The Italy No One Tells You About

When I metion to people that I live in Italy, their eyes fill with envious wonder and the next thing that spills out of their open jaw is usually something along the lines of “Is it just amazing?!” and in a split moment of selfishness I desparately want to scream “No, no it is frustrating and infuriating and fills me with anxiety until I think I am going to implode.” But in order to avoid a long winded conversation explaining why living in Italy isn’t the fantasy people believe it to be, I politely smile and say “Yes, it is beatuiful and a wonderful experience and I am so grateful to be living where I do”.

So, before I get into said long winded conversation of my vendetta against this country hopelessly stuck in the past, I will tell you that I visited Italy in my high school years and then went on to study in Florence for 3 and a half months in college and fell head over heels with it’s charm. It’s beautifully winding cobble stoned streets, it’s Renaissance monuments and museums that make you feel as though you are strolling through a history book, and the mesmerizing sound of the Italian language all captivated me and I promised myself that I would someday live in this fairy tale. Soon after my college graduation, I got my chance to live in Florence again while working for a student travel company.

Now I was removed from the fantastical Italy I had experienced on my high school trip and during my semester I spent abroad eating, drinking, frolicking and most of all, maintaining zero “real life” responsibilities. I came back to the country and the city I loved, but was not greeted with the same wonderful care-free lifestyle I had previously lived.

Getting anything done efficiently isn’t really a priority in Italian life. I’m not saying they don’t have a work ethic, but coming from the states where the faster is considered the better, it’s hard to adjust to a society that doesn’t value that same urgency. While abroad, I hardly noticed it because what did I need to be urgent about besides getting to my 3 hour “Wine Appreciation” class? But now, when I’m working and have responsibilities expected of me, the magnificent laid back lifestyle I had once preached that the U.S. should take take after, is one of my least favorite parts about Italy. It’s as if everything stems from this lacksadasical attitude: it’s shops closing as they please, it’s a postal system that can almost guarantee you 100% of the time that anything shipped from America will take 3 months – 7 years to actually reach you, a system of public transportation that takes unreliability to a new level with scheduled train strikes every few weeks and a laissez-faire attitidue about life in general that drives my Boston personality near INSANE. It’s a unique stubornness and refusal to adapt to a changing world. One the one hand, I love that they want to preserve their culture and traditions but on the other hand, it drives me out of my mind that finding anything besides Italian food is near impossible and that “take away” coffee is considered taboo. By all means, yes congratulations for staying true to you, Italy, but why must a girl be penalized if she wants to walk around the city with a coffee in hand or worse – put ICE in it?! These are things I cannot make sense of. For a while I thought it was naive and ignorant to yearn for things that I had made a part of my daily life in the U.S. and that it meant I was “rejecting the culture”, but now I realize that Italy is actually rejecting cultural practices of the rest of this world. I suppose you can argue this is genius and give them a pat on the back for maintaining their roots but at the same time aren’t we encouraged to be constantly changing?

When I first arrived to my Italian apartment as a study abroad student, we were without heat for three days in the dead of winter. We were given a series of excuses by our program directors about why it was unable to be fixed immediately and that if we bundled up we would get along just fine. Our apartment was in a bit of a dilapitated state, our kitchen was the size of a small walk in closet and our counter space was a cutting board on top of our washer. At the time I was unnerved but was too blinded by my love for Florence to really care.

Looking back, I was (and still am) incredibly fortunate to be able to have these experiences and live where I had lived, I am simply just trying to express that there is a side to this beautiful country which most tourists will never realize. I suppose that makes me lucky, though; that I have experienced life in a place that is such a stark contrast to my home. I always thought that I would build a life in Italy someday but in talking to locals and through my own research and experience, there is no abundance of jobs here for young people nor promise of a great life. In a conversation exchange I participated in for my Italian course, I met with a local Florentine girl and had the chance to ask her about Florence. Still infatuated by the city, I was shocked, and slightly offended, when she told me quite frankly, she “hated Florence”. I asked her why, and she went on to tell me about how the political system is a mess, things are run inefficiently, and although she was to graduate university, there was little to no work opportunies for her or her peers. Sometime in my first month at my new job in Florence I finally realized the grievances she was describing.

I acknowledge that people may see this post as me complaining about living in Italy, but I hope the majority of people who stumble upon it just view it as a realization on my part about the real Italy, the Italy that the tourists taking selfies at the Duomo will never fully understand. Rant end.

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2 thoughts on “The Italy No One Tells You About

  1. Lucky me for checking today, I had a feeling. So glad you’ve written Hils. I feel you on this. I’ve listened to myself complain about long travel hours and the drag of yet another 5 star hotel which sounds ridiculous until you’re in the bowels of said hotel lugging hear to a gig.

    One thing I do think tho is that you’ll look back on all of this fondly. I have no regrets for the years of exhaustion nor the beating my body took on stage. And I hope that similarly for you the frustration will fall away and the striking moments will remain.

    Meanwhile, keep sharing your thoughts. Your writing is excellent and your true voice comes through so clearly. Love it!

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