Yes, I’ve reached a milestone.
And looking back, I’ve learned tons. Much of it, I anticipated. But there’s a fair amount that I didn’t. Experience is the best teacher, and ten years in Italy has delivered LOADS of teaching experiences.
So, at this important juncture, I pause and reflect. I ask myself, what are the lessons that stand out above all others? Before I launch into the list, I disclaim that this is ONE person’s perspective and not the end-all or be-all. But perhaps those of your reading this will find it helpful. Others of you who’ve already made Italy your home may find yourselves nodding your heads.
Here goes! I’ve listed these in reverse order leading up to what I believe is the takeaway that holds the most weight.
#10 No Pain, No Gain.
Building a life in Italy takes hard work and commitment. You may be saying, “That’s a no-brainer.” Yes, many people tackle living in a new country with a very different culture with gusto. But I’ve met and heard from a fair number of people who fold when the going gets tough. They pack up and go home. The list of requirements to remain in Italy can challenge the most dedicated person (including me).
Consider, for example, the permesso di soggiorno process and how its application and timing can vary from region to region. The yearly application, the yearly questura appointment, and the yearly wait for it to arrive. Sometimes it arrives so late after the application submission that it’s almost time to apply for the renewal. You’ll want to scream.
#9 Prepare to Find Yourself Out of Your Comfort Zone
Unless you are so rich that you have a team of on-the-ground Italian experts to guide your every move, you will often feel uncomfortable. After ten years in Italy, discomfort is still a regular occurrence. In my early days, I’d enter freakout mode a little too quickly, but eventually, I let it be a catalyst for me to up my skills.
Let me give you an example. That’s navigating the national health system in Italy. Recently I’ve had to find my way around multiple doctors and appointments to address structural and muscular issues. Sometimes my other half has been with me as an emergency translator, but I’ve been insisting more and more that I navigate this on my own. That isn’t a cakewalk. I’ve sat in doctors’ offices explaining (in Italian) myself and my issue. I’ve gone to the local health “hub” to get vaccinations (Covid, Flu, Shingles, Pneumonia) and to have other tests done (thankfully, all is normal). But for me, this isn’t a fluid experience in which I can glide through the whole process like a regular Italian. I have to be super alert!
#8 Patience, Patience, Patience.
I’ll say this upfront: If you have a short fuse regarding patience, don’t come to Italy. I’d love to say that things happen expeditiously in Italy. Surprisingly, there have been a few uncomplicated things, like getting my Italian passport after I became a citizen. But, for the lion’s share of things you must do, including daily things, you’ll find yourself waiting (read my post about waiting).
If you think your experiences in a US post office were challenging, be prepared to take that to a new level. Walking in and out of an Italian post office rarely comes without a significant wait or having to redo something.
#7 Leave the American (or insert your country of birth here) mindset behind.
Alright, I’m going to raise my hand and confess publicly that I’ve often been a bit pig-headed in my American mentality. Fortunately, I’m on a path of healing (yes, you can laugh) and progress. I’ll never be able to completely extract the influence of being raised American, but more and more, I’m feeling more Italian and European.
I counsel people coming to live in Italy to take this to heart. I also encourage people just coming for a visit to do the work, to learn enough about Italian culture and the language, all to make their experience deeper and richer.
Italians are passionate about their culture. Europeans too. And, American attitudes (sometimes coupled with entitlement) can go over like a lead balloon.
I easily could have called this takeaway from my ten years in Italy as “Be humble.” Consider that you are stepping into someone’s home and that home has vastly different ways of doing things and different rules. You are a guest in Italy until you prove yourself by learning and respecting the Italian culture.
#6 Dispense with Italian Stereotypes
Hollywood and TV series make this difficult. Rarely are depictions of Italians and Italian life not exaggerated. Italy is NOT just exuberant and overly familiar Italians from the south of Italy. They’re not all connected with the Mafia or some other branch of the crime families in Italy.
In my opinion, the dangerous aspect of Italian stereotypes is how their speaking and gesturing mannerisms are often over the top. I cringe big time when I witness Americans with a little bit of the Italian language under their belts, speaking the language and overemphasizing words, phrases, and gestures. Believe me, that goes over like a lead balloon with Italians.
#5 Do Your Full Due Diligence AHEAD of Time.
A lot of people do this. But a fair amount of people don’t. They arrive in Italy only to find that something essential, like getting a driver’s license, is something way more daunting and complicated than they had thought (or wanted).
I counsel people to understand what is generally required in Italy and what will be specifically required in your region of residence. Too many people skip over this and then find themselves regretting where they chose to live.
Consider the following: Having a permesso di soggiorno and getting your tessera sanitaria in Umbria versus getting it in Veneto. While the health system is national, its application and cost can vary significantly by region. You’ll pay a lot more in Umbria (a sliding scale based on your income) while you’ll pay a flat feet (around 400€ yearly) in Veneto. Wouldn’t you like to know something like that WAY ahead of time? It certainly is a factor when considering where to live in Italy.
Of course, other factors balance out a decision like this. But I urge people to know the full scope of what to expect. Don’t let yourself be surprised.
#4 Forget Trying Workarounds.
I cannot tell you how many inquiries I’ve received from people trying to avoid a required process. Getting an Italian driver’s license is a biggie. Many people (myself included, at the beginning) can’t get past their outrage at being knocked back to zero with their proven driving record. They believe it’s downright wrong that they must sit alongside teenagers in driving school getting their first license.
I’ve heard it all. Setting up a fake address in another EU country where the theory driving test can be given in English (not an option in Italy). Others want to skirt the system and keep driving with an American license attached to an International Driver’s license. Once a person becomes a resident in Italy, they are obliged to have an Italian driver’s license after a year of residency. A whole heap of financial and legal issues arise if you veer outside the defined laws.
Even for getting an elective residency visa, some people think they can circumvent going through the Italian Embassy in their home jurisdiction. They think they can start and complete the whole process here in Italy.
#3 Embrace and Learn the Italian Culture.
This harkens back to #7 Leave Your American Conditioning Behind.
I can tell you from ten years in Italy that if you don’t learn and embrace the Italian culture enthusiastically, you’ll find yourself existing on the outskirts of real Italian life. It will be superficial.
So much is tied up in having a deep understanding of Italian culture. When you understand the culture, so much more makes sense. The Italian language is the biggest part of the Italian culture (that comes next).
Watch Italian tv. Read Italian newspapers. If you’re a CNN or Fox News addict, give that a smaller percentage of your attention. If you don’t, you’re still too firmly planted across the Atlantic and enmeshed in your former culture.
#2 Learn and Develop Competence in Speaking Italian.
At the very least, I recommend competency at an intermediate level (B1 to B2). If there is one thing that can make your life in Italy better and more satisfying, this is it! If you don’t master this, you’ll feel like you’re constantly on the outside looking it.
I’ve written about this time and time again. A few people harken to my advice. Still, many ex-pats keep avoiding seriously learning Italian. Yes, it’s hard work. It also can cause one’s head to ache as the brain struggles to create new neural pathways to get beyond mere memorization. And that goes back to #10 – No Pain, No Gain!
#1 Be Flexible.
I debated choosing #2 and #1, almost considering them a tie. But I decided that being flexible is probably the most essential ingredient to nearly everything you will do and encounter in Italy. Rigidity, when confronted with changing and/or confusing situations or processes, will only hurt you. Italians sniff it out. You don’t want that.
During my ten years in Italy, I’ve heard from a fair number of people sharing stories and asking questions. Red warning lights have flashed in my head from many of them whom I sense will stiffen and complain at the first sign of difficulty. I can smell a disaster coming, especially if such people are fixated on their romantic ideas of life in Italy and haven’t balanced that with a good dose of reality. No, Toto, we aren’t in Kansas anymore.
Being flexible often will mean surrendering or relaxing into a perceived difficulty. I’m not saying you should be a wet noodle and not do your best. But I believe, more and more, in trusting in the river of life to help things work out (I even wrote a post about it).
Hi Jed, Great advice! My wife and I moved to Sicily in May in a move that has totally taken me out of my comfort zone, but in a good—no great!—way. The older you get the more important it is to mix things up, keep learning and building memories. Just last week I began driving school and am taking your suggestions to work hard but take it all in stride—or in this case, ruota 🙃 —to heart
Thanks for being here!.
Thanks, Steve, for writing! Sicily is such a beautiful part of Italy. I want to spend more time there. I can only imagine the stories that you’ve been collecting since moving there. I’m glad to hear that you’ve been leaning into the richly textured life of Sicily. In bocca al lupo with your driving school! I maintained a sense of levity (after an initial freakout), and that buoyed me through the process.
I’m happy that you’re enjoying ItalyWise! Best regards, Jed
Hello Jed and a hearty CONGRATULATIONS!
I only discovered our blog a year ago, but it has been an inspiration and encouragement. I am at my “zero” anniversary, with a one way ticket in 6 weeks! I am excited for the adventure and planned just enough to feel prepared, while realizing I’ll never really be in control. Is that not the purpose of adventure?
At some point, we’ll make our way to Liguria and perhaps we can share wine and life. If you make your way to Lago di Bracciano, please let me know! Augur e dieci anni piu!!! 🙂
Ciao Bryan, I’m so happy you discovered my blog, and I’m encouraged to hear that it has encouraged and inspired you to take the leap. I remember that excitement as I approached my flight to Italy, knowing that I wasn’t just heading here for vacation! Please let me know when you’re in Liguria. I’d enjoy meeting up and sharing wine and stories! Let me know when you get settled in Italy. Jed
Ciao Caro Fratello, Auguri for your 10 years in Italy. My family and I are so happy to have met you. Italy needs positive people like you. For us it has been an honor that you come in our lives. Better than any relative. We love you, Abruzzo loves you.
Sei sempre troppo gentile, la mia sorella bella!. Ci vogliamo bene!
I can’t believe it has been 10 years! I so love reading about your experiences and all that you have learned (which you are so generous to share), as well as continuing to enjoy your absolutely magical art. Big hugs to you, Jed. Miss you!!
Ciao Tess! Yes, can you believe it? Time has zoomed by. Soon I hope to cool my jets a bit and spend more time painting—it’s my happy place. I always smile seeing your social posts and seeing your and your hubby so happy. Bigs hugs right back at ya! xoxox Jed
Congratulations Jed. I’m very happy for you and so appreciative of your posts. I’m a big fan!
Grazie, Angela, for always being one of my best cheerleaders!
Fascinating! It has been fun to live vicariously through you.
I’m glad, Kathryn! I can’t believe that I’ve been on this side of the Atlantic for so long!
Ciao, Jed! Congratulations on your 10 year milestone! As always, another good read and advice, and thank you for sharing. After spending a total of 10 weeks solely in Italy, I realized how “stressful” Italy can be after venturing into Austria, where I could speak, read and understand the language. This and the German/Austrian culture in my blood made me realize how “at home” it felt, and how much simpler it was to exist there. The majority of the “stress” experienced in Italy is on me, with the main culprit being lack of language fluency, despite a year of study via a smartphone app. Though many Italians speak English, my experience has been completely in line with your advice: Speaking Italian at an intermediate level is essential, and can instantly make you feel more welcome and confident as you navigate all the other challenges (new readers, take note)! Now 65, with time getting short, I’m gravitating toward an “easier” path of possibly immigrating to Austria. Thankfully, Italy will still be close by, for it truly is a beautiful, warm and spirited country. Buona giornata!
Thank you, Eric, for sharing your experience and how important it to really test the waters and spend enough time in a new country. This what you don’t just think your way to what will be right for you but to what ultimately will feel right. Bravo to you for being flexible and persistent! And, yes, Italy will always be close by.
Hi Jed! First congratulations on your 10 year anniversary! This is a so-true article! I would like to add one item to your list if I may and that is:
“Give Italy a Chance”. For those who chose to move to Italy, there was a reason you chose to make that move. Even though you say you love the Dolce Vita, and yes it does offer that, it takes work and you will experience pretty much all the 10 items you listed. My mentor in my business taught me that my line of work is not easy (Insurance sales) but if you feel like you want to quit, succeed first then quit. That accomplishes two things. First that you didn’t quit on yourself and proved that you could succeed and 2nd, allows you to see the true reason you chose to do what you do in the first place. In the sense of moving to Italy, ask yourself why you moved there in the first place and frequently visit that in your mind then like anything, it takes work to a part of that fabric. Succeed in your venture (even trick yourself when you’re down and say “once I succeed, I’m going back to my homeland) then, once you have succeeded and become part of the Italian fabric and way of life, you can make a proper evaluation and can see things through a different light! I am about 18 months from retirement and ready to make that move myself and sooo looking forward to succeeding in being part of the Italian Culture! God Speed and again congrats to your 10 year anniversary! Bill
Grazie, Bill. Yes, “Give Italy a Chance” is an very important piece of advice. The prerequisite for that, in my opinion, is open-mindedness to Italy not always playing out according to one’s preconceived ideas. For the people who are stubbornly fixed on Italy delivering in a specific way, those are the ones I’d advise to just stay put. Italy can be a grand and wonderful adventure if a person is ready to say, “Let’s play! Let’s see what happens and let’s see how Italy might change me!”
You’re the best mentor in the world!
Love you dear friend!
And you are one the most talented, encouraging, kind-hearted people I know, Love you, too, dear Stephanie!
Am in total agreement. you nailed it Jed!
Grazie mille, Elisabeth! And I hope you know that you have been a big part of helping me to learn about Italy and how to navigate the ropes with grace! xoxox Jed
As usual, another great article, Jed. I would only add a corollary lesson:
Dispense with the many adult fairy tales that are in books and movies about Italy.
Like the ones that show restoring a 17th century palazzo in a matter of months. Or finding a hot Italian to tour Rome with.
But I have a question regarding the PdS renewal.
Did you not apply for the Permesso di Soggiorno Illimitata (aka Lungo) after the fifth year? That would have eliminated the renewal process.
Hi Mark! Yes, Italian fairytales, as peddled by many books and movies, won’t ultimately do a person favors! As for the PdS renewal, I received my permanent residency via marriage/civil union after my third year. So, I was fortunate, in my situation, not to have to wait five years to attempt the Permesso di Soggiorno Illimitata.
Thank you for posting this! So glad that I feel that I am still on the right path. Makes me crazy thinking that there are people who are trying to circumnavigate the system over there. For example the driver’s license. Would that fly in America if somebody from another country just wanted to take shortcuts? Definitely not. So why would it work there? People need to leave that entitled American mindset behind. Thank you for everything you have provided in the last 10 years!
You’re welcome, Lans! The big turning point for me was when I accepted the path ahead, hunkered down, and did the work. Complaining and resisting did me zero good! I was a much happier person and things seemed to fall into place!