As you contemplate living in Italy, ask yourself these four questions:
1. How willing I am to hop on the fast track to learning the language and culture?
If you’re chomping at the bit to get going in this respect, then brava or bravo! Wrapping your arms around these things will help you build a strong foundation that will lead to deeper friendships with Italians. This will also help you navigate the bureaucracy with which all Italian residents are faced, not just ex-pats. Not on board with these things or putting them off for “down the road” after you’ve settled in? Be prepared for your Italian fantasies to fizzle and be ready for frustration to set in quickly.
2. What is my tolerance level for inconsistency, paradox, long wait times, and a maze of bureaucracy?
Be honest with yourself. Really honest. All of the above are realities of life in Italy, and you’d best prepare for them and make peace with their existence. Otherwise, you risk being a person who insists that his or her Italian fantasies manifest while constantly resisting “what is” and complaining about it. And, for Italians, hearing complaining ex-pats who’ve come from countries like the United States, it wears thin. They’ll ask, “What did they expect?” and “Didn’t they understand this before coming here?” Also, an extra piece of advice: let the Italians be the ones to complain about their own bureaucracy, not you.
And don’t waste your energy expecting (or demanding in many cases) that the laws and general rules of your home country should be the same here.
3. How willing am I to change my behaviors?
I consider this to be perhaps the most difficult question to answer honestly. Why? Because I’ve spent too much of my eight-plus years here trying to stay in the comfort zone of my conditioned beliefs and behaviors. Because many new ex-pats are in their more mature years, the ability to adapt and moderate (notice I’m not saying a full about-face is necessary) is a tough road. But I’m more and more a believer that tackling new things and behaviors is the best fertilizer for our brains.
Italy is such a dramatically different culture in more ways than you can comprehend (at least initially). To participate in the culture and to show Italians that you respect their culture requires more than passing behavior modification. You won’t be able to coast on the novelty and ignorance of being a foreigner for too long.
4. How attached am I to “life as it was back home?”
This can be the real deal-breaker IF a person is completely honest with themself. It’s not a question that can be answered without spending ample time in Italy, testing the waters, and without taking a deeper dive into the language and the culture. Still, I’ve come across a fair number of people who’ve told themselves that they’re ready to cut the cord. Then, when things don’t go their way and reality sets in that they’re living under a different government and a different set of rules, they start packing up.
I’m not out to kill your Italian fantasies.
I hope all of you who have read this far understand this. I spend an ample amount of time dangling the carrot that is called Italy in front of my followers. I can do that because I couldn’t be happier with my life in Italy. But I’m happy because I’ve made peace with the more challenging parts of living in Italy.
Let me share an example that relates to some of the questions above. Moving my bank account from Treviso to Imperia required a mountain of effort including three trips to the bank, a load of paperwork and signatures, and new ATM and credit cards. Do I think it’s insane that I have to jump through so many hoops to move my branch with the SAME bank? Yes. Would the same thing have been a breeze back in the States? Yes. Does it do any good to dig my heels in and complain? No. So, I calmly and patiently went through the process, leaving me with the peace of mind to enjoy and appreciate other things.
The above situation with the bank may seem silly. But for me, it’s indicative of a huge leap forward from my first year in Italy during which time difficulty seemed to wait at every corner and with every task. Now, I understand that Italy has been perhaps the best teacher in my life to get out of old conditioned behaviors and thinking. Italy is breathing new life into me and keeping me young and on my toes.