Karen: Living Like a Tourist
Please tell us a little bit about yourself. Who you are, where you come from, when you moved to Rome, etc.
My name is Karen Mardelli. I speak Italian. I look Italian. My last name sounds Italian, and I have lived in Rome four separate times, totaling about 6 years, between 2000 and 2012. Despite all this, I am not Italian. Thus begins the complicated story of someone who feels at home in a place that is not her own. I am, in fact, an American of French-Canadian and Egyptian heritage. I am a Communications Specialist working with the UN Food and Agriculture Organization. Aside from working in international environments, my passions are writing, travel, photography, running and living new experiences. I haven’t figured out everything about myself or my path, but simply put, I know I am a writer.
When and why did you decide to start blogging about your experiences?
I started this current blog in 2009, a previous one in 2006. Life is more enjoyable and makes more sense to me when I write about it.
Do you have any favorite blog entries of yours?
Tell us about the ways your new life in Rome differs from that back home. Did you have trouble getting used to the new circumstances? Did you experience culture shock?
Rome is a vastly different place than anywhere else I have lived and certainly anywhere else in the US. I didn’t know I could love a place that was this crowded, dirty and loud. It is like New York City if you changed the backdrop to 300 AD and gave everyone a sedative. Living here is a totally different can of worms than visiting. On vacation in Rome, late and crowded buses, strikes and stores closed for no reason make little difference. In day-to-day life, it is like someone squeezing lemon on your paper cut; it won’t kill you, but it is really annoying. As someone who has lived here four separate times, however, I willingly admit that Rome gets under your skin. Something about the combination of sun, history, food and climate is intoxicating. Reason stops being reasonable.
Do you think you were fully prepared for what awaited you in Rome? If you could, would you change some decisions/preparations you made?
No, I was not fully prepared. I dove in head first and lived in awe for years. Like falling love, I am not sure you can prepare for life in Rome. Patience is the one tool I would recommend, and good walking shoes. Walking everywhere and escaping public transport is one of the greatest features of this city.
Every expat knows that expat life comes with some hilarious anecdotes and funny experiences. Care to share one with us?
I took four years of Italian in college, but REALLY learning Italian was a different story all together. One experience is of trying to find scotch tape in a mom and pop store. The rest of the story is here.
Which three tips would you like to give future expats before they embark on their new life in Rome?
- Make sure to sort out your paperwork before coming to the country; do bother with the Visas, ID cards, rights to stay etc. If you don’t, it can definitely come back to bite you in the butt.
- Sizes are different here: clothes, meals, coffee, apartments, and personal space are all smaller. Be prepared to give up some of these excesses.
- Everything you ever learned about Italy from Hollywood or Jersey Shore: flush it down the toilet. You can find the stereotypes, but Italy’s people, food and culture is much richer than anything portrayed by pop culture. In general, stereotypes can help you feel more comfortable and adjust to a scenario, but throw them out the window after day one.
How is the expat community in Rome? Did you have a hard time finding like-minded people or fellow expats?
Luckily, I have made a lot of expat friends from my work. In general, I have found expats to be open and interested in meeting others. Rome has a lot of very unique, very friendly people in the same situation.
How would you summarize your expat life in Rome in a single, catchy sentence?
Living in Rome is like looking through a kaleidoscope: every scene is colorful, beautiful, even addictive, but logically, your brain has a hard time making sense of it. Don’t try. Just enjoy the view.