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 lie 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), 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 HELL 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 of 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!

 

 

Italy In The Winter: Baby, It’s Cold Outside

Baby, It’s Cold Outside. And Inside. I’m Basically Dying Of Hypothermia In Florence, Italy

Let’s start this winter post about Italy with a short apology: I’ve been sort of absent lately. Not because I want to be but because Francesco was laid off after 3 weeks at a new job (the CEO decided to close the branch, you know, for funsies), and we had to move for the second time in ONE MONTH. He finally found a new job that is totally awesome and started yesterday, we move yet again next week, and all the while I’ve been editing my book with two completely badass editors who have worked for a bunch of fancy publishers and it’s been glorious. Unfortunately, I’ve been pulled in so many directions, and my head has been lodged so far up my own ass, I’ve hardly had time to be here, with you guys, doing what I love. However, my beloved COSI GROUP was all, “Nuh-uh, bitches,” and they collectively pulled all of us out of our slumber (there’s been a few of us struggling lately…this summer/fall has been a real pain in the ass), to get back on the COSI bandwagon and blog. This month’s theme? WINTER IN ITALY. And guess what? This subject could wake me from the dead because there’s nothing that causes me more suffering, or makes me whine like a toddler, than the cold.

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Does This Country Make Me Look Fat? Guest Post By Melissa Kulp Frankenfield

This morning, someone asked if I was pregnant. Again. *Sigh* And she was a beggar. So, it was practically a hate crime.

Since this faux-pregnant gal is all for improving human-relations, I just graciously smiled (and swore off eating) as I assured her “No, bambini! No bambini! Mi dispiace.” I actually apologized. For not being pregnant. Does this country make me look fat? Apparently. No thanks to my steady diet of wine with a side of wine.

Here are my (unsubstantiated) anthropological findings: Italy is a study in contrasts. Legislation and liberty. Restraint and moxie. Beauty and decay.

For example: The Italian government gives trash removal the same oversight a TSA agent grants a passenger named “Kamil” with pilot’s license. Clear plastics must be separated from colored plastics which must be separated from glass which must be separated from paper and so on. Basically, it’s the IRS of trash laws.

So, you have that regulation. And then you have this liberty: While recently dining at a local trattoria, the proprietor/probable mafia godfather approached my entourage. The invariable first question is always as to whether all three are mine. All. Three. Friends, “three” does not even qualify me for a TLC reality show.  But, maybe I just seem that overwhelmed. Or like a child-trafficker.  You decide.

*Tight smile* Yes, yes, they are all mine. But, we aren’t sure about the father.

Kidding.

Then, suddenly, this hairy godfather reached down and plucked my toddler right out of his seat, holding him in his floured arms as he pinched his cheek and kissed his head.  Kissed. His. Head. And I hadn’t even signed a “photo release” form yet. Liability release forms. That was my first thought as he affectionately stroked my toddler’s chubby face. On one hand- I can hardly blame the guy. My man-child is edibly adorable. It’s his fatness. (An unfair asset for only the very young.) But, still, can you imagine a comparable situation in say- an Olive Garden? Um, never.  You would be on Megan’s List, labeled as a predator before the day ended.

But, to be honest- my “creeper radar” registered nothing on this old mafia kingpin. Most likely, he was one of those fabled Italians, who actually love children. And frankly, it is the trash police that we could do without. Cause ain’t nobody got time for that.

About The Author:

Melissa Kulp Frankenfield is a washed-up high school actress. Obscure pageant finalist. Child-wrangler. Homeschooler. Wannabe spy.

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7 Things I Love About Italy That Might Surprise You

1. Italy is a visual paradise in most places. Sure, some of the newer cities are kind of ghetto with lackluster architecture, but for the most part the cities are absolutely stunning. Old cement buildings with charming flower beds in windows, the cobblestone, the massive churches with well-preserved Fresco paintings, and greener than Crayola-green hills. If Italy was a person it would be a Victoria’s Secret model. Probably one of the transgender ones because their bodies are the most toned.

Florence Italy

2. The dramatic graffiti. There’s nothing like teenage angst and love to make walking the dog a poetic experience. There’s a freakish amount of graffiti in Italy which seems ghetto and sketchy until you can read it and it’s all, “Dear Maria, you’re an angel sent from God. I love you, for now, for always, your love, Giorgio.” I also love how they will have love letter battles, like one person will write his girlfriend something, then a few days later a different guy will write his girlfriend a poem directly over it. Ah, those teens in Italy, such rascals. And also? Didn’t their parents teach them anything about pens or paper or the beauty of a simple email (or a mixed tape….)?

3. There is never an impending feeling of doom, or the need to be productive whatsoever. People seem to do everything in slow motion, even at the emergency room. It’s like nothing matters, the world stands still, and we’re all just hanging out. Italy is possibly the most relaxing place I’ve ever been simply because the general demeanor of its inhabitants seem not at all concerned with anything. In public. This doesn’t extend to when you actually know people or see them in their homes. That’s when the crazy comes out.

4. Clothing. It’s the best place to shop on the planet if you’re into monochromatic color schemes, neutrals, black outfits, warm grays, and a look that screams, “Serious on the outside, fun on the inside!” Naturally.

Florence Italy Fashion

5. A different kind of “manly.” There is definitely a lot of sexism in Italy (let’s just call a spade, a spade, eh?) but the idea of “manliness,” is different. Guys have no shame when it comes to dressing well, taking incredible care of their bodies or clothing, and will give zero second-thoughts to cruising around in a suit on a bicycle of any color. Sometimes with a poodle in the basket and a baby strapped to their back. Men often carry their female partner’s purses around, and are not concerned with small banners of manhood. For example, Francesco had a work trip in the US with all Americans and during dinner one of the American guys actually said, “White wine is a woman’s drink.” And Francesco nearly lost his shit. He tried to correct him and say that white wine pairs better with different types of food but the men at the table stood firm that “red wine is for men.” Weird.

Man on bike in Florence Italy

6. Speedos and naked boobs. Look, yes, it can be a bit traumatic to witness two overweight Italian men with gorillia-like body hair wrestling on the beach in Gaeta. But, I love that there is a different relationship with the body in Italy. Women will occasionally pop their tops off at certain beaches, they don’t put swimming-suit tops on 4 year old girls (and seriously why would you? What are we covering?), and the guys proudly display their banana packages with no remorse whatsoever. I kind of like that. Not that I love to go to the beach to stare at semi-naked dudes…but, I like the confidence. Look, here’s my penis and all of my man-hair and potbelly for all to see, displayed triumphantly on the sand.

7. An extreme attention to detail. I don’t know if you’ve ever went into a chocolate shop in Italy to buy a gift for a friend but if you haven’t, do it. Even if you purchase four pieces, at any given store, they’ll spend 15 minutes making it cute for you. Paper, tags, ribbons, all of it. If you’re in a hurry it can also make you crazy but if you have time go check it out. They have an acute, almost manic, attention to detail that is probably unrivaled by anyone ever.

Happy (Late) New Year! What I’ve Learned

HAPPY NEW YEAR EVERYONE! Are you guys having the best time EVER!?

Happy New Years! Revisiting The 1920's, booze, guns, wine, and jazz!

Happy New Years! Revisiting The 1920’s, booze, guns, wine, and jazz! I HAVE A FEATHER!

This year has been crazy. I feel more like myself than I have in a long while. I’m hopeful and I feel like my goals, while scattered, are actually coming together. My book is quasi finished. It took me 6 months longer than planned but I guess that’s life, right? I’m okay with it (or at least I’m trying to be, if I say it over and over again I might be…).

For New Years we were going to stay home with the in-laws but decided around 11:30 p.m. to go out for a few hours. By then everyone was already drunk or asleep but we found a Gatspy party in Phoenix that F was totally determined to go to even though it was practically midnight. We only stayed for a short while but we saw friends, a few fire breathers, some samba dancers. Everyone decked out in their finest 1920’s attire. I was practically naked and totally freezing but that’s what champagne is for. 2015 started with us on a hotel roof, champagne in hand, me, clad in fishnets and black fringe, F wearing a mobster outfit and gun holster.

I think that this year is going to be a big year for us and hopefully it’s totally BADASS.

Resolutions: my entire life is a giant resolution. I make them daily, weekly, and monthly but I only accomplish them about 9% of the time. I usually skip the New Years resolution but I think this year I could use an extra boost. We have a lot of decision to make, we’re on the cusp of so many huge projects coming to fruition. Holy shit! It’s pretty scary. I want to finish my books, get more articles published, blog more, and do more things to make the world totally badass so we don’t die. The world needs a lot of help, guys. Did you guys make any resolutions this year?

What I’ve learned this year: The only way to accomplish goals is to take the steps necessary to accomplish them every, single, day. There is never a right time to do it. Don’t think about it, or talk about it, just get on it and get it done. Don’t try to do it all at once, just do it a little at a time. Put everything you have into everything you do. I wish I’d learned this earlier. What life lessons have you learned? Put it in the comments below. I’m a slow learner and could use any help I can get.

What else I’ve learned? Go to Hawaii for the holidays from now on.

The holidays have been insane and have taught me a number of hard lessons like this gem via my MIL, “You’ll die if the house is warm and you go outside. So, you have to keep the house cold or wear three puffy coats, a hat, scarf, and hypothermia prevention blankets to venture out into 60 degree weather.” I might be slightly exaggerating that one, but not by much.

I’ve also learned that if I want to have any kind of a future, I should quit writing to “learn how to give pedicures at the beauty school,” again, according to my MIL. I should also get pregnant, like tomorrow, so my in-laws can punch my kids because good parents “smack their children a lot.”

We’re getting closer to starting a family. This year could be that year if I can get over my Tokaphobia (it’s a real thing) and be cool with having a freeloading sea monkey in my stomach for 9 months followed by it ninja-killing my vagina. Mostly. Having my in-laws here is kind of like baby repellent for me.

Another thing I learned: Multi-cultural families are very, very difficult. Approach with caution. They can be amazing, enriching, and wonderful but they can also be exclusive, prejudice, and confusing. A lot of the American expats I know find everything Italy related to be blissfully perfect (including nationalism and bigotry mistaken for “pride”). I don’t. I think that every country has its pros and cons and an ideal situation would allow you to pick and choose the best cultural things to create a whole lot of awesome. For example, I like the “Go Get It!” culture in the US, but I dislike the individuality and selfishness that can come with it. I love how family-oriented Italian culture is, but I dislike that appreciation and respect can quickly become controlling and manipulative.

After I gestate our mini-us, it’s going to have to be a person (and given the way my dog turned out my mini-person is going to awesome and a total terror). Also, this person will be related to my husband’s family. They’re not the worst people in the world and they have a lot of good things to offer our kids if they could just chill out a little (or a lot). It’s not just that they were raised in a tiny town, it’s not abnormal that they are traditional, a little narrow-minded, and not at all accepting of anything that isn’t from small-town, Italy.  They are also type A personalities, Italian nationalists, and people who have been married for forty years and dislike each other a lot which is probably common and is sad but they’re a little bitter and have some insane arguments on the reg that I’d prefer my kids not to witness, ever.

In addition, everything we do is always up for family debate. We once had a 40 minute conversation about what color of underwear I was wearing with tan pants and another time they carried my pap-smear results around the house talking amongst themselves about my vagina. I don’t mind the intrusion when it’s because they are concerned or just want to help. I loathe it when it’s a, “this is how we do it so you must or the world will end,” thing aka, “you can’t drink coffee before you shower,” or, “real men don’t do dishes.”

This attitude will be problematic for me because my idea of child-rearing is a bit different from theirs. Their parenting sounds like an 80’s rap song, “Just hit it… preferably in the head. If you can’t reach it to punch it, then scream in its face in public.” It’s not that I was never spanked, I definitely was, but I’d like to do things a bit differently with the fruit of my loins. What I’ve learned from having a dog around them is this: Regardless of how much I’m against hitting dogs, if I’m not around they’ll go ahead and do it for me. This worries me because if someone take it upon themselves to “spank” one of my kids I’ll break their damn arm off and beat them to death with it. The real problem is that my husband has “perfect son,” syndrome and he has a hard time telling them, “no,” and standing up to them. It’s not that he’s scared, it’s that he doesn’t want to hurt their feelings. I get that. I love my parents, a lot, but I’m okay with yelling at him, when he says something homophobic. Same with my mom. Franny, on the other hand, tunes it out and goes to his happy place somewhere deep inside his weird/brilliant engineer brain. Which is okay, but it leaves me yelling things at his parents like, “STOP POINTING AT BROWN PEOPLE AND SCREAMING, “MEXICAN!” WE ARE NOT IN A ZOO!” It’s awkward and not something I want to deal with as a parent. I might explode the first time my three year old plays, “Spot the Morrocan,” with it’s grandparents. I feel helpless because I feel alone in dealing with it. I also feel like it’s not my place to yell at someone else’ parents because I was taught not to yell at old people.

Even talking about children in front of them gives me anxiety. They have this idea that our children will only belong to Francesco. They’ll be HIS kids, completely absent from myself or my people. “You cannot raise your children to be multicultural. They must be Italian! THEY MUST BE ITALIAN” They told my husband, hysterically, as he tried to explain to them that our kids will be Persian, American, and Italian. Their view that anything that isn’t Italian is inherently bad is just depressing and it makes me sad to think that our kids will be “tainted,” in their minds. How will my kids feel being told they are only half “good?” My husband and I are in love and we’re happy. You would think that that alone would be enough for any parent.

Other words of wisdom from my in-laws regarding kids, “Your dog would be better if you hit him! HIT HIM! You can’t do like this with children! You’ll have to hit them”

“We believe that if you don’t baptize babies, if they die, they’ll go to purgatory.”

“Pasta is not a carb.”

“It’s healthier to eat donuts for breakfast than eggs.”

What I’m Trying To Learn This Year: How to navigate difficult personalities in a loving way without ruining relationships or murdering anyone. Hopefully it will be on my list next year of “Things I’ve Learned. If you have advice, I’d love to hear it.

Family aside, I want this year to be a year of accomplishing things without bullshit. I’m a procrastinator. I self-sabotage and am probably more afraid of getting what I want more than anything else. I hope this year I can kick my own ass and accomplish things I’ve wanted to do for a long time. Such as, FINISH MY DAMN BOOKS, travel more, possibly bake a mini-us, paint and draw more, and train Oliver to walk on a leash. Also, to be more romantic with my husband (on days I don’t want to put forks in his eyes). By “romantic,” I don’t mean “have more sex.” I mean, like, surprise him with dates, buy him flowers, and stuff. You pervs.

Another thing I’ve learned this year: We don’t have that much time. Time goes so fast and before you know it you’re 90 and haven’t done shit that you set out to do.

I hope you guys have a wonderful new year filled with magic, love, and accomplishments. Thank you for all the support, for the fun stories, the great advice, and the new friendships. Tanti baci, from us to you!

THIS IS A VERY LATE COSI POST! CHECK OUT MY FAVORITE ITALY BLOGS AND THEIR ITALY NEW YEARS STORIES ON COSI!

 

 

24 Ways That Italy Changed My Life For The Better And Weird

San Donato Val di Comino, Frosinone, Lazio

San Donato Val di Comino, Frosinone, Lazio

It’s impossible to live abroad and not come home forever changed. Living abroad, no matter how prepared for the experience you think you are, is always more difficult than you’ve planned. I thought that since my family is multi-cultural that I could easily blend in and figure shit out. Totally not what happened. However, I did struggle, and as a result I became a stronger person. Now I’m so tough I ride unicorns through flame hoops while playing metal on an air guitar. True story.

1. Bathroom habits. I’m now more like a dog. I am fearless when it comes to peeing in public which is way more useful than you’d think. I’m pretty sure that most Florentines have at least caught a glimpse of my bare ass or hoo-haw at some point. My lady bits are like leprechaun sightings.

2. This might not be a “better thing” but it’s funny. Italy kind of made me a wuss in some areas. “Camping” now requires a tiny cabin, with a shower. I expect a dance club, pool, and cafe to be located in the camping area. However, I am no longer used to heat or air conditioning inside the houses so my ability to withstand extreme temperatures is higher.

3. Dogs are members of the family. In Florence dogs get to go everywhere and they do. I am a much better dog haver since living in Florence. I get annoyed when people don’t treat their dogs like family members. Dogs like Prada, too, bitch! I am confused when high-end stores won’t allow my dog inside in the US. It’s not that I can afford to be in there but I like to walk around on occasion to see what not poor people do in their free time. In Italy, the D & G girls would scoop my muddy puppy up and snuggle him. Why the fuck don’t you want to snuggle my muddy dog? SNUGGLE HIM!

4. Dining. I eat more slowly, restaurants are for people and conversation, food just happens to be there. I am the US’s worst nightmare. I fully expect to sit at a table for at least a few hours. If my food comes too fast I get stressed out. Stop trying to force me out! I’m drinking!

5. I don’t care what people think anymore. I’m so used to being stared at that when I go in public and nobody looks at me I feel shunned. Why isn’t everyone watching me? Look! I’m picking up a can of corn. Sigh.

6. I gesture a lot when I talk now which is probably good exercise. I seem violent from far away. “Ma che cazzo fai!” hand gesture, hand gesture, wave like a maniac.

7. I’ve become a food snob. If something isn’t delicious I just won’t eat it (which is fine because more wine!). But I care about the quality of my food a lot. This is good because I no longer have the tastebuds for processed foods or random chemicals that companies chuck into our diet.

8. Yelling doesn’t bother me, at all. Seriously, yell at me. Couldn’t care less. My skin is a lot thicker which is nice.

9. Eating in front of a t.v. instead of at a table seems somehow wrong. I was pretty much raised eating dinner in front of a television but after years abroad I can see how dinner with family and friends is so much more important and necessary for maintaining that connection. In the US, we’ve really lost a connection with each other over the loss of our family dinners.

10. I’ve learned that holy water is a real thing that you can get from the church. I’m much better prepared for a hostile vampire takeover.

11. I’m more confident. After moving to a foreign country, I kind of feel like I could do anything. It’s like being Jane in the jungle, I’m amazonian now. RAAAAR!

12. I am not really the type, but if I wanted to, I could nag the fuck out of someone. Seriously. It’s a skill.

13. I appreciate slow food, the act of eating rather than getting full. The dining experience is much more important now than it used to be. The idea of plopping into a table, shoveling food in, and leaving immediately totally weirds me out. This is good because I can maintain a healthy weight without killing myself at a gym every day.

14. I’m more family-oriented. My husband has been a very good influence on me in terms of family. If I’m mad at a family member, he’ll remind me that it doesn’t matter if they are a total dipshit because family is all there is in life. It’s really sweet unless I want to kill someone. Then it’s annoying. But mostly sweet. When my brother and I fight (which we do pretty much always), my husband will call him and try to work it out. Because family. FAMILY.

15. My priorities have changed. Both of my parents show affection through “things,” so I used to care a lot about stuff. I don’t care about stuff at all anymore. Italians are much less materialistic than Americans and that’s something that really rubbed off on me. I care about clothes, food, wine, going out and traveling, but I don’t really give a shit about stuff. If I have to choose between an experience or “things,” I’m going to choose the experience. It’s made me a much happier person. I also expect less from others. So, yay to not being a spoiled brat!

16. I kind of already said this but it’s important so I’ll say it again. I care about quality more than ever, especially about the quality of things I’m putting into my body. There is a very noticeable difference between produce quality in the supermarkets here and in Italy. I’m way more attuned to preservatives, chemicals, and crap. I can actually taste it now and it scares the shit out of me. “Mmm, this apple tastes like…death. Delicious!” No.

17. My goals are different. Now, everything that I do is about my family and friends. What job is best for my family? What do my friends need right now? What can I do to make sure we get to spend enough time together now and in a few years? Before I moved to Italy I was kind of a selfish asshole. Everything was about me, my personal success, and more me. I mean, I’m obviously not totally cured because I write a blog entirely about my life, but I also do it so that I can spend more time with my husband, travel more, and eventually hang out with kids more (if I have them, my vagina is still scared).

18. Quality over quantity. In the US it’s all about QUANTITY. In Italy it’s more about quality. Now, every year I’ll spend a lot of money on three pairs of shoes, and a few main items, but they are all very high quality and will last for years. Instead, in the US I would buy one thing that was 10 dollars in every color and replace it every three months as it ruined. This is good, for the environment, to support local businesses (in Italy high quality is usually Italian made), and also better on my checking account in the long run. I spent 300 euros on my last pair of winter boots, they were handmade, and are still in flawless condition after four years of daily wear throughout the winter. Seriously, it’s worth it.

19. I can speak another language. It’s kind of shitty in some ways because it also impacts my English (not awesome when you’re a writer) but it’s fun to have a secret language in the US AND a sort of secret language in Italy (English).

20. I wear less makeup and care less about my hair. The au naturale look is more popular in Italy which I appreciate (cause I’m lazy).

21. About the point above, except for high heels. High heels on cobblestone. I can navigate it like a champ so I’m more than ready for the circus. Bring it on.

22. I feel more a part of the collective than ever before. Yes, Italy is a democratic socialism, but it’s also the mentality that you find within the family. There is an idea that everyone is an extension of each other and individualism just doesn’t make sense. Now, instead of thinking, “I paid for this, if I don’t need it I should sell it and get my money back,” I think, “I paid for this, I’d like my younger siblings to have it because money within the family is money spent well.” It’s nice.

23. Cooking. I’m a much better cook. I’m a 10,000 million times better cook. Before Italy I couldn’t cook worth shit and now I can actually make homemade pastas and sauces and all of that. Kind of awesome.

24. I’m more knowledgable about world news. I’ve always been interested in world news and affairs but in the US you have to search out the information on certain channels or in specific newspapers. In Italy even local papers touch on world issues (except for things owned by that fucktard Berlusconi). I feel much better informed on what is happening on a global level.

Related:

How To Survive Being An Expat 

Why Everyone Should Live In Italy At Least Once

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8 Tips To Surviving Your Italian In-Laws

I can see their point.

I can see their point.

You’ve moved to Italy and met a man who is different than anyone you’ve ever known in your life. If you’re partner is anything like mine he’s probably emotional, passionate, loving, a great cook and is embarrassing in the PDA department. They’re also dedicated to family which is usually bittersweet. On one hand, family values are important and it’s something we might lack a little in the US, on the other hand the devotion to parents can be exhausting and a form of contention. In many cases it can be a deal breaker. The lawyer league of Italy reported that the “Mother In Law” is the number 1 cited reason for divorce in the country a few years ago. I would be interested in the view of a man who is married to an Italian woman (I think it’s less of an issue, honestly) but my experience and from what I hear, most problems arise for women who marry Italian men.  As a fellow expat friend of mine put it, “It’s like the mother has a vagina made like a black hole and for his entire life the son is fighting the gravitational pull to be re-wombed.” Yep. Sums it up, but it’s not just the mom in my experience. Sure, for years the Italian mother has done so much for the family that she’s rendered everyone pretty much dependent on her, but to be honest everyone in the family has their own hold on the man of your dreams. In my family, my mother-in-law fought our relationship like a champ, my father-in-law never fought it but he tried to “educate me” on what’s expected of wives in southern Italy (indentured servitude). It took about four years for us to come to terms with the fact that we all had to coexist, I sure as shit didn’t want to be a “nice Italian girl,” and I didn’t want people to touch my underwear or lingerie, EVER. My family is unique (insane) in a lot of ways but many of my friends have confirmed that they’re also “typical” in many ways. After four years or tears and battles, we kind of figured out how to co-exist. Mostly.

1. Don’t be sweet and passive. Women are pretty much groomed to be sweet and passive in most cultures but Italian culture is a little different. People mistakenly believe that all Italian women are dominant spitfires who run their homes but that’s not necessarily true all the time. Italian culture is surprisingly misogynistic (what culture isn’t?) but Italian women are allowed to be more passionate and feisty. Yelling and speaking ones mind is something that happens a lot in Italy and often more than in the US (were people are encouraged to repress ill feelings until they can strategically dismantle someone). If you do the, “yes ma’am, yes sir,” nice, quiet thing, it’s only a matter of time before the entire family decides you’re a freak and starts walking all over you. In my family, my in-laws are really bothered that I don’t nag my husband. My father-in-law especially takes my calm, quiet approach as some sort of mental disability or as a lack of love for my husband. If I loved him, I would yell at him more, probably in public, and maybe call him fat in front of his friends cause that’s a thing. I would also iron his sheets.

2. Follow their lead. Watch what everyone else in the family is doing and try to be useful. They’ll appreciate it. If your family is like mine it probably looks like this: The men sit on the couch being lazy as fuck while the women run around the house like maniacs trying to do everything. Unfortunately, if you have a vagina and you marry into an Italian family they totally expect you to be running around with the women being stressed. I’ve tried sitting it out but I just got yelled at and told that I will be a terrible mother. I AM lazy but also I don’t think it’s cool to wait on lazy fucking men. I’m not a maid. My happy-medium to this is forcing my husband to help out. This in return makes the women scream at their own husbands to “look how useful Francesco is, why can’t you be more like him!?”

3. Eat but never try to cook. Food is important in Italian culture (no new info, I know) and no matter how great of a cook you are, you’ll never be better than your husband’s mother. Forget about it. Just praise the mother’s cooking and avoid cooking for them. Even if your dish is professional quality it won’t be good enough. Praise, praise, praise, but forget about doing the whole, “let’s bond over how we both cook,” thing. Your food is dogshit. That’s it.

4. Set boundaries. A friend of mine put it best, “Italian families see each member as an extension of themselves, there are no boundaries.” In my experience it’s completely true. It doesn’t seem to occur to people that you might not want them to come stay at your house for the entire duration of the only vacation you have for the entire year. They’ll struggle to understand why they can’t just buy you orange curtains that they think would look good in your house. Why can’t they inform you when you gain or lose weight? They are just trying to help! If you’re not Italian, you’ll probably struggle with your mother-in-laws need to rush over and baby your boyfriend/husband when he’s ill, you’ll probably struggle with spending every vacation with his family, and with the family’s overbearing opinions about your decor, life decisions, sex life, choice of mop. You want to be fair and  understanding that family means a lot but being understanding doesn’t mean that you have to be okay with being controlled and dominated. If you don’t set boundaries right away you’ll just become frustrated, bitter, and explode. My rule is if I wouldn’t let my own parents do it, I don’t let them. Being Italian doesn’t get to be an excuse for having no consideration for my lifestyle or culture. If I have to respect them, they have to respect me, that’s it. I’m not saying you should be mean to your in-laws, but I am saying you should be honest with them. Tell them “no,” or explain why you don’t like it when they come over and clean out your freezer while you were in the bathroom for ten seconds peeing. No.

5. Set boundaries again but this time with your husband. And again. And again. And again. It’s important to get your partner on board with what you need and how you feel but sometimes that can be difficult. It was difficult for my husband to set boundaries with his parents because he’d never, ever done it before. If they’re fine with their mom going through your laundry hamper or coming over to re-fold your laundry, it doesn’t mean you have to be okay with it. Tell them how you feel. Trust me, if you don’t you’ll become resentful and start screaming things during fights like, “What!? Hungry? Call your mom over! She can whip out a tit!” Another issue is that the concept of age is different in Italy. Thirty is ancient to an American but very, very “young” in Italy. My family really struggles to allow my husband to make decisions for himself because he’s “too young,” and my husband often feels like he can’t handle large decisions because they’ve convinced him that he’s too young and I’m like, FIFTEEN YEAR OLDS IN MY COUNTRY MAKE BIGGER DECISIONS! FOR GOD SAKES JUST CHOOSE A MIXING BOWL! That happened at Ikea once when we were first dating and no shit he called his mom to help him get “the right one.” It’s not like this now. After he initially stood up to them it became second-nature and now we’re a team and we hold hands and scream, “NO YOU CAN’T….” at his parents and it’s awesome.

6. Learn to shrug off criticism. There will probably be more nagging and criticism than what you’re used to from your in-laws. Just accept that they probably dish out the same amount to their own children, know that the rest of us are dealing with it, too, and laugh. You really have to have a great sense of humor. Sometimes it’s difficult, I know, about the ten-millionth time that my ma in law told me that I dressed terribly and am always “a mess,” I started to feel really bad.  After a while I realized how hilarious it was and just started to laugh. It helped that my husband jumped in and set some boundaries.

7. Don’t try to fit in. You’re not Italian. Even if you speak Italian fluently, dress Italian, look Italian, you’ll never be Italian. There will always be things about you that noticibly sets you apart and that’s probably why your partner married you to begin with. I know it’s a stupid cliché but really, truly, just be yourself. Eventually, after years, you’re weird expat shit will become endearing. Probably. I’ll let you know when that happens.

8. Love them. I know it can be difficult even if you’re not an expat, but try to love your in-laws even if they are annoying as shit. I promise you that I can win the contest of “who had it harder” and I still manage to love mine. I try to remind myself that our problems are part cultural, part insanity, and part them just trying to be good parents to their son by protecting him from the evils of the world (ME). My father is an immigrant (Iran) and he’s every bit as batshit crazy as they are and his weird way of “loving” is offensive and downright boundary-crossing (in a different way, he sends my husband pics of them together at midnight with “miss you” under them but that’s another story) but I know that he means well. When they drive you crazy just try to remember that it probably comes from a good place, or fear, or tradition, or brain-washing and it’s not personal. Except when they grab your tits and tell you they suck and then ask everyone in the bridal shop how “she’ll possibly find a dress because look at how small her boobs are!” That shit is totally personal.

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