Warning, this post is very long
I feel like in order to really embrace this blog I have some sort of obligation to provide a back story instead of demanding that people be interested in my life. I am American girl born in some random town in Texas, Grand Prairie to be exact, actually even I don’t know where it is, I usually just tell people Dallas. My family first lived in New Orleans then we moved to San Antonio, Texas.
Texas stereotypes aside, I have to say I do indeed love the insane state that is Texas and my loud typical southern family. I grew up escaping into the countryside with my friends, climbing trees, floating down rivers and absorbing one too many books. At 18 I packed my bags, left home and I haven’t looked back since. I grew up always feeling a little bit the outsider, preferring books over my family , obviously as an escape, and as I started to grow up, I just wanted the chance to see other parts of the country without the protective glare of my family.
I am a very naturally curious person, when I was younger I used to spend hours in the library conducting arbitrary research on really grotesque subjects like the plague or the holocaust because I could not wrap my head around the reality that such things really happened.
When I left home, the desire to explore was overwhelming and after hearing so many older family members and friends complain about what they wish they would have done in life, I knew that I had to at least try to fulfill my dreams of living in another state, another country, speak another language and be truly independent, because if not I would always be left thinking..
what if ?
I have to say now after being years away from 18, family now means so much to me and I thank Italy for that. Being constantly away enlightens you to confront feelings you have from the past, which for me personally helped me tremendously in relationships with loved ones.
Flash back to now, I can’t wait to visit everyone in Texas and get-to-know my hometown with a fresh pair of eyes. Thankfully there are social networks like Facebook which help me feel like I am still a part of their daily life, not to mention skype.
As for the Los Angeles files, of course I had some help with that, namely my ex-boyfriend and best-friend who all moved to LA or “la la land” as I like to call it. I came, I worked, I finished University. It was hard but in an age where I think we have a problem of what I call “sweet 16ers” (spoiled entitled living in a bubble generation) , a little hard work and risk never hurt anyone ( I am aware that this sentence sounds like my grandma).
Los Angeles was and is a great a place to live despite what many people may think. It has the stereotype of being only filled with superficial plastic personalities which yes of course exist but so do sarcastic , witty, motivated people that came for the same reasons I did – good weather and opportunity.
At times, I have my doubts about the so-called American dream people so wistfully speak about due to high university debt and shit loans, but I have to say, I saw more young people using their skills, talent and knowledge to climb the career ladder in L.A, than I have ever witnessed in Italy. Many of my friends who don’t come from family money worked hard, and are still working hard and reaping the benefits in promotions and salary increases. Does this mean you sometimes have to move and adjust your style of life? Sure, but they were willing.
I met many long-lasting friends in L.A. who I still keep in touch with today and being there gave me the chance to do things that I may not have been able to do in Texas, like attend a gay-pride parade with feisty older men in leather chaps, go to transvestite parties, attend cultural exchanges, eat in korea town, hike in dry weather, and crash parties in Malibu. Our time off and weekends were spent playing volleyball on the beach , late nights eating tortilla soup at the 24 hour diner dissecting my roommate’s dating disasters, participating as extra’s for TV shows, attending comedy clubs downtown, we even saw a Russian guy punch someone out at a tranquil tea-garden. It was in amazing time in my life.
At university I was able to attend a paid trip to teach English in China with 6 other people which to put it mildly, was a life changing experience. We were in a small town in southern China, in humid-blinding heat and we were determined to make English-learning fun and interactive for our eager students. We also got to visit a bamboo forest and hike up a mountain while dipping our tired feet into natural water-falls, and we lived it up in Shanghai.
Being in L.A. provided me with the opportunity to study and eventually go to the place that would change my life forever (please no references to “Under the Tuscan Sun”) ITALY.
First, how did I get in Italy legally? I studied abroad there for one year at a satellite school of my University ( California State University Los Angeles ) and then returned to the states to finish my degree after. About a year later when I was sure I wanted to come back and try it out as an immigrant (not expat ) in Italy, I started doing research and planning how to do it. I currently have the ever elusive permesso di lavoro for two years that I have to renew in 2012, and obtained with the help of my Italian boyfriends parents.
I am looking forward to renewing that as much as a fork in the eye but it’s a necessary evil that anyone who wants to change countries MUST consider. I did a lot of research , put in my application with the anagrafe in Firenze, did my questura work, paid my taxes and voila.. I am here. Of course this was also due to the work visa lottery which happens as often as Berlusconi repents (aka, not too often ) . Hire a lawyer if you think you need help , which you probably do and it will be the best money you ever spent in your life. Also I will admit that this was a very difficult and emotional time in my life, I will never pretend it was easy. If you want to know the dirty truth, I was secretly jealous ( and still somewhat am ) of those who were able to get their dual citizenship because of having a long lost Italian relative and/or get married. Those were two options not readily available to me but that usually guaranteed not having to renew your permesso every one or two years. People seemed to think that just getting married was the right things to do and not realizing that it can quite a personal subject and not as easy as a ‘lets do it’ commercial. Every once in awhile I would break down in tears , wanting to just be left alone and deal with the heavy decisions I had ( and still have ) to make in my life.
I used to get random emails from time to time on Facebook, lately its mostly questions about Florence or recommendations. Most of them positive and some of them not / mainly a sarcastic “So do your rich parents pay for your exploits ( exploits ? What am I? An eastern European hooker? ) in Europe”. So to answer that person’s question.. no no and more no. Of course my father helped me when I barely a piece of bread to spread nutella on when I studied here but now I live here and actually “gasp” work and “gasp” support myself.. and work? oh yes work I do! I have a real job as well as some freelancing additions to said job ( including marrying people, yes I am not kidding and its awesome, babysitting, helping with visas/translating/apartment search/revising articles/writing and more. I am now getting to the point where I can actually turn down work but I will say the truth, salaries in Italy are absolute crap and not very conducive to single or young couples supporting themselves, I would love to be proved wrong on that observation.
My main job is with a company called Insidersabroad.com, which is a “community portal” of English speakers from around the world who love Italy ( and France and Spain ) . We link three markets: expats, students and tourists, which is what makes it unique. This first-hand “insider knowledge” is what makes them superior to guidebooks and other travel sites. I sell online advertising to local companies that want to tap into this market in a more community approachable way and I enjoy the challenge, because I believe in what I do and wish more sites existed like this when I first came to Florence clueless. I also hope the fact that I am an english speaker living in Italy helps personalize my approach. What about old jobs? Here goes!
Old Job #1 goes to a Vacation Rental Company located here in Florence where my job was to find clients from abroad , get them in vacation rentals, and provide customer service. A little bit of everything, including having a crazy boss whose mood changed like those 2 dollar mood rings everyone bought as a kid. She was probably clinically crazy, and made ME crazy and if it wasn’t for my sarcastic and funny colleague from the south of Italy, I probably would have hightailed it long before I did. A good job in Italy is the equivalent of finding the holy grail during the religious crusades and I for one am not going to give that up so easily hence why I love the jobs that I do now.
Old job#2 is slightly more masochistic in that I didn’t technically need it but since my main job couldn’t completely support me and I wanted to be more financially secure and have this one as a steady paycheck. A couple of afternoons a week I got paid (well) to “teach” a rich families 3 and 5 yr. old children English by just playing with them. A very popular job among-st Americans and English alike here in Florence. The funny thing about it was that they knew NO English. So picture me speaking with the two and in turn them staring blankly in my face as if I was speaking Swahili. Yep that’s pretty much what I did. The job was not without its rewards though and they were flexible if I had to do something, perhaps like bang a nail through my head. No biggie because I could call and not go that day because the family had not 1 but 3 nannies at their 24 hour disposal. I had perhaps seen the mom who hired me about 3 times since I had begun working there and the father almost never, in fact when I dyed my hair back to brown he introduced himself to me again because he thought I was a new English teacher. “Hmm, dad how about spending less time at work and more time at home with your kids?”.
I live, work, eat, cry, laugh, sleep, ponder life here in this fantastic gem of a city called Florence. You have to ask yourself, is it the fantasy land where every English / American person wants to settle down for a relatively simple life after having worked 50 hour weeks for years? Is it a “fake” temporary life that I am living to escape the realities of living in America?
I have learned to roll with the punches, the bad and the ugly. I try not to compare the formalities here with my life in the U.S.A because this is now my home. Anyway, has anyone ever tried to call a Dell laptop customer assistant back in the states? Yeah, not so fun! We used to live with my Italians boyfriends parents (we had a semi-apartment ) and please bring on the Italian mama jokes , I certainly have my share. We live in t-mans old grandmother’s house for the time being and we are looking for an apartment to buy at the moment. Hard but worthy endeavor. I drive here and I am currently studying for my Italian drivers license . To be honest, I actually enjoy driving here, its like Mario Kart on crack! Just remember the rules are “suggestions” no more… I kid I kid.
There is nothing simple about Florence unless you are already rich and have people doing all of the “grunt work” for you.. if you think Florence is simple , just try to get fast Internet connected at your house.
I love it here and yes I miss my friends and family back home very much, I try and spend at least 3 weeks to a month home every year of quality time with them. I have met amazing people here from all over Europe but it makes me sad because 99.9% of them leave after a certain period of time because like I mentioned before.. good jobs, low rent are hard to find, and I get it..trust me!
I have met many great Italians as well ( hello, I’m dating one!) and I speak good Italian. thankfully. I do need my “english” girl’s nights so I can throw out cultural references ( like family guy) with someone who knows what I am talking about.
If I can give anyone advice coming to Italy , save your money , and LEARN THE LANGUAGE , enroll in a school program for a year to get situated before selling off your prized possessions for a “under the Tuscan sun” like lifestyle! Yes you can work without speaking the language but would you want to? Your quality of life will greatly improve, socially, work wise, and many misunderstandings that happen are due to language mishaps. Put yourself out there, this is not the country to be a computer-obsessed social parasite. People value their passeggiata, gelato, aperitivo, family, seaside, food. Get involved with the community like I did, join expat friend groups in your city and volunteering, host a thanksgiving dinner for your new Italian friends. Enjoy being here and trying a new experience. I tend to be a pretty positive person anyway with some lapse which helps. No one wants to be around a negative person who blames Italians for everything going wrong in their life. Nothing irks me more than reading a blog or forum where the said poster clearly does not speak the language and complains on end about the crazy locals.
so its now 2012 , I see myself here for the foreseeable future , hopefully one day opening a business ( because lets face it, living here forces you to be creative and think outside the box! ) , raising a family ( summers in the states ) and just living life and not trying to overanalyze it too much. Stop dreaming and start doing!