Francesca: Burnt By The Tuscan Sun
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Please tell us a little bit about yourself. Who you are, where you come from, when you moved to Italy, etc.
I’m an Italian-American but who was raised on a whole lot of TV Dinners and Tuna Helper mixed in with all those sumptuous Italian meals and hearty pasta sauces. I was raised in the lofty suburbs of Detroit (a serious mistake by the stork who must have dropped me in-flight on the way to Brooklyn, which I consider my second home) at a time when pasta sauces took 3 hours to cook and in a time where people never had the opportunity to mispronounce Bruschetta and Gnocchi, and had yet to imagine ‘Lattes’.
Although I had come to Italy as an infant and a child, I finally learned to make fresh tomato sauce in under 12 minutes when I traveled to Italy repeatedly in college and then moved there in 1985 for one year. Returning to New York, I started working with Italy (like 3 days later), finally offered a job to run a small company out of Detroit in Milan. I’ve been here 20 years although I still speak as if I just got off the boat.
I now call Rome my home, where I produce content for cultural tourism (downloadable audioguides, apps, new media content) and where I represent temporary exhibitions and software for the museum world.
When and why did you decide to start blogging about your experiences?
After I saw sheet sets at TJ Maxx featuring Under the Tuscan Sun, I decided: Basta! Enough is Enough! – And while we all love the beauty and lifestyle that is wholly Italian, someone needs to set the record straight that Italy isn’t all just dark green olive oil and bella vistas. And so my blog under my pen name, Francesca Maggi, was born. It became a book, filled with hysterical cartoons by an incredibly talented and amazing man I met online, satirist Gianni Falcone (www.gianfalco.it - also on OpenSalon) - we still have never met in person – gotta love the internet.
And later, I decided to turn it into a book as well featuring The 10 Commandments to Life in Italy, a collection of true stories covering everything from the bane of the Post Office to life under the Iron Hand of La Mamma. It’s now an e-book as well – but you could call it a sort of User’s Manual to Life in Italy.
Do you have any favorite blog entries of yours?
Many of my favorites ended up in the book, and on my website I provide a lot of entries for traveling to Italy – Carpe Diem & Caveat Emptor .
But, some of my very favorite entries cover the cumbersome cross-cultural differences from someone who comes from a ‘live and let live’ kind of place to one beholden by ‘bella figura’ (attuning the fine art of keeping up appearances) and health remedies that hail back to medieval medical practices that would make Saturday Night Live’s Theodoric of York proud:
Tell us about the ways your new life in Italy differs from that back home. Did you have trouble getting used to the new circumstances? Did you experience culture shock?
Well, I’ve been here for quite awhile, and while I got used to ‘life in Italy’ quite easily, because of my previous visits and work experience, I would say that almost every day I still experience culture shock – especially in the customer service and pets-are-not-pets-but-beasts departments. Not to mention the never-ending faux pas when dealing with pretty much everyone I meet.
But I must say that now that I am in a serious relationship with an Italian (a Roman for tens of generations), the culture shock which used to be just spray on my windshield of life now resembles something more like being swept up in a tsunami.
Do you think you were fully prepared for what awaited you in Italy? If you could, would you change some decisions/preparations you made?
Well, anyone who knows me will tell you that I am not into preparation nor planning on any level. So, having traveled and lived in Italy before, and working with Italy for seven years before the big move, I thought I was totally prepared; certainly, I couldn’t wait to live in the place I wanted to live in all my life, and moreover, a place where it is still a joy just to walk the streets (as long as you’re not dodging traffic that won’t stop for you even on the crosswalks) – and now that I no longer live in Milan.
In hindsight, I would have changed pretty much everything. I probably would have moved directly to Rome versus staying in Milan for 12 years, I certainly should have taken Italian lessons – seriously – and I would have tried to watch more Italian TV (I am not kidding), ‘cuz that’s basically the best way to really learn the local language…Talk Shows. But, if you’ve ever had a taste of Italian TV, you would understand that I could never bring myself to doing it.
Every expat knows that expat life comes with some hilarious anecdotes and funny experiences. Care to share one with us?
These anecdotes and cultural faux-pas are what feeds my blog and my book!
But, I’ll never forget when I went to Parma as an intern in college. I went to a bar and ordered a fresh-squeezed orange juice (one of the best things you can absolutely order up in the Bel Paese). I was shocked to see that the orange juice I was served was a very very strange dark color, as if the oranges had gone bad and this was the soupy residual squeezed right into my glass. I left the full glass on the counter…and it would be years before I discovered the bounty of blood red oranges as the elixir of the gods that it is!
Which three tips would you like to give future expats before they embark on their new life in Italy?
- Make sure you always have lots of change
- Just because it looks familiar doesn’t mean it acts the same
- Never ever take ‘No” (the most familiar form of response to any query) for an answer
How is the expat community in Italy? Did you have a hard time finding like-minded people or fellow expats?
Rome today, like in ancient times is a massive crossroads of people from all cultures. So, you can find expats just about everywhere (one friend I met in the shoe repair store, we call each other ‘solemates’. In fact, I once read a study that expats are all a sort of breed in amongst themselves…it takes a different sort of person to pack up & move to a foreign place, and we all find ourselves quite quickly. There are tons of events made easier to find thru facebook and other sites. And, after having lived years in New York City, I could say it’s far far easier to meet like-minded people as an expat, and develop a nice niche with locals as well.
How would you summarize your expat life in Italy in a single, catchy sentence?
The life of an expat is terrific if you like to live close to the edge – You no longer belong truly to any single tribe, and so you can get away with not being where you’re from, and not quite belonging to where you are.