First of all, mi dispiace (I’m sorry) for the depressing headline, as you know this is a blog, a blog with my personal opinions mingled with life experience after 10 years in Italy. Which is a heck of a lot less than a lot of other people I know here. One thing I really should say before continuing this post is that I am super pro anyone moving to another country, even if for a short time. Anything that gets you out of a cookie-cutter comfort zone is a GOOD thing and that’s something to celebrate.
Though this isn’t about that, it’s about expectations.
I’m talking about the ones that come with moving to an idyllic Renaissance city that people love so so much, that’s you Florence. You come across as so perfect, a city centered around gelato stop and instagram-worthy snapshots from Ponte Santa Trinita, an ever-growing cosmopolitan dream wrapped in up in a Renaissance dream . This “supermodel” city of tiny proportions, Florence regularly tops “best cities” lists on publications like CondeNast Traveler. When it comes to tourism, we’re looking at up to 6.8 million for overnight stays (source: La Nazione, 2015) and who knows how many come just for the day, from cruise ships, don’t register their presence. Residents are anyone’s guess (also because it’s hard to track people who often don’t obtain residency for tax purposes). Expectations are often so incredibly high for a city like this that it’s normal they aren’t matched when confronted with the realities of daily life.
In my own personal experience as a blogger who writes about Florence, I get countless messages, emails, tweets, from people who are looking to move here and want some advice. It’s normal to want to reach out and I welcome it, really. I wish I would have had a mentor in that respect when I first came here, but it was a different era. One, where if you wanted to make it happen, you had to put your head down, do a multitude of random jobs and live in moldy apartments, remote work online didn’t exist yet.
The people that write me generally don’t have Italian citizenship or a viable way to live here legally. Though even the ones that do, struggle to find regular work or match their fantasy of a place with the realities of day to day life.
I get it, we as bloggers do a good job of painting a pretty picture of the city, on instagram and everywhere else too. Consider me guilty as charged.
My response is pretty typically the same depending on the message. I advise people to enroll in an Italian language school, stay for six months or a year and see if this is really the place you see yourself long term. The way I remember it, if you are on a student visa, you legally can work 20 hours a week though part-time here is often very difficult to obtain as compared to my experience in the states.
Why moving here isn’t always the best idea…
As I’ve explained in other posts talking about work, competition is high here. While a lot of people wave fancy curriculums and may even have an ivy league education, the hard reality is that its still not really impressive when you have people who have lots of experience AND speak five languages (fluently – not just a few “words” that you learned on Duolingo.) Though both my husband and I have decent jobs, the second we don’t and can no longer support ourselves and our dog, we would leave too. That’s part of life, hard choices that I hope I don’t ever have to make.
If you consider yourself a stickler for being on time, plan every minute of your day and are often disappointed when your plans don’t work out, Florence might not be the city for you. If you are a creature of comforts, things like dryers, microwaves and air-conditioning and working WiFi on the daily are necessities and not optional, Florence might not be the city for you. If you consider yourself a career-oriented person who needs a set salary and regular growth, Florence might not be the place for you. If adaptability isn’t really part of your vocabulary and you hate carbs, Florence might not be the place for you.
In regards to blogging as a “job.” I have to explain to people that think starting a blog is a key to their success that it takes years of consistent writing, learning a few tricks in photography, getting involved in the blogging community, having a great social media presence and even then, you probably won’t live off the blog. Most of us have other jobs and the blog is mainly a passion.
Also people underestimate how important emotional support is when moving abroad. If you are part of any sort of community back home, it likely took you years, maybe a lifetime to accumulate that. Here, especially when you’re new and don’t have any friends, it can be very lonely. Especially during Christmas time when Italians traditionally just stay with family members. What makes me love living here so much is the community Nico and I have, our friends, colleagues, but once again this took years. I’ve said many a tearful goodbye to close friends and as we think about starting a family in the future, I really wish I had either of our parents nearby. They don’t call this place “the nonni economy” for nothing.
To not be entirely a negative nancy, here is a list of general pros and cons regarding moving to Florence
- You live in Florence, duh
- Affordable organic fruit and vegetable in season
- Surrounded by incredible cultural heritage
- Small city size which makes getting around quite easy, good public transportation
- Impressive expat community, everything from drawing clubs to mom networks. People are very supportive
- Free health care, weekly I pay taxes so you could argue that point but if you happen to be visiting Italy and break your arm, you don’t land in bankruptcy court if you can’t pay. It’s a human right yall!
- Fabulous food and relatively cheap, and wine is always ok
- Perfect base for day-trips also weekends in Europe, two airports to choose from
- Based in Tuscany means you have everything at your doorstep (Chianti, Val d-Orcia, Maremma, hot springs).
- Generous people, despite many who complain about Italians online, I have met so many extremely generous and warm-hearted folk here in the past 10 years.
- For those who like to urban hike, you have options!
- You can meet some really incredible people here, Florence tends to attract a varied population
- Really incredible artisan traditions here, and the contemporary scene is growing
- Cheap coffee!
- People take pride in what they wear in public, aka you won’t see someone wearing pajamas at a supermarket
- Very safe
- Great day-to-day lifestyle, people walk/bike everywhere
- Aperitivo is a religion here, embrace it
- PDA is ok here (this could be a con but since I’m a passionate gal, it’s a pro
- Dog-friendly, Ginger is more loved than I am and we can almost take her anywhere
- Rent can be high and pickings can be dismal as more apartments are turned into Airbnb investments.
- The average salary wavers around 1,000-1,200 a month (after taxes, this “official number” is taken from my experience with friends and work in Florence btw). You probably don’t have the qualifications off the jump for higher paid work.
- Saving up for a house is almost impossible without family help
- Lack of civic sense and shaky politics
- Despite the fact that lots of people think that everyone has three hour lunch breaks and work is secondary to happiness, people generally work long hours and less employees mean that you have to do more and adapt quickly.
- Weather isn’t always warm and sunny, we can have long hard winters and plenty of rain
- Small sidewalks and not very adapted to things like strollers.
- Bureaucracy is annoying, red-tape is a daily reality when it comes to everything from signing up to a local university or renewing your visa. You must save everything in a plastic sleeve too (kidding but not really).
- As a freelancer, getting paid can be a challenge.
- Italian TV is…. just don’t.
- Lack of great parks that are free, sure the rose garden is pretty but as far as really nice parks, we’re still lacking. Cascine is just ok.
- Gyms are expensive, in the center it’s typically 65€ a month and not always that impressive
- Rules regarding driving are often similar to those of the 1999 film The Fight Club
- Bills are expensive (compared to salaries) and air-conditioning is not to be expected, same with dryers
- Your boiler WILL break at least once. Yay cold showers… better than golden… (nm)
- Making friends can be harder than it looks, locals are a hard nut to crack (not impossible) and people come and go quite frequently in Florence
- English is widely spoken which means you might not feel forced to speak Italian
- Lack of jobs, many people work on short term contracts (if they are lucky) or have a partita iva (freelance) which is costly.
Though in defense of life in Italy, I do write a lot about this topic, or at least try too. Here in fact are some of my most read, and personal favorite articles tackling the complicated topic of living in Italy
- 10 Mistakes Expats Make
- Living in Italy: What is it really like?
- Thinking of moving to Italy, read this first
- What not to expect when moving to Italy
- 8 Reasons I’m grateful to Italy
To better dive into this topic of why moving here might not be the best idea, I want to break down the types of people I meet who move to Florence and you can decide for yourself if this is you. Please comment on this post and share your own moving to Firenze story, it’s an interesting topic and I really enjoy when you guys start a conversation on the blog.
The Eternal Optimist
I consider myself a skeptical optimist, I have hope in the world, hope in the fact that everything will always work out, in love, in friendship but I also have a pretty thick bullshit meter from years of living abroad, and dealing with things I never thought I would. Like not getting paid for work I’ve done. A lot of the emails I get regarding Florence are from people who’s biggest dream is to call this city their home. They have no idea how to make it happen, how to find paying work, how to even find a house or learn Italian, but they know “it can all work out.”
Sure, it could work out, but you could be crying into your lentils four months later when you realize your bills are way more expensive than you anticipated (this is why some of us wear sweaters in our house to cut down on heating costs) and all you can afford are lentils. Which are great, super healthy even, but after the fourth night scanning pinterest to make them more palatable with curry powder or simmering sausage, all you want is a damn pizza. Life gets real when it comes to money and the biggest factor that I’ve seen with people moving home is a lack of that annoying colorful currency that pays for stuff. As I mentioned before, there are only so many jobs to be had, and people who have lived here all of their life have trouble finding anything that pays over 1,000 euros a month.
You’re an optimist, I get it, who am I to take the sequins off your cape of happiness? What I’m trying to say is that plans need to be put into action, number one making sure you can live here legally. If you haven’t yet seen the world as it is in 2017, people don’t take skirting the system lightly anymore. Secondly, and this is a close second, you need a financial cushion that can withstand for the entire time you’re here, not just ” few months while you look for a job.” Third learn Italian, don’t make excuses about how you are left-brain and not right-brained. I’m practically dyslexic when it comes to languages and somehow I speak Italian, it’s a real miracle. If you want to be really honest, Florence might be the birthplace of the Italian language (thanks Dante!) but you might be better off going to another place like Bologna, Ferrara, even Milan to be less surrounded by foreigners, and dive into local culture and especially, the language.
The “I’ve Got An Italian Boyfriend”
Another popular example of those who moved to Florence are girls who have met local boyfriends during their year of study abroad and are looking to come back and live, but don’t know how. Probably most of my friends, three years ago or so fell into this category though ironically the longer I am here, the less I see of that. Many times they end up going to live in America or another city because of work-related factors and family. Essentially, life happens.
There’s nothing wrong with meeting your Andrea, Riccardo, Lapo, Daniele but know that just because you are in a relationship, that ain’t a visa, especially not a work visa. I too was in this category with my ex-boyfriend who was sweet but utterly useless when it came down to any sort of true emotional support for what was the most difficult time in my life. It wasn’t really his fault, it’s just my expectations were way too damn high of him and that wasn’t really fair either. Getting said visa, keeping said visa, renewing said visa, getting any sort of decent work. It was a shit-show for a couple of years and that needs to be talked about too if we are any kind of honest bloggers writing about our lives in Italy. Of course, I am married to a Frenchman now, my former best friend who was smart enough to come to Florence only because he had a job.
My thing about this topic in regards to moving to Italy is just be careful not to get “stuck.” You don’t want to get married or have kids with someone that isn’t really right for you. It happens to people all of the time, anywhere in the world, but if you have kids and your relationship doesn’t work out here, it is possible that you might not be able to leave with your kids back where you’re from. If you don’t believe me, just join Facebook groups like “Italian Reflections” or Life in Italy: When “la vita bella” isn’t so bella… You may end up with a over-zealous mother-in-law who gifts you the most unflattering pajamas at every Christmas. I still have those pajamas and I wear them happily when Nico is in France for work, they are actually really comfy.
I have some friends here who are happily married, or in a wonderful relationship with an Italian guy (or girl!) but they are very honest and open about the hurdles of their relationship. It’s common to have conversations with people even after five years of “should we stay in Florence” or move abroad.
The Regular Visitor
This option which I think is even smarter than moving your whole life to Italy is taking a regular sabbatical here. I’ve met people through the blog (I’m talking about you Susan and Monica) who make Florence a yearly trip. They might come for a few months, or just a few weeks but over the years they have created true and lasting friendships and even bourgeoning business ventures. They love Florence, make the most out of their visits but realize life full time here might not be right for them.
Because I love my readers, let’s celebrate two great gals who represent “the regular visitor.” Monica for example makes bespoke jewelry out of sea glass (exquisite) and worked with the ladies at Officine Nora, a Jewelry co-working space in the Oltrarno. She has now started to do workshops bringing people here who are interested in making jewelry in Italy and I’m so awed by her forward thinking. Or meet my friend Susan, who has her life and work in Portland, Oregon (I’m dying to visit) and comes to Florence quite frequently. We’ve even met for coffee and to be honest, I was way more entranced by her stories of coming here over the years and the people she’s met than talking about why I’m here in Florence.
With the ever-growing digital area providing tech jobs (and not only), people can work remotely online and hopefully spend more months out of the year living in the place they want. I know people who do this, I actually do this, just make sure you have a really good commercialista (accountant).
Hey guys, this post is part of our Italy Blogging Roundtable topic for January: MOVE(D). Please take some time to visit my fellow bloggers at the table:
- Jessica: Italy Explained – Moving Lets the Light In
- Michelle: Bleeding Espresso – 10 Dos and Don’ts of Moving to Calabria
- Alexandra: Arttrav – The Cost of Living in Italy: My Annual Budget
- Melanie: Italofile – Before Considering a Move to Italy, Consult this Quality of Life Index
- Laura: Ciao Amalfi – Get Your Move On in Positano with a Yoga Retreat!
- Rebecca: Brigolante – A Perfect Day, A Perfect Hike: Spoleto’s Monteluco