Girl in Florence

A Tuscan Texan immersed in Florentine life

Locals I Love – Michelle Tarnopolsky



Locals I love is back again and this week I would like to introduce blogger Michelle Tarnopolsky “Maple Leaf Mamma”. I met Michelle via a few friends of mine in town on one of our special ‘wine Wednesdays’ girl dates and am thrilled that I did. Besides just being a super nice – good person, I agree with most everything she writes in her blog. Plus it’s always awesome to see the perspective of someone who has lived in Florence for a long time and is the process of raising a bilingual child.  So let’s get to know her a little better :-).

Name – Michelle Tarnopolsky. Nationality  – Canadian.  Job – admin assistant by day/writer-translator by night. Favorite drink – prosecco

How long have you lived in Florence and where are you from originally.
I’ve lived in this gorgeous city for a total of eleven years and I’m from Toronto, Canada (well, mainly the suburb of Mississauga).

What brought you to bella Firenze and why did you decide to stay?

I first came here as an undergrad for two semesters. I came back four years later after getting my MA in Renaissance art history, but with plans to move on to Paris after a couple of years. Then I met my now-husband and … plans changed . I moved back to Toronto for three years to change career paths, and then moved back here again five years ago. I keep returning to Florence for love—of the city and the native I married.

What are you up to in Florence? Work, daily life, passions?

For my day job I assist the director of Syracuse University. Ever since I started working in Florence I’ve always had at least four jobs at any one time. I bet a lot of fellow expats here can relate to that! So “on the side” I also lecture on student field trips, translate, edit and write. The last of those is my passion and I wish I could do it more. I also have a 3-year-old half-Italian kiddo, so that keeps me pretty busy when I’m not working! When I do get to unwind, it’s over a glass of wine with friends, going to contemporary art shows, riding my bike through the Cascine park, reading, and writing my blog.


I so agree with you, we are all learned hustlers in Florence. What annoys you about the city? Tell me the truth!

Well, it’s starting to seem really trite to say, but the closed-mindedness and haughtiness of the natives. I mean, I get they have a lot to be proud of, but I just yearn to relate on a friendlier level with other people in public. Obviously I’m generalizing here, but just try spending a long time in Florence and then going elsewhere in Italy. The difference in how the locals receive you is striking. I would also kill not to feel like I’m constantly being looked up and down everywhere I go, but that’s Italy, not just Florence.

I would absolutely agree with you. Do you think life in Italy is for everyone? Why does it work for you?

There are definitely certain people who could never live here. I’m related to several of them. It works for me for several reasons. I grew up feeling a close connection to Europe through my parents, and I’ve always just felt completely at home here. I have come to learn I need beauty in my everyday life to help me ride out the tough times, and Italy has an unlimited supply accessible to everyone. But perhaps most importantly because my life choices have never been motivated by money. My absolute favourite thing about Italy is how you can have a wonderful time—breathtakingly beautiful right-out-of-your-dreams experiences—without spending much money.

A girl after my own heart. We do live very well without having a lot of money. What advice would you give a newbie?

I warmly encourage starry-eyed italophiles to take the leap to move here if that’s what their heart wants. Now, it’s definitely not easy. Trying to work here as a foreigner if a company hasn’t brought you over is a total nightmare. But if you decide to take that kind of risk you’ve already got the grinta it takes to make it here. Remember that being an English speaker can be a huge advantage in many industries, also because it tends to come with broader perspectives and experience. I would also advise a newbie not to get scared off too quickly by how hard it can be to get to know the locals. That happened to me and I fear a chip formed on my shoulder that poisoned me to a lot of potential connections. Now that I’m so settled with my family and social circles I no longer have the inclination or time to put in the effort required to rectify that. Don’t make the same mistake!

I am secretly thrilled you used the word ‘grinta’ {gumption}. Three finds/places everyone should know about in Florence?

  • 1. The Strozzina Centre for Contemporary Art. The exhibitions there are always killer, even (or especially) if you know nothing about art.
  • 2. Pizzeria Spera. I was lucky to live around the corner from this amazing pizzeria when I was a student. I remain so impressed by the fact that to this day, despite their incredible success (there’s always a line-up), they have never changed a thing—never expanded, upgraded … nothing. The main pizza-maker, Elena Spera (who I still remember as the friendly teenaged daughter of the owner), was even on Jay Leno once!
  • 3. Falsi Gioielli. Lovely costume jewellery that never seems to go out of style and is made on-site by the store owners.


What’s the weirdest thing you have seen/experienced in Italy?
Many years ago, the very first night my friend and I moved into our apartment near Sant’Ambrogio, we were flashed three times by three different men in different areas of our new neighbourhood. Ew! Thankfully it never happened again.

I have definitely been flashed at least twice myself. Not fun! What can you do here and nowhere else?
Make liver taste good (on Florentine crostini al fegato – yummm).

That’s actually one dish I still don’t like which is a real shame. How did you make friends and assimilate?
One of my favourite things about Florence is how easy it has been to make friends here. Of course, few of them are actually Florentines, but at least some of them are! I’ll never forget back in 2003 when virtually all my friends left (that happens a lot here) and I got rather depressed. But it didn’t take long to build up a wonderful group again, not only then but also when I returned in 2008 after 3 years away. It’s definitely easier for expats to befriend each other because we have so much in common from the get-go. I fear I don’t make terribly great efforts to assimilate. I do speak exclusively in Italian to my relatives and live in a neighbourhood where no one speaks English, but I hardly ever watch Italian TV or read in Italian, aside from online. About 50% of my job requires me to speak and write it. I have certainly assimilated completely when it comes to the food though!


Favorite food {or recipe}.
Pappa al pomodoro – for me it’s the epitome of Florentine cooking: incredibly simple yet outstandingly flavourful.
If you had to make up a tagline for the city – what would it be? 😉 be creative!

I’ve been asked this question before, but I’ve come up with a new one for you, Georgette! Florence: Eat your Heart Out.


Seriously, how can you not like Michelle. She is as pleasant to be around in person as her answers are to my questions. You can keep in touch via her blog Maple Leaf Mamma, twitter or Facebook.

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0 Responses

  1. How do I get in touch with you ladies in Florence? I am back on my third and final go around an have been hustling my way back—in between gigs right now its august–

    How can I connect with you ladies in Sept or October when I am back in Florence through year end?

    Advise! Grazie! Mindy Sabella

  2. Wow I love this article Georgette!!
    How can I meet up with some young ladies in Florence?
    It’s so difficult to get a group of girlfriends here!
    I return to Florence in September! It would be great to meet up with you for an aperitivo or something!
    Fammi sapere!
    A presto

Georgette Jupe

Welcome to my personal blog by a curious American girl living and working between Zug, Switzerland and Florence, Italy with my husband Nico, our newborn Annabelle and Ginger the beagle. This space is primarily to share about my love for Italy (currently on a 13 year romance) with a fair amount of real talk, practical advice, travel suggestions and adjusting to a new culture (Switzerland). Find me on IG @girlinflorence @girlinzug

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