, Italy has great stuff but I like really specific stuff and the Sephora in Italy doesn’t carry any of the same shit that we have in ‘Merica.

4. I would have made it a point to do something new every day. I’m a habitual person. Really habitual. Like, when I wash my body in the shower I do it the same way every single day. When I find places I like, I tend to go there instead of trying new places. I travel a lot but I still tend to quickly find “my kind of places,” and go there. Last year when I was in Prague, I found a cookie shop that I liked and me and F would only buy cookies from THAT place. Mind you, it was the most adorable cookie shop in all the world. But still, I didn’t see any of the other cookies shops because of it. I did the same thing when I moved to Italy. While I definitely did a lot of stuff every year, I often found myself seeking the comfort of familiarity which prevented me from doing as much cool stuff as I could have. If you’re going to be spending a semester, year, or decade in Italy, I’d recommend forcing yourself to do something different at least every week, if not every day. Rent a car and drive around the country, try every cafe in the city, and every restaurant, too. Go tango dancing (I did, and it was SO FUN). The city has a lot to offer. If I could redo my student time there, that’s what I would have done differently. My friend and fellow blogger, Georgette, from Girl In Florence, is super awesome at getting out and doing EVERYTHING. She inspires me to be less boring.

5. Read the newspaper, follow current events, and pay attention. I got involved in this years after living in Florence and frankly it’s just embarrassing. If you live in any country for even a short amount of time it’s simply smart to know what the shit is going on in that country. TheLocal, is a great place to start to learn about what’s happening in Italy, in English. You’ll also look less dumb at dinner parties. For my first two years all that I knew was that Berlusconi was a douchebag. That’s where my knowledge ended and I really just reinforced the stereotype that Americans live in a bubble. You’d be surprised just how much you can learn about a culture, the people, and the history of the country by following politics and current events.

6. When dating, I would have set boundaries a lot sooner. My husband is a total badass but he’s also an enormous pain in the ass. And for a long time when I moved to Italy I forgave a lot based on “cultural differences.” Basically, I wrote off a lot of rude or stupid shit by justifying it in my head as “probably a cultural thing.”

No. Asshole behavior is the same in Italy as in the US. If someone is being an overbearing douche, you can say, “no thanks, asshat.”

Also, I spent years doing that American thing where I’m like, “well, I can’t very well be direct with his family because, geez, how rude. Tee-hee.” No. Italians, with all of their fashion and prettiness, are tough. They’re like bedazzled bombs. These are people who exist without air conditioning while wearing long sleeve button-ups and slacks. Don’t fuck with them. If you allow it, they’ll end you, and then the community widow will bake biscotti with your remains.

Also, Bella Figura. You know how high school girls are in movies where they’re like vicious monsters who are also perfect citizens and super polite in public and also sometimes to their enemies while they’re being horrible? A lot of that exists in Italy. Master that shit. Italians can insult you while smiling from ear to ear and being charming as fuck all the while. If you don’t understand the culture you won’t even know you’re being insulted. Also, if someone is opinionated, push back.  For example, my MIL will show up and be like, “yo, I’m decorating your house orange cause I don’t like how you did it!” And before I was like, “Oh, how kind,” while trying not to vomit. Now I’m like, “No, brown is ugly, no thanks.” And she’ll shrug and go, “ah, ok.” Stand up for yourself, family or friend, and lay down the law. Smile while you do it to add to the creepy factor. If you don’t have your own back, everyone will walk all over you, decorate your house hideously, dress you, and tell you that your dog is anorexic (the vet said he was the only dog of a healthy weight in all of Italy, the land of chubby poodles).

7. Spend more time asking question about others and less time observing them. I like to watch people. It’s a thing I do, often, in life. At parties I’ll usually be the person in the back, getting shitfaced while I uncomfortably stare at everyone. I did the same thing in Italy for a long time. I just watched people like a weirdo stalker instead of trying to get to know people and ask them about themselves, their culture, their family, etc. You can learn a lot about a place by paying attention, but you can learn a lot more by asking a lot of questions and getting to know people and getting their perceptions about their country. Find a language partner, or a cute barista, or bartender, and get to know them. Ask them endless questions about Italy. Maybe have sex with them if they’re into it (yay consent) and then ask them even more questions after the fact or during if you’re into that.

And there you have it! If you could move to Italy all over again, what would you do differently? I’d love to hear your stories in the comments below!



40 thoughts on “Moving To Italy: 7 Things I’d Do Differently The Second Time Around

      • As you wrote, I definitely wouldn’t have done so much shopping beforehand. The clothing available in Sweden is much nicer and affordable than Canada (and the local style is quite different from my hometown). Even though I moved at the start of August and the weather was quite warm during the day, I should have been more prepared for the significantly cooler nights (and brought warmer clothes). Knowing how certain parts of the health care system work (when you’re not a citizen) would have been useful too, since there are a few minor differences even once you get a Swedish ID.

  1. I wish I would have learned to drive there. I mean, you and I had that amazing experience in F’s car in the center… only a few tickets and some major panic attacks😛

  2. BEST.POST.EVER. You hit all my weak spots. Working on it as I’ve already been pinned down by the soon-to-be in-laws a time or two. Thanks for the inspiration and making me laugh out loud at the Italian experience when I often take it too seriously. Thank god for wine. XO

  3. Sono d’accordo! After two trips that ended with week long stays with family, understanding culture politics and history is a must. Having read most of the books on you list (and then some) I have had many an “Aha” or “D’oh!” moments.
    Language issues weren’t as bad the 2nd time as we took lessons used duo lingo (I recommend Italian for Dummies too). TV shows help a little. Grazie! Ciao Dave

  4. Your post made me laugh as I measured your comments with our last year when we bought a Villa in Rapallo Liguria where we now live for six months of each year. We had been visiting Rapallo each year for six years and met some wonderful locals who we kept in touch with. Being a tourist town many speak some English, particularly those who work in the tourist areas.
    My husband and I were very diligent with Duloingo which did allow us to get by in conversation with friends.
    Buying the villa took 12 months and that in itself is a long story. Our Australian family and friends kept reminding us of all the horror stories about getting ripped off by sharp Italians. Many thought we had taken leave of our senses but we pushed on as we had grown to love that little part of Italy so much and just pined to be there when we were back in Oz working.
    We struggle with the language with non English speaking Italians as they speak so fast and the words seem to run together. We can pick out words to know what they are speaking about but cannot decipher whether their story is good, bad, urgent or requiring an answer. So much more to learn.
    Being “tourists” or straineri has been difficult as we cannot have internet banking, buy a car, have SKY TV, a motorway prepaid pass or go to the rubbish dump! After many meetings, going to school to learn the law, the culture, a little about politics etc we finally received our Permesso Di Soggiorno (Permission to stay) which now will make it a lot easier for us to access these things.
    After a few months I did miss just sitting and having a drink and active conversation with English speaking people, rather than struggling with every conversation. We could not have English TV so hearing fluent English didn’t happen. Learning the language is a priority. Our Italian friends want to speak English to us as they want to improve their conversation skills.
    We had a very confusing few hours when the policeman came to ensure that we were living in the villa after we registered our Permesso Di Soggiorno . My husband answered the door to an elderly gentleman in casual clothes and thought for some unknown reason, that he was there to transfer the water to our name. He did not understand a word of English and we could not understand a word he was saying. After some time we decided to ring a friend and ask him to find out who he was. Yes he was the policeman and thankfully Stefano answered most of the questions on the phone for us. Finished well, he noticed our kitchen garden so I filled up a shopping bag of pomodori for him and he shook our hands many times as he left. Beautiful people – the majority of Italians.
    We are going to need a tutor to gain the confidence to build sentences for conversation from the many hundreds of words that we do know.
    I particularly laughed when you spoke of your MIL wanting to paint your house. When we settled the purchase of the villa a lot of work was to be done. The cleaner seemed to think I was entirely useless and took over with authority, telling me what needed to be thrown out and what could be kept. The villa was fully furnished with beautiful antique furniture which she obviously didn’t see value in. A constant tussle with her and finally had to let her go as she was so dominant. Lost a couple of items to the dump truck but look with pride at the furniture I saved and have had restored.
    For a while I even lost my confidence in cooking as the only way is the Italian way. A visit to the butcher is a nightmare for me. Their cuts of meat are so different to ours.
    Italian friends are generous to a fault, constantly bringing produce “from my cousin Gino in Sicily”, “my grandmother in Spain” “the boy with the fishing boat” . Wonderful amazing food.
    The major thing that I would do differently is learn the language to a sound conversation level. Italians have a strong network of family and are extremely protective and proud of their culture. We believe it is not our place to criticise their politics or way of life. We chose to adopt their country and they have welcomed us. Love every moment of being there.
    Gwynn Bridge

  5. Love this post! I moved to Lisbon 6 years ago and there are loads of things I wish I would have done differently! However, I am still here, still in love with this city, and so happy to have found my partner in crime in this lovely country…..American guys never had the patience for me and my “quirks”.

  6. Terrific tips, M.E.! Especially re: language. I have Rosetta Stone (need to start it all over again) and a handful of elementary language books. I’m hoping to spend the Fall of 2018 in Italy, so I’ll be starting up the language learning in Jan. 2017. I can’t wait!

  7. I’d like to know more about #6. I find it hard to know what should just be written off as “this will never work” and what is salvageable. From personal experience, the ease in which some Italian men lie is really something. Some people tell me this is “cultural” but I’m not sure. Any one tried to convince me that the more they lie to you the more they’re into you because they don’t want to hurt your feelings with the truth! WTF? Reminds me of the movie Designing Woman with Lauren Bacall and Gregory peck. I think the percentage of bullshit is higher in Pinocchio Land but then again I don’t think this should be an excuse. How did you get past the lying if I may ask? I know you’ve mentioned it in previous posts as something you encountered with F.

    • Personally? I hate lying more than anything. And I’m like a shameless CIA agent. Honestly, I acted like a detective and made his life hell until he realized that I will always catch him and end him.

      • Thanks for responding. I’ve done the same and he’s quietly scared of my P.I. abilities but I’m not sure that’s a way to live/be in a relationship. Will ponder this some more. Thanks.

      • LOL! Yes, I actually took that as a given. My issue is with lying about other stuff like past and not so past women. Particularly ex-shags that tend to loiter and circle around like hyenas.

      • I’ve caught my BF if a couple of rather innocuous lies (or those of omission), and have said that the issue about which he is lying in the first place, will ALWAYS come second to the lie itself. IOW, we can get past/deal with whatever issue he’s lying about in the first place, because grownups. But LYING about it, will simply make it worse. It’s unnecessary. I’ve promised that if I catch him in another lie, I’m outta here. His choice.

        (The hard part, is where do I draw the line? Do I leave the relationship for a small “I forgot” type of lie or only a whopper? If I stand by my credo and say ANY lying is worthy of leaving, then, what…I leave for something relatively small, even though it’s not the small “issue” at hand…it’s the LYING! Omg, I need to go lie down.)

      • I totally agree with you regarding it’s not always what the lie is about but the lying in the first place. But, in my experience, lying comes so second nature to some of these Pinocchios that they don’t even realise they’re doing it in the moment.

  8. I’ll be moving to Italy in the coming months, though I’ve been living with an Italian for 15 years. We met in the US, but have spent the last eight years in the Netherlands. I studied Italian on my own years ago, but honestly, I’ve used it less since I’ve met him. My Dutch is horrendous, so I do understand the difference it makes to learn the language. I’m trying to refresh my Italian knowledge now before we move and I’ll be able to manage basic outings, but real conversation is going to take some work.

    In some ways, this move will be easier than moving to the Netherlands, because at least the language isn’t such a barrier and we’re both more familiar with the culture. But that familiarity is also going to throw up some of its own difficulties.

  9. Great post, i really enjoyed it, good to hear others have the problem of trying to tease out what is cultural differences and what is mammoni, arrogant, asshole, selfish behaviour.

  10. I love everything about this post! I did some of these things when I moved to Qatar, but each country has its quirks. I wish I knew more Arabic. I am hoping to move to Italy one day, so I am going to file this post away for the future!

  11. Great post, my eyes have been opened and I am buying my Rossetta right now well! once I am done here. I always believed they were saying more than they were saying, does that make sense? choked on my tea again, laughing to much…. thank you. Your bloggs are the sun parting the grey clouds on a dark rainy day in England.


  12. Thanks! This posting is golden. We are *still* trying to make our move to Italy… lots of friction at work, etc. My wife is really concerned about going back as she never really fit in with the indirect sharks who “insult you while smiling from ear to ear”. I doubt I’ll be able to figure out what is going on as I’m the guy who doesn’t realize he’s being insulted even in English until I’m driving home from the party!
    Do you have any advice or insights on dealing with this behavior? Does calling it out work with Italians?

    • Yes, I’ve found that being super direct or making fi of someone works for me. Example, when my husband and I were engaged, one of his friends was like “no, you’ve only been dating a year. And you might by a house together? I think that’s a terrible idea.” Then she made a few asshole comments. I just laughed, “well, thank God it’s not up to you.”

  13. Language and it’s (mis)interpretations … below is a clip from a sixties Australian movie called ‘They’re a Weird Mob’ about an Italian journalist who travels to Australia. The scene demonstrates the inevitable confusion involved in words and their meanings – meanings not found in travel guides, but which are understood by the local culture. The main character (Giovanni) gets hopelessly lost trying to order a drink at a bar (in respect to the size of glass when drinking beer (a schooner – 15 oz, or a middy – 10 oz), ‘what (he) does for a crust’ (ie what is your job) and so on. A doe eyed, innocent version of mid ’60’s Australia, where everyone lives near Bondi beach, there is work and opportunity for all (even migrants, though they’re called ‘dagos’) and no-one has yet heard of globalisation or fiscal drag. I sometimes chortle quietly to myself when I read your blog – well done. I particularly like the the lack of PC and real-speak filters. Fucking love that, actually.

  14. I REALLY enjoyed this post. I must say that those who are not European and who are, to put it bluntly, American will always struggle with the humour. It’s a cliche to say that Americans don’t get irony but, nevertheless . . . . . Also, it is helpful to come from a Catholic background as so much of Italian culture revolves around the Church and when you are brought up a Catholic you stay a Catholic (even when you lose your faith!). I’m really grateful for your link to The Local . . . . . that is a GREAT resource. Great post. Many thanks.

  15. Your articles would be easier to enjoy if you could refrain from the use of excessive expletives. It really does not enhance your writing; it becomes tedious and feels like you are angry. Please don’t continue to offend your readers. Am I alone in thinking this?

  16. What would I do differently about buying a holiday home in Italy if I had my time over again? A lot! I’d have said we wanted to re-use the roof tiles for a start when the roof was repaired.We were so naive; our geometra certainly saw us coming.

  17. Molto grazie for sharing your “in-depth”experiences with us. Keep on writing. I do look forward to that.

    I have lived overseas for many years. Your writing really makes my day.

    Sue Hollender

  18. Interesting post – very wise, too! I like how you go beyond the obvious things, like “learn Italian”, although that’s the thing I most relate to. In an ideal world, you should get to a reasonable level of Italian before you move. I taught myself some Italian before I moved, so I could read a bit of Italian and knew some basic vocabulary, but I couldn’t string a sentence together. Being able to order in a restaurant is useful, but if you can’t communicate with your flatmate you feel like a bit of a failure…

    I found the first point interesting, though I’m not sure I relate to it as much. Perhaps because I’m British? Do the British have more cultural similarities to Italians? I think we also have a tendency to not say exactly what we mean. Now that I’ve been here three years and have good conversational Italian , I don’t feel that cultural differences get in the way of communication that often.

    Oh, and great point about keeping up with local news and politics. Following Italian political news can be challenging (especially if you’re reading in Italian), but it’s important.

  19. My American husband and I live here now (I’m a dual national – but Italians will never refer to me as such, only as “American”). I have learned that one thing that makes Italians absolutely mental is to ignore them or to withdraw when you are upset or have a disagreement with them. ABSOLUTELY MENTAL!! Their interpersonal boundaries are so “fluid” they cannot tolerate silence or the perception of being “shut out” of your life even if they hate you. It’s definitely best to tell them what they want to hear to resolve differences while smiling (even if you are lying) or risk retaliation by them ruining your reputation via insidious gossip (the national pastime). They’ll do this even if you are a nice, decent individual disinterested in their drama. They will fuck with you hard here. Trust me.

  20. I absolutely love your posts, adore the way you write with humor, your traightforward fearlessness, and that you are a woman not afraid to swear if you feel like it and you don’t bend to being politically correct. I love that you make me laugh out loud at almost every post and give specific, detailed advice, not just bullshit that one doesn’t know how to apply. AND you give advice based on your prersonal experiences about living in Italy and are not afraid to do that or to be judged by anything you say. You are a true inspiration. I am only live here here part-time, max 2 months at a time, coming and doing back and forth between Tuscany and the States, but it has been quite challenging starting a business here being a foreigner, with two other female business partners who are also from other countries…try THAT one and see how the men treat you! It can often be kind of like “isnt’ that cute…..those girls want to start a business here, haha…!!!” No it’s not really cute, we mean business about business. What a learning curve…..but that’s another story! So THANK YOU for the encouragement and help you provide! I am the only American among us 3 women starting our businesses here, but that has been my gut instinct to do as you have suggested….stand up and smile like you mean business’s so you will be respected, to not just silently accept when people are trying to take advantage of you or of the fact that you are a not Italain, as it will gain you no respect by them anyway…so learning as much as I can about how to connect culteraly in relation to business is very important….and in personal like too!🙂. Thanks for putting yourself out there and being an open book!! I am studying my ass off to get conversational in this language here in Italy and in the states, and I am so glad I started as you say BEFORE my first visit….but it was still not near enough, but I’m not giving up just buckling down! Grazie mile!!! Monika

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