Archive for February, 2018

“How do you feel about being an ex-pat?”

“How do you feel about being an ex-pat?” the man across the table asked me.

“I… Um… I… What? A what? I have no idea. I just… I just, sort of, live here. I don’t know.”

Even now, this question throws me into a fluster. It just feels like such an alien concept to call myself that. I know, of course, that factually, I am an ex-pat. But the connotations feel all wrong. It has overtones of otherness about it, of ousider-ness. It reminds me of those people who move to another country and who make damn well sure that people don’t mistake them for a local. They like their separateness. They seek out others who are living away from their native country. They look for and cook food that reminds them of home. They still think of the country they grew up in as home.

There is absolutely nothing wrong with this way of doing things. It’s only that it bears no resemblance to how I live, and engage with, Italy. Hence, this label, ex-pat, feels weird to me. I don’t feel like an ex-pat or a local or an anything. I’m just here, being me. And eating a lot of focaccia.

I’ve wanted to live in Italy for many years. Now that I’m finally doing it, I don’t want to spend my entire time being as English as possible. The Genovesi eat focaccia? Well then, I shall eat focaccia. The Genovesi go skiing at the weekend? Well then, I shall go skiing at the weekend. Admittedly, these are rather fun things and don’t take a lot of effort to decide to do.

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There are other things, however, which are rather less fun but which also make up my experience of living in Italy. One is receiving letters. My dad sent me a letter over a month ago, even paid to send it airmail, and it has never arrived. How beneficial is moaning about it? Not at all. It’s Italy. I knew before arriving that things wouldn’t work perfectly. Just like they don’t work perfectly in England. But in my mind, that is exactly what I expect an “ex-pat” would moan about. And they’d let you know how things operate “back home”.

Even putting the label on oneself shows a desire to stand apart from the locals. Now, it might just be me but I love pottering about among the crowds and going unnoticed, blending in. I love knowing the roads and being able to walk around without needing a map. I love it when out-of-towners ask me for directions and I know straight away how to help them. I love imagining the day when my Italian is good enough to read the many books I see by Genovesi authors in my favourite bookshop. I love how well the Italians do museums (trust me, they’re amazing) and I love learning something new every week when I visit a different one. I love saying hi to the Moroccan guy who sells tissues in the underpass every day and having the mixed English and Italian conversations in which we slowly learn a little more about each other every day. I love that when I walk into my favourite focacceria, the woman starts cutting me the focaccia I want, before I’ve even opened my mouth. I love the variety I find here, both in the environment (the sea and the mountains are practically on my doorstep) and in the people (my friends here are Italian, German, Colombian, Ukrainian, Kiwi…). I love how the cost and style of living here affords me a work-life balance I could only dream of in England.

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I also still love Italy, even when it’s taking forever to set up a bank account. I love Italy even when my right calf is tight like a balled up fist and hard as concrete due to the hills everywhere. I love Italy even when the wind blows and turns my nose to ice. I love Italy even though living here separates me from those I love most.

There is an advert that I see everywhere here that says “Genova fa parte di te,” which translates roughly as “Genova is part of you.” And, if I may be so bold as to agree, I’d say that that’s true. Genova is home now. And it is part of me.

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Moving To Italy: Three Months In

Here I am, sitting on a bus, heading to the mountains, for a weekend of skiing with friends. And I’m super excited.

But I’m also excited about life, in general. Life in Italy is good. It may sound like a rather obvious statement from a girl who’s lucky enough to have both mountains and sea on her doorstep and be living out her dreams,¬† but favourable external circumstances do not always indicate inner happiness, as I found out when I first arrived and everything sort of overwhelmed me. I was intimidated by how much I didn’t yet know but wanted¬† to know and didn’t have the patience to recognise that it would all take a while.

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Thankfully, however, my brain seems to have pulled itself together and things are flowing much easier (talking of flow, I am reading a book right now, which is called Flow, about the science behind how and why we are able to find happiness, I can’t recommend it enough!). The language struggles I had before Christmas are not bothering me so much anymore. I’m not fluent by any stretch of the imagination but I’m less stressed about it now. I study every day, I talk to people, I ask questions – all without the frantically nervous edge of desperation that tinged everything before, thankfully.

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Sometimes I tell myself I have successfully passed for a local eg by giving directions correctly or completing a transaction in the focacceria without having to ask for something to be repeated. I had one of these occasions yesterday while waiting at a bus stop. A lady approached and asked if I knew whether the number 44 bus stopped here. The young man next to me said he wasn’t sure but I, in an impressive display of local knowledge said that the 39 and 40 stopped here but I didn’t think the 44 stopped here. She thanked me and walked away.

“My goodness, Laura,” I thought to myself, “you handled that like a pro! Your Italian was on point, your local knowledge was expert. Maybe, just maybe, you’ve got this living-in-Italy thing nailed.”

What’s that saying? About how pride comes before a fall?

It must have been ten minutes later, when the number 16 bus arrived, that I realised my mistake. The numbers 39 and 40 serve the other side of town. The stop that I was at was for the numbers 16 and 17….. O well. Such is life.

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Another exciting thing happened this month. I decided it was time to have some friends! After a chance encounter in the mountains a few weeks ago, I went to an event organised by an online community called InterNations. It was a meet up at a bar near my flat so I pottered along, said hi to a few people then, sure enough, the guys I had met in the mountains were there.

This turned into a whole evening of blabbing, exchanging phone numbers and promises to meet again. This then led to sharing my Sunday walk in the mountains with new friends, which led to a gig on Wednesday evening with said friends, which has led to a lot of loveliness and the reminder that life is better when there’s people in it. Because I enjoy my own company and would happily spend days running and walking alone when I was on my run in 2016, I sometimes forget how freaking much I like people. This month has been an excellent reminder of how much better a person I am when my life is full of other people. This reminder has since become the early rumblings of The YesTribe Italia! Watch this space – we’ll hopefully be up and running by the time I write my next update!

To conclude, Italy is everything I hoped it would be and right now, I couldn’t be more happy with my decision to move here.

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