“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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3 responses to this post.

  1. Living a dream is a wonderful thing, for the most part.
    I know I would go live near my son, in Oregon, if money allowed it.
    Scott

    Reply

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