I have a lovely friend here in New Zealand that has lived in Italy for over a decade. We first met in NZ but our second meeting was in Rome. She has kindly answered some questions about life in Italy. (Molte grazie la mia bella amica).
Please see her blog: myhilltoptownitaly.wordpress.com
What do the locals think when new foreign people move into town? What was their initial behavior like with you? What helped break down barriers? We have found small town Italy to be very accepting of us, especially since we chose to live in the centro storico. One of the first questions I asked the real estate agent was how people in small town Italy feel, about foreigners moving in. He said in Le Marche anyway, they love it. They understand a big cash injection helps not only the family we bought from, but filters down to everybody in the small community. We shop locally so everyone benefits. And the couple we bought from were refurbishing their next house using local tradesmen. All win, win.
They seemed very impressed that we stayed during the winter, and were around to help during the snowstorms. It soon got around town that we were good people (bravi) and we made sure we were polite & had a smile for everyone.
Our nearest neighbours were of course very interested in talking to us & finding out why we had chosen this village, and we very soon felt settled. We were quickly invited to use the familiar instead of the formal terms. Some people were more reserved than others, naturally, but once you prove you are politely friendly, they respond very well.
We soon became known as the New Zealanders, as we constantly insisted that while we spoke English, we were most definitely NOT English. They seemed to understand. When you live in a small community, you have to behave well at all times.
Market Day is very important, not just to get out & do some shopping, but to have a chance to cement relationships and catch up with the locals. Soon, all the stall owners began to greet us, even if it meant we spent a little more than really necessary. We soon learnt to converse for quite long periods about food, the weather, health, the cost of things in NZ compared to Italy, everyone seemed to be interested.
We made a point to try to remember everyone’s names. I learnt the hard way – I forgot one lady’s name, apologised & asked again. The next time she saw me she said she couldn’t remember my name. I humbly told her, and swore never to forget EVER again!! Now she is a friend! It was much more subtle a rebuke than we would find in NZ, but it hit home. And I have had to often quietly refresh my memory before greeting someone. My husband and I help each other out always. Occasionally my brain forgets words even in English. But I am sure it’s good for the brain to use two languages.
What makes a good day in your life in Italy, food? Markets? Festivals? Peace and quiet? Travel? And a bad day? Weather? Bureaucracy? And how does that compare to good and bad days in Auckland? EVERY DAY is a good day in Italy regardless of the weather, my dear. You know I could speak for hours about this, don’t you?Is it hard to buy in Italy as a foreigner?No, anybody can buy a house, you just have to have a codice fiscale (tax number), which we applied for in NZ & got easily. You also need it to buy a car. Getting the permit to reside is more difficult. We eventually got our permesso in London.
Is it lonely for the first few years?Not lonely at all, for us anyway. We are surrounded by neighbours in the town. But expats who buy in the country do seem to suffer loneliness after a while. I think it’s a bit more of an effort to get out & visit, so they stay indoors or just mix with English- speakers. This is definitely a disadvantage.Have you felt excluded at times?Never excluded, Italians are inclusive, and want to get to know you, of course. They need to know you can be trusted. It all depends on your attitude, I think. They hate arrogance & superiority. As everybody does. Of course if you are not used to creating conversation & don’t enjoy small-talk, it may be a bit daunting for some. Women are often better at this than men. Actually I have felt excluded from English-speakers living in Italy. Interesting. I did have the advantage of having Italian maternal grandparents, and when I let people know this, the local Italians generally did the shoulder-shrug & open-palm gesture, declaring “So, you’re really Italian!” Settled! It’s more to do with cultural values than language, actually. One of the elders who initially showed us around town told us he felt the Germans to be less arrogant than the English, in his experience. (“They don’t mix, they don’t speak without their hands in their pockets”). This reinforced our stance on declaring ourselves as New Zealanders, and impelled us more to speak Italian every day. Something that I believe has endeared us to all.