Living in Italy, Italywise

Living in Italy – The Integration Agreement

I’ve just received formal notification that I have met the terms of the Italian Integration Ageement I signed as part of my first permesso di soggiorno application process. If I were coordinated enough, I’d do a few cartwheels, now that I am able to check this important “to-do” off my list.

What is the Italian Integration Agreement? If you plan on living in Italy, you’d better bone up on this one!  An American, or other non-EU person applying for a stay permit (permesso di soggiorno), and subsequent residency, is required by the questura (the immigration police) and the immigration offices to meet important criteria demonstrating they are doing certain things to become part of the Italian culture. When I went to the questura during the interview and fingerprinting part of my first permesso di soggiorno application, I was presented with the Integration Agreement, and asked to sign it. Thankfully, this multi-page document had been given to me in English so there would be no mistaking the terms to which I had agreed. 

The Integration Agreement was only put into place a few years ago. People who have been residents here before the enactment of this immigration law already are “good to go”. If you are planning on living in Italy for several years, be prepared to do what it takes to satisfy the terms outlined, or you will risk being sent back home.

Don’t fret. Meeting the terms of the Integration Agreement is very doable. From what I understand from having navigated the immigration system here, you pretty much have three years to get your act together. For me, after I secured my third permesso di soggiorno renewal, I received notifcation from the immigration office in Perugia that the formal process of tallying points had begun, and I had ten days to submit any documentation that would add points into my file. “Points?”, you may be asking. Let me explain…

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Preparing for Winter in Italy

Italywise, winter in Italy
Just a few winters ago winter bit hard in Umbria, and left people homebound in rural locations.

Autumn is firmly entrenched here in the hills of Umbria, the smell of wood smoke dominates all other smells, and colder weather is just around the corner. Winter in Italy, especially when you reside in the rural countryside of central to north Italy, can be mild and it also can be harsh, therefore calling for a change in one’s day-to-day living strategies. You’d best be prepared…

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Speaking Italian, I love you

Speaking Italian – Love

If your desire, when visiting or living in Italy, is to demonstrate proficiency speaking Italian, learning the rules of saying “I love you” must be part of your basic education.

Recently, I was reading a thriller by an established American author, and the mother of the Italian-American main character says “Ti amo” to her daughter. Yikes, in Italy a mother would never use “Ti amo” to express love to anyone but her husband, unless she is keeping a lover on the side. I chalk up this mis-step in mainstream literature to trite, and one-dimensional Hollywood presentations of Italian life and the language. In my opinion, the entertainment industry could do with a bit more vigilance with their fact checkers.

Expressing love is taken seriously here in Italy, and not tossed around quickly, nor is it over-used. More on that later, but first let’s talk about the two basic rules that will keep you out of trouble, and prevent you from embarrassing yourself.

“Ti amo” is reserved exclusively to express love between romantic partners.

This includes boyfriends and girlfriends, lovers and spouses. It is not used between friends, or between family members unless it is between the parents. One important distinction is that “Ti amo” isn’t used when couples are just beginning to date. “Ti amo” only comes with time and a maturation of romantic love. Instead young love calls for the following…

“Ti voglio bene” is used to express affection in the early stages of romantic love, and it is used between family members, and close friends.

Literally translated as “I want you well”, this still is an expression of love or affection that carries weight. You certainly wouldn’t use it with casual acquaintances.

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Living in Italy – Speaking Italian Requirements

Living in Italy Requires Speaking Italian

Living in Italy Requires Certification of Speaking Italian at the A2 Level

If you are contemplating living in Italy, or if you’ve already arrived, be prepared to demonstrate proficiency in speaking Italian as part of the residency process.

I’ve just received my official certificate stating that I passed the level A2 proficiency of speaking Italian. When the results were first available online, I held my breath and, after seeing I had passed with a 90% score, I muttered “Grazie Dio” (Thank God). Woohoo!

You might be asking “What’s the big deal?” Let me explain…

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Italian Life is “The Cat’s Meow”

This is the story of Francesca and Oscar, our two cats, and how I imagine they view their lives in Italy. Oscar is an Italian native, Francesca is an American transplant, and they have distinctively different personalities. But, at the end of the day, I think they would both say that Italian life is “the cat’s meow”.

Oscar is almost 3 1/2 years old. Born in the hills of Umbria, to a feral mother, we gave him a decidedly un-Italian name because it fit his unique, mischievous personality. But, he has decidedly Italian traits and preferences.

For starters, he communicates passionately. He just puts it all “out there”, and doesn’t brood. He is very direct and clear about what he wants. I’ve never had a cat who vocalizes with so much emotion. (Read more about cat vocalizations in this online article from Catster).

Oscar also uses his hands to communicate. For Italians, the hands are almost as important as the mouth in fully expressing oneself. Oscars stands on his hind legs and whips his paws up and down the surface of a closet, door, or a window, to let you know he expects your attention (while also expressing his displeasure that you would dare to be otherwise engaged). In the kitchen he artfully employs his little cat hands to snatch his favorite foods. Tops on his list is arugula.

Oscar makes himself at home in a sea of pomodori.

Oscar makes himself at home in a sea of pomodori.

Yes, arugula. His wild, greedy nature comes out whenever he sniffs the presence of arugula. It’s a real head-scratcher. You would think he was eating the treat to end all other treats.

He also loves other salad greens, and he loves to nestle himself in my summer harvest of tomatoes (pomodori).

Life in most Italian households centers around the dining table and the kitchen. Oscar loves to camp out in both places. It is as though he is watching and studying to be the next Italian Master Chef. I’ve given up on banishing him from the kitchen. He is just too intent on being part of the action.

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Francesa and Brother Oscar

Announcing the Winning Post Ideas for Italywise

I’ve been blown away by the quality of all of your blog post idea submissions. You’ve prodded my brain, and my heart, to step aside from normal perspectives. Thank you.

Choosing just two winners was next to impossible. Here they are:

Italy through the eyes of our cats.

Here’s what Laurie submitted:

“How about something from the perspective of your pets? Are they watchful out the window and what do they see? Do they have an italian diet? Do they meow in Italian? Do they like prosecco? How does caring for a pet there differ than u.s.? What do you have to know to get a pet from the u.s. into Italy?”

I’m going to have a blast with this one, since Francesca (California born and transported to a life in Italy) and Oscar (Italy born – in the hills of Umbria) are full of personality, and I have spent countless hours observing them, their behaviors, and learning what fascinates them. How do they experience Italy?

Momma Liz and my painting, Clairty

Momma Liz and my painting, Clarity

Learning to “see” the world differently, as influenced by my artist mentor, Momma Liz

Here’s what Anita submitted:

“Hi Mr Jed! I have an idea! I know growing up as a daughter of an artist my life was much different than the average person. Looking through their eyes was so interesting and beautiful.  A for instance – I was leaning over my dads shoulder in the car 7 years old. My father commented about an older woman crossing the street. He said “look at her face”, her face is a road map – the lines and wrinkles she had a hard life! He saw what most people never cared to see!! Az.”

While the other winner invites me into a flight of fantasy by looking at Italy as if I were a cat, this idea resonates with me on a deeply personal level. We all look at the world uniquely, and different things fascinate us. Those of you who had the good fortunate to know, and/or be taught by my dear Momma Liz – you understand how she had an uncanny ability to help you see the world the world through a different lens, and to find your own artistic voice. I will feel honored to give tribute to this amazing woman, as I also tell my story of why I choose to paint and photograph the subjects I choose.

In closing, I again offer my deepest thanks for all your entries, and for giving your ideas such careful and creative attention.

Win an signed, limited-edition Jed Smith photograph!

Originally from Sardegna, this shepherd now tends his flock in the Maremma.

Originally from Sardegna, this shepherd now tends his flock in the Maremma.

I’m hosting a contest to solicit creative ideas for future blog posts!

Today officially launches the contest. I’m looking for the two most innovative and creative ideas for future posts. If you’ve been following my blog, you’ll know that I love writing, and story-telling….almost as much as I love telling stories through my photography and through my paintings. While I still have a long list of blog post ideas, I’d love to hear from my audience as to what you might deem to be a creative and compelling topic. Topics can be about the practicalities of living here in Italy, or they can be about the musings and philosophies of major life change. Of course I love writing about being an artist, too. The two most unique ideas will win a signed, limited-edition, archival photo* (printed on 17″ x 22″), shipped to your home. If you’re a winner, you’ll be able to choose from any photograph (color or black and white) in the gallery section of my blog.

And, if you want direct notice of future blog posts, and if you’re not already a subscriber, I encourage you to subscribe in the column to the right of this post!

Here are the logistics:

• Submit your idea (one entry per person) in the comments section below this post**.

• Contest ends midnight EST, Monday, August 31, 2015.

• The two winning entries will be chosen Tuesday, September 1, 2015. Winning submissions will be posted, after you have been contacted (only your first name will be identified, or your identity can be kept confidential, if you so desire).

*Framing not included.

**Entries/ideas submitted through email, or other channels will not qualify.

Mysteries abound in this fountain.

Mysteries abound in this fountain.

Perils and Pitfalls of Speaking Italian

The Perils and Pitfalls of Speaking Italian

Know the challenges of speaking Italian, apply yourself, and you’ll be speaking proficiently in no time.

I’ve been living in Italy for over two years now. One of the things I’ve been hearing from more than one source here is that it takes a least that amount of time for things to start “clicking” in the brain – provided a person is immersing himself or herself in the language. This means some sort of study program and it means surrounding yourself, more and more, with native speakers, and resisting the urge to spend most of your time in the safety of other English-speaking expats.

Speaking Italian is not easy in my experience. Let me clarify, speaking Italian WELL is not an easy in experience. If you’re reading this post and if you’re only interested in visiting Italy for a short time, you certainly can set your sights on a lower learning curve. But, if you’re planning on a longer stay, or if you’re planning on living here permanently I encourage you to embrace your fears and tackle the language in a way that will give you a proficiency to help you not only in the dealing practicalities of life, but to help you build friendships and garner respect from the Italians.

If you’re serious about making Italy your home, learning the language is paramount. Otherwise you risk being perceived as an entitled foreigner who expects the burden of communication to fall on the locals. I’ve heard many English speakers (mainly tourists in Rome, Venice, Florence, etc.) becoming indignant that more Italians  don’t speak English.

My education in comprehending and speaking Italian continues. I’m impatient with myself for not being further along, but I have made considerable progress. In the process, I’ve identified several perils and pitfalls of speaking Italian. The following are 10 pieces of advice that I’d like to share:

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Il permesso di soggiorno – The Stay Permit

The permesso di soggiorno is essential for stays of longer than 90 days.

The permesso di soggiorno is essential for stays of longer than 90 days.

If you decide to move to Italy, or if you plan a long-term sabbatical, you will need to have a permesso di soggiorno, a stay permit. I just received my third renewal, and I am working towards having a carta di soggiorno, a permit for a longer stay. My understanding is the carta is only available after five years of residency, so I still have some time before I can make that application.

If you’ve done your research about living in Italy, hopefully you will have learned that it’s all doable. However, I hope your research has taught you that you will need to have an ample helping of patience in the process. Many Americans, in my experience, are used to things happening at the snap of their fingers, and with greater predictability. If you are married to this way of thinking or to those expectations, I recommend you stay in the U.S. and only plan for short stays.

It’s complicated…or it can be complicated. Let me explain.

The most daunting part of the process is FIRST getting your visa from the Italian consulate. The hurdles can be significant, depending on your individual scenario. For instance, if you communicate to the Italian consulate of your jurisdiction that you are planning to move to Italy for the rest of your life, be prepared for much greater scrutiny, and be prepared to demonstrate that you have either a). A solid job with a company in Italy (and the documentation attesting to this) or b). Sufficient means of income, or money in the bank, to cover you for the rest of your life. Regardless of your plan, you will receive (at most) a visa of a year’s duration. Yes, whether you plan to move here for the rest of your life, or whether you plan to take a two-year sabbatical, you will receive a visa of the same duration. My advice? Unless you are certain you plan to live here for the rest of your life, set this up as a “test drive” and communicate in kind with the Italian consulate. Otherwise, be prepared to clear a higher set of hurdles.

Once you have your Italian visa in your U.S. passport, it becomes a different story. By that, I mean the visa gets you into Italy with some “runway” to work things out with the questura, or the local immigration police. Here’s the process as I understand it*:

Once you have “landed” you must make sure your passport is stamped adjacent to your visa to indicate your entry into the country. Otherwise, you will need to visit the local questura to announce your presence/arrival into Italy.

Within a couple of weeks (be sure to ascertain the timing, but err on the side of shorter, not longer) submit your application for a permesso di soggiorno. Here in Umbria, I was directed to utilize the service of a local union, where they fill out your application, without charge, and they deliver a computer printout with instructions on paying your bollo (tax stamp) and submitting your application at the post office, where you will pay additional fees. All in, I think I paid around $150 for the application.

There are several designations regarding the type of application for a permesso di soggiorno. Many people apply for a work permit, and that is a specific “animal” with specific requirements. You can apply for a permesso di soggiorno per residenza elettiva, which is a residency permit saying you will reside here without working – or without working here for a company in the traditional sense. Basically, it means you are retiring here, and not working in a way that takes work/opportunity away from an Italian citizen. Regardless, it is incumbent upon you to research and determine the type of stay permit you wish to receive, and the rules and regulations pertaining to each type of permit. Then, you proceed accordingly.

For me, I completed my application, which meant supplying:

– Copies of all pages of my passport which have a). Basic information. b). Pages that have been stamped.

– A document proving I have health insurance coverage.

– Financial proof of viability (bank statements, pension statements or social security statements if that applies to you)

– Proof of residence or ownership of a house. Either a lease agreement or document showing ownership of a house along with a certificato di agibilità, which certifies you are living in a house that passes the housing codes/standards.

I understand, from other people, that also you can complete the application online, but I prefer to work with the union, so that I have assurance from another set of eyes looking at my application.

At the post office, once you submit the application and the bollo, you will be assigned an appointment with the questura (immigration police). Be sure to make this date, where you will be finger-printed, and asked questions regarding any missing or questionable information.

Then, be prepared to wait. The first time I submitted my application, it took 3 1/2 months to receive my actual permesso. This was difficult, because for other things (like purchasing a car), the post office receipt was not deemed sufficient. In subsequent years, the receipt for renewal was said to be sufficient.

I’ve heard varying stories about applying for the national healthcare plan. I wasn’t able to do it until I had my first permesso, and after I also had my residency card from the commune.

The second year, my permesso took almost 4 months. This year it was over 4 months, which speaks to the backlog and workload of the questura.

Now, to complicate matters further, there is an “integration agreement” you sign when you first apply for a permesso di soggiorno. This details a point system you must follow and meet upon your third year of residency. You are required to have at least 30 points, which includes points for ascertaining/certification you can speak at an A2 level of the Italian language, and ascertaining you have passed a sufficient civic knowledge of life in Italy.

I was told, not only by other people who have lived here for several years, but also by the questura, that this additional criteria would not be tested unless I was applying for a longer stay permit. Wrong. This week I received a letter from the immigration office in Perugia to begin supplying documentation to begin tallying to point requirement. Yesterday, I visited the office,  and submitted the documents. The biggie is the language certification. I took an official A2 certification test in Rome in early June, yet my results will not be registered until September. I’m sure all will be well, but it’s just a pain to be following all of the steps to make sure I am following protocol.

Don’t be discouraged. Just understand the different possible scenarios. Italy can be unpredictable. My strategy is planning for all the all possibilities.

At this point, I feel compelled to point out that there are many people living here in Italy while “skating” under the radar for certain requirements (like driver’s license, medical insurance, etc.). I admire them for their courage, but I’m a person who likes to be more “precise”, and I’m also a person who doesn’t want to be jettisoned from the country for not following certain protocol – and then being barred from re-entry – not only to Italy but to the EU. We all make our own choices. I prefer to sleep well at night, knowing I am doing my best to follow the guidelines.

 

 

 

 

 

What do you think? A viper or something else????

Yes, just outside our back door, the dreaded Italian viper makes his way up the stone wall.

Is this indeed the vipera aspis, or a European Cat Snake?

My most recent post was about what I thought was the appearance of a viper, just a few feet from our back door. I admit, I was thoroughly freaked out, being a complete wuss since childhood when it comes to snakes. And, I haven’t been able to quit obsessing about it.

I was certain it was a viper after viewing the attached YouTube video, and my neighbor Elena, who has been working this land for more years than I have been alive, saw the photo and concurred it was a viper.

After my good friend Jill suggested it might be another type of snake – one that is harmless, I was eager to believe I had made a mistake. Plus, there were two glaring inconsistencies with nailing this as a vipera aspis. From the eye, down to the body, the vipera aspis seems to have a black stripe, which makes the face/head even more menacing. “Our” snake is missing this marking. Also, a vipera aspis usually tops out at around 33″ and “our” snake looks to be at least a meter long – and more tapered than the usual fat body of a viper. However, from the neck down this snake looks a lot like the one in the video.

Now what?

I hopped online and looked up “snakes of Italy” and went to a website that listed every snake you might find here. I went through every one, looking at pictures and reading descriptions. Then I came across what, to me, seems to be the leading candidate for identification – the European Cat Snake, which matches almost all the criteria for “our” snake. It has the same markings, it can be 1.3 meters long, it loves rock walls, and it is readily found in Italy, and many other Mediterranean countries. Bingo. Our photo doesn’t get close enough to the head to provide more information, but the European Cat Snake, like ours, doesn’t have the stripe emanating from the eyes and going down the body.

I thought that the viper is the only venomous snake in Italy. The European Cat Snake is also venomous. However, it’s fangs are rear-facing and constructed in a way to deliver venom only to small prey. Supposedly, this snake is not a danger to humans because it has no way to bite and deliver its venomous and this larger scale. Is this supposed to make me feel better and safe? I don’t think so.

So, my obsessive compulsive nature has been driving me to identify and catalog this snake – and to know the identity of all of my neighbors here in the country. Maybe then I’ll accept the facts and move on.

I’d love to hear your opinions and if anyone has expertise in snake identification, I’m all ears. Let me hear from you!

 

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