Then I Had A Nervous Breakdown: A Collective Post By Some Of Italy’s Best Known Expat Bloggers


 By the blogger who brought you, Married To Italy

 There’s living in Italy (queue the mandolin and beautiful people serving copious amounts of delicious food and wine)… and there’s LIVING IN ITALY (queue the honking cars and 10 kilos of pasta weight). One can be very very different from the other. In one scenario, you are Diane Lane in that stupid Tuscan movie that everyone loves so much. In the other scenario you’re me, getting yelled at by the neighbor every day, “a couple your age should have a child, not a dog!”

Why does Italy look so glorious through the veil of a newly divorced American woman who has enough money to do nothing except restore a Tuscan villa? BECAUSE SHE’S NEWLY DIVORCED! She can dream about that sexy dude in the white linen suit without having to get the inevitable Lambrusco stains out and talk to his mamma every day. She hardly speaks or understands any Italian, so she can pass every day in blissful ignorance of the stuff people are saying about the way she dresses in town. She has no concept of what a “brutta figura” is, so she doesn’t notice when people judge her for speaking directly.  She still thinks that lack of boundaries is charming!

There’s a lesser known sequel to ‘Under the Tuscan Sun’. It’s set a few years later, after she is remarried to that sexy Italian man and is welcomed into a traditional Italian family.

It’s called ‘Screw This Place’.

Now, don’t get me wrong. My marito is awesome. I have no idea what I would do without him. But, as I think many people will agree, marriage is not just about the love between two people…  you want to know what it’s REALLY like to be married to an Italian?

Let’s examine that dream image you have in your head. You know the one I’m talking about. The one where you find yourself face to face with a gorgeous, tall, dark, swarthy Mediterranean piece of eye candy (that’s you, my love)… his white shirt unbuttoned and flowing the light breeze of a sunny Italian morning. You’ve just entered the kitchen after a night of delirious love making to find him preparing a breakfast of fruit and wild berries with a little vase of freshly picked flowers from the Tuscan hills that are practically rolling right out of the living room’s open doors.

Really let that image settle in…

and then follow these simple instructions for me…

1. Remove the hills and replace the view out the window with an old lady hanging underwear on a clothing line and yelling at you, while peering into your apartment as much as possible so she can judge your subpar cleaning methods and un-ironed sheets. That whole Tuscan hill thing is bullpoop. Tuscan hills make up less than 8% of the land mass of Italy; the residents of Tuscan hills make up 6%, more than half of which are living in a dense town or city; half of the less than 1% of Italians living in detached villas on the top of a rolling Tuscan hill are a gender which you are most likely not interested in… or are married already. So get over the idea that you’re going to meet some gorgeous Italian who just happens to own a luxurious villa perched upon a hill.

Please, let’s be realistic. Remove the hills, replace them with a nosey neighbor, and we’re a little closer to accuracy.

2. Get rid of the sun. “Sunny Italia” is a myth that only applies to the southern half of the country, and even then not necessarily in winter.

Keep in mind, Rome is more or less the same latitude as New York. Six months out of the year my sunny Texan self has to endure days and days of endless grey storm clouds, nebbia, and general yuckiness. So, yeah, take away the sun… but then take it away for EVERY winter FOR THE REST OF YOUR LIFE. This is where seasonal depression enters, and as the years pass you start to become a bitter, bitter person.

Keep imagining your scene… but with the nosey neighbor instead of hills, and the clouds instead of the sun…

3. No sooner does that light breeze pick up the corner of his shirt and start to pull back against his chest… than his mamma comes bolting through the door with a scarf to wrap around his neck and a stern warning about the drafts!

Italians have an intense fear of any sort of air movement, and it is said to cause all kinds of ailments. For sure, your dreamy Italian man would not be caught half-naked in any sort of breeze. His mamma will have felt the air movement ahead of time and noted from her balcony that your patio door was open, rushing over to offer her help in this time of crisis.

She will have “knopened” the door (that’s when the person knocks WHILE opening the door), because there are no boundaries when it comes to La Famiglia. Everything that you imagined to be appropriate up until now is completely thrown out the window. It is not only socially acceptable for a family to be all up in each other’s business, it is encouraged and even desired! A family that is not all up your grill probably doesn’t like you very much.

Remember: good intentions are expressed via meddling; love is shown with force-feeding.

So now you’re closed up in this tiny apartment, it’s doing that freezing-rain-fog thing outside, and your dream man’s mamma is offering to cook up a little pork for lunch (yes, it’s 9am, but it’s never too early to start discussing the next meal). He turns to you… gazes into your eyes… and says, “my mamma’s arrosto maiale is the best!”.

You can now start to see how that dream you had can easily slip into a nightmare if you aren’t careful. While my rant here is somewhat sarcastic and tongue-in-cheek (one might even say bitter), the point is this:

Even with the most wonderful Italian man in the world at your side, it will be a constant struggle to recognize, communicate, and really understand why these cultural differences are so appalling that they’ve been classified as a form of shock. If you don’t realize now that the dream you had in your head is just a wall blocking your view from reality, you will very likely hit that realization at full speed. You may even (to borrow a phrase from Misty) “freak the fuck out”, a sentiment with which I am QUITE familiar.

Sometimes it’s so ridiculous that if you don’t laugh, you’ll cry. Every marriage requires work, but I believe that a cross-cultural marriage with an Italian also requires a healthy sense of humor.

And an occasional meltdown.








‘M’ is a 30-something (something low) American Texpat, living and working in her husband’s tiny hometown in the province of Reggio Emilia. Her blog, Married to Italy, is home to her rants and raves and serves as her therapeutic search for hilarity amongst the chaos.






By Rick Zullo of Rick’s Rome

The problem with Italian bureaucracy is not that it’s so dense…which it is, but I guess that could be said for most bureaucracy anywhere in the world.  No, the endearing feature that gives the Italian brand of red-tape its own special degree of aggravation is that nobody seems to know the procedures, least of all the people whose job it is to do so.  While you might think that this would produce some degree of compassion among these employees, the fact is that many of them appear to gain pleasure from their own incompetence.

On four previous attempts to submit my residency application, the civic employee who was charged to help me and my fellow stranieri did little to hide her contempt for my type; which is to say anyone who interfered with her rigid schedule of coffee and cigarette breaks.  She found any and every possible excuse to thwart my efforts with no inclination towards actually assisting me in the matter.

Nonetheless, I was optimistic on my fifth attempt.  I had my forms filled out properly, my tax stamp from the tobacco shop affixed in the right location, a certified copy of EVERY PAGE of my passport (yes, even the blank ones), and a sample of my blood for DNA analysis.  Everything was perfect, no doubt.  Proudly, I presented all of this to the pathetic little underling, trying to conceal my satisfaction.

As she leafed through my papers, an evil grin slowly emerged from the corner of her mouth.  “Signore, mi dispiace, ma quest inchiostro non e’ nero.  E’ scuro, si, ma mi sembra una tonalita’ di blu.  Deve rifarlo.”  Sir, I’m sorry, but this ink isn’t black.  It’s dark, yes, but it looks to be a shade of blue.  You must redo it.

And then I had a nervous breakdown.








Rick Zullo is an American expat living in Rome. Born in Chicago and raised in Florida, he came to the Caput Mundi in 2010 and forgot to go back. When he’s not exploring his adoptive hometown or writing for his blog, he spends his time teaching the world English, one Roman at a time.  Rick is also the author of the silly little eBook, “Live Like an Italian,” available on Amazon.  Visit Rick’s blog at, or connect with him on Facebook or Twitter.




 by M. Elizabeth Evans of Surviving In Italy

 My first year in Italy was pretty rad so I wasn’t ready for things to be less than ideal.  It wasn’t until I became serious with my husband that I really started to struggle. I was thrown into a southern Italian family and an Italian friend group with the assumption that I’d be accepted and in no time everyone would love me and we’d all be buddies. I was an idiot. It wasn’t long before I started thinking about shooting myself or at least getting addicted to heroin as every day I felt more and more like a small voice in my husband’s ear instead of three-dimensional person.

Everything that I’d ever been taught was polite was interpreted as rude, I was bossed around, treated like a child. I was the outsider and none of my feeble attempts would help me to fit in. I couldn’t be myself anymore. I was weary to talk because my go-to subjects were always inappropriate somehow. Sarcasm? The hell? Everyone always talked to me with a “knowing” smile. My husband, admittedly, was embarrassed that I was American. Neither his friends, nor his family, took our relationship seriously. I was temporary, I was “fun,” I was disposable. Then they realized that the disposable thing wasn’t getting trashed. Things changed but instead of acceptance it was more like bitter defeat.

Instead of avoiding the people who disliked our union instead we attached ourselves to them. We spent every vacation, every holiday, every other weekend, with his parents whose favorite thing to do in life is criticize. The family engulfed us. They controlled our life in subtle ways and large ones. My husband (then boyfriend) was okay with it, it was “normal,” but for an American, spending half of every vacation with your in-laws is unheard of, asking parental advice for every decision in your thirties is on par with a mental illness. It really got bad when his parents chose an apartment that they thought we should buy, they demanded I become Catholic (which I didn’t) and they fully expect our children to be indoctrinated, something that has already been brought up more than once. A simple, “no” should suffice but it doesn’t so I have to say,“If anyone is going to talk with my kids about masturbation, it’s going to be me, not a forty year old man who hasn’t had sex in three decades,” and that just offends everyone. My husband never wanted to speak up because he felt spoiled and ungrateful to disagree with them.

Nothing was sacred. My mother-in-law would poke at my body and comment on it, I need a new hairstyle, I wear too much black. My father-in-law yells because I won’t fetch for my husband, I won’t clean up after him, I wouldn’t press his shirts (because it’s the 1600’s and his penis prevents him from pressing his own damn shirt?), for drinking coffee in the morning before taking a shower. When we came to the US my in-laws unpacked my luggage and repacked it while I stood by yelling, because, “I’m lazy, disorganized and don’t know how to pack.” They tried to talk my husband out of marrying me. When they came to our home in Florence, my mother-in-law would bring decor to furnish our home, orange and brown, and then reorganize as she saw fit. She would move my hand towels, I’d move thm back. It went on for days, the battle of the towels.

Then, one day, I flipped the fuck out. I started packing my bags about the ten millionth time I was told my place as a woman and how my place was iron and clean (because it’s 1534). My husband married me because I’m not a “typical Italian woman,” so please, stop trying to make me one. My freak out caused a reaction of freak outs. It lead to my husband freaking out and then my in-laws . There was screaming, crying, wall punching and at some point I think someone even threw spaghetti. In the end they realized that they wouldn’t win the battle they thought they were fighting. It’s the little things that make life worth living. In the face of adversary scream, “THIS WAS PERSIA!” and win with boundaries.

The most difficult part of moving to Italy was the communication barrier, learning to laugh at the fact that I’m always “weird,” and becoming part of an Italian family and learning how to put my foot down. The fact that I was willing to stand up for myself made them choose their battles more wisely. Italians are tough, if you’re going to live in peace you have to set boundaries, stick with them, and be unmovable. In my husband’s family it worked. Now, they still drive me crazy, of course, but it’s an amount that I can sanely manage. We’re all happier now and I can focus on the parts of Italy that I like instead of suffering through one nervous breakdown after another.







M. Elizabeth Evans is an American expat trapped between two worlds with her badass husband, his chest hair, and their poodle. She is a writer and partner of House Of Ossimori. Her award-winning blog Surviving In Italy, aims to honestly portray her life in Italy, the sober times, the drunken times, the yelling, food, family, and on occasion her obsession with the majestic Capybara. She’s also terrible at writing Bios. Someone do it for her next time, okay?




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Italian Expat Series, Author Lee Foust, A Great Writer And Good Friend

jpegAfter much nomadism, I have come to consider place to be less of a geographical reality and more of an illusion of significance associated with our troubled concept of identity. Frankly, too many people reside out of place for nationality, language, culture, or race (another outmoded and imaginary concept according to geneticists) to be as significant and we believe them to be. Notice the pause, the hesitation when you ask someone, “Where are you from?” What information do you expect to extract? A self-proclamation for your profiling? I have come to believe that a free, unafraid human being lives beyond place’s strict confines or its conformity to a nationalist, a racist, or a demographic ideal.

My book of fiction, Sojourner, collects 19 poems, 7 short stories, 6 prose poems, and 7 non-narrative prose pieces, each exploring the mysteries of their characters’ relationship to place: house hunting, traveling, running away, returning, studying, getting lost, emigrating, dreaming, cheating, squatting, dying, sleeping, surviving, relocating, getting married, and coming home.

Sojourner is divided into two large sections and a short middle section dividing the other two thematically. The texts of the first part focus mostly on Americans ill at ease at home or traveling, and those of the latter half on expatriates of all types. The three texts of the middle, dividing section bridge the gap between casual travel and persistent foreignness, and treat of the madness of the moment of decision, who we are before we relocate and then the aftereffects of our nomadism.


Here’s a topical table of contents for Sojourner:


  1. An American boy stuck in murderous US suburbia.

  2. A suburban youth seeks apartment in the big city.

  3. Freaks cruising a San Francisco nightclub circa 1992.

  4. SF yuppie cheats on girlfriend with Irish orphan.

  5. Drunk Parisians lament servitude.

  6. A French junkie scores in Florence.

  7. American Goth homeless on the streets of Amsterdam.

  8. A brother laments death in Lubbock.

  9. A brother survives death in NYC.

  10. Americans drive to Toronto to see Patti Smith.

  11. Americans and Brits fight over Brooklyn.

  12. House hunting in NYC.

  13. Air conditioning for the NYC masses.

  14. Sister Morphine stalks the Lower East Side.

  15. A Syrian emperor in Ancient Rome.

  16. Italian dreams in NYC.

  17. An academic drinks beer on the Lower East Side.

  18. Friendship as reflected in two bars, one in SF and one in NYC


  1. Captain Anarchy stalks the streets of NYC before and after 9/11.

  2. A traveler loses track of place for a night.

  3. An American writer permanently relocates to Helsinki.


  1. Sex change in Pontassieve.

  2. Savonarola sieged in piazza S. Marco.

  3. Berlusconi is Vesuvius.

  4. Naples is a befana.

  5. Shakespeare studies in Rome.

  6. Florence chokes on itself.

  7. A Venetian nobleman commits suicide with a displaced Frenchman during carnival.

  8. Beatrice in Purgatory.

  9. Commuter train, Florence—Pontassieve.

  10. American soldiers buried in Tuscan soil remembered.

  11. Florentine poet publicly dismembered.

  12. A happy expatriate returns to Florence.

  13. A perfidious Italian wife acts Bluebeard outside Orvieto.

  14. An Irishman visits Volterra.

  15. Love in ghostly Florence.

  16. Love in abandoned Assisi.

  17. Love in duplicitous Poznan.

  18. Words are a place too.


My website:

My blog:

A free, downloadable CD’s worth of performances from Sojourner:


Lee Foust is a well known expat author and professor in Florence, Italy. You can purchase his book Sojourner on Amazon. The eBook version will be available this week.


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My Muse Florence by Vincent Zandri

I’d like to welcome guest writer Vincent Zandri and thank him for contributing to my new “expat essays” section. Violà!


The first time I came to Florence it was for love. At least, being in love was the plan since I was on my honeymoon with my first wife. This is back in the late 1980s when I harbored the moronic idea that getting married right out of college would be the fun thing to do. Barely in our twenties (I couldn’t even grow a beard yet), we returned Stateside from the honeymoon to no money, mounting bills, and misery. I was a young writer looking for his start which no one would give me, or so it seemed at the time, and it didn’t take too long for my wife and I to realize our major mistake. She went her way and I packed up my bags, went straight on to writing school.

The second time I came to Florence with a woman I “loved” was in the late 1990s. It was a crazy time for me then since I was trying to find out how many different ways I could piss away a $250K advance from Delacorte Press for the publication of my first big book, The Innocent (formerly titled, As Catch Can). Despite my partying like a rock star (and even playing drums in my editor’s band, Straw Dogs), the book would go on to sell a ton of copies over three editions. But the marriage, alas, would not fare so well. As much as I loved my second wife, she could not compete with the love I had for words and the nomadic writing life. We split up, but I never stopped loving her.

The third time “love” brought me to Florence was in the late 2010s. This time the love interest was an artist and art professor from New York. It was her first time in the Renaissance city and I recall leading her by the hand down the Via Faenza all the way to where the Via Zannetti ends at the Via De’ Cerretani and the Piazza Del Duomo. I asked her to close her eyes while we inched our way out into the piazza. When I told her to open them, the first thing she saw was the marvelous white and green marble of the massive cathedral. I thought she would pass out from shock. In any case, she cried real tears over the experience. I must admit, I too became choked up at her come-to-Jesus reaction. Three months later she broke off the relationship without warning.

So when it comes to Florence and love, I guess you could say I’m three and out. Or, in the words of my publicist, I’ve come to expect the unexpected.

I haven’t always come here for love however. I’ve been coming to Florence for a number of years now to work. Initially, it seemed like a good place to base myself back when I was writing for RT, and some other global news and trade outlets. I might travel on assignment to West Africa or Moscow, and then instead of heading back to the States and locking myself in my one bedroom apartment, I found it much nicer to work out of Florence. Unlike my love life, Florence always seemed to work like a lucky charm for me when it came to my writing.

I recall just three years ago, I was here working on some stories for RT when I got word that the then Governor of New York declared that the Empire State was going to go bankrupt in just two week’s time. It was late in the day and I’d already started on a cold beer when I quickly pitched the story to my editor out in Gorky Park. She approved it giving me just a couple hours to research and write it. Somehow I managed to deliver the piece in just under an hour and half. That night it was the lead story in Eastern Europe. Dumb luck? Or did Florence have something to do with it?

After that experience as a freelance journalist, I kept coming back to Florence for longer and longer stays. This time as a novelist. Since 2008 I’ve managed to write at least three novels here. These include my two “Florence” thrillers, Blue Moonlight (Yes, there’s a rooftop chase scene atop the Duomo) and The Shroud Key (The main character is a writer/adventurer who lives in New York and Florence and who’s always in trouble with the ladies … Go figure!). Presently I’m here completing the first drafts of two new novels. Moonlight Weeps and a new stand-alone, The Breakup. I’ve been here only a week, but thus far, I’m ahead of schedule.

If I had to put my finger on it, I really couldn’t tell you why Florence works for me as a writer. My life here isn’t all that much different from my life back in New York. I get up, make the coffee, sit down at the computer and, in the words of Papa Hemingway, “bite on the nail.” Towards noon I’ll get in a run and/or a visit to the gym. Then I’ll write until maybe five o’clock at which time I’ll head to a favorite local watering hole for a beer or two. My adopted local tavern in Florence is the Fiddler’s Elbow in the Piazza Santa Maria Novella. Like they do when I walk into my favorite bar in New York, the barflies will welcome me with a “Hey Vin!” On occasion someone will ask me if I won the war of words today. I’ll usually respond with, “I’ve won the battle, but never the war.”

So then, why do I keep coming here, year after year? Is it the coffee, the food, the wine, the way the rain-soaked stones in Piazza Della Repubblica glisten from the bright lights that shine down on them from the revolving carousel? Maybe it’s never being sick of walking past the Florence Cathedral and seeing the larger than life faces of Cambio and Brunelleschi, the former looking dejected in his failure to engineer a proper dome for the structure, the latter looking upwards at his crowning achievement. Maybe it’s simply the art. For Florence is a living museum. It’s all about the art.

Sure, Florence isn’t without its faults. It’s full of mosquitoes and drunks who walk the streets in the middle of the night wailing indiscernible words to no one in particular. There are hordes of tourists especially in the summer and early fall months. It’s certainly not the cheapest place in Italy. All I know is that every time I come here, something good happens to my career. Two years ago I spent the much of the summer here with my son, Harrison, who is now also a writer. During our stay I got a call from my agent. He’d landed me a seven book deal with Thomas & Mercer along with a very nice advance. And just a day after I landed here last week, he sent me an email telling me he’s working on a possible movie deal for my standalone literary thriller, The Remains.

So the luck continues, but not the love. Or perhaps I’m wrong about that.

You might recall the second wife I mentioned just a few paragraphs ago. The one I left but whom I still loved? She’s coming to see me for the holidays. Turns out, we’re giving our love another try. Or, in the context of this thread, we’re rewriting our story together. A small part of that story will once again take place in Florence. It’s true that this ancient city of art and inspiration will always be my writing muse. The one place I can count on for providing me with strings of sentences, paragraphs, and polished pages. But it will never take the place of finding true love. True love is where the heart is. It knows no bounds, no limits, no geography. It certainly can’t be pointed to on a map. Love just is.

This time, I’m not letting go. But then, you never know. This is Florence, after all.

Vincent Zandri is the bestselling noir author of The RemainsThe Innocent, and the Dick Moonlight PI series which includes Moonlight Rises and Blue Moonlight. His publishers include Thomas & Mercer, StoneGate Ink, Delacorte Press, Dell, and others. His first novel in the Moonlight series, Moonlight Falls, is being translated in French and Italian by Meme Publishers for an April, 2014 release. For more go to WWW.VINCENTZANDRI.COM