Natalie: An American In Rome
Please tell us a little bit about yourself. Who you are, where you come from, when you moved to Rome, etc.
My name in Natalie and I am in my late 20s. I moved to Rome in September of 2010 to attend graduate school and though my degree program has ended, I stuck around. I’m from Southern California, so I am part of a small dissident group that refers to Roman winters as being “too cold”.
When and why did you decide to start blogging about your experiences?
I started blogging before I moved out of pure frustration with the lack of transparency around the visa process. I could not find any information online and I was getting conflicting requests from the consulate in regard to what documents I was required to submit. I wanted to have a record of the process for myself and others.
Do you have any favorite blog entries of yours?
Perhaps “Does it Snow in Rome” because it was such a lovely experience to wander the streets in the early morning when everything was quiet, peaceful and covered in a light dusting of snow. But most of my favorites are based around favorite foods, like gelato and pizza and even strawberries.
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?
It’s less culture shock and more a realization that there are things that I simply do not understand. When you grow up somewhere, you learn the unspoken rules of polite society. You inherently “get” how things work. For me, I have to re-learn all those societal norms that are simply not normal to me. When I order a coffee or a glass of wine, I need to clarify with the waiter: Do I pay now or later? Or if I’m shopping: Can I touch this? I still sometimes get uneasy that I am going to do/say the wrong thing, but I also know enough to just go with it and give sheepish straniera smile if I overstep some poorly defined boundary.
Do you think you were fully prepared for what awaited you in Rome? If you could, would you change some decisions/preparations you made?
Perhaps my attempt to over-plan resulted in a rather soft landing in Italy. Looking back, I probably would have opened an Italian bank account sooner if I had known it was less scary/ overwhelming. I also would have learned to drive stick! You can forget about coming across many automatic transmissions in these parts.
Every expat knows that expat life comes with some hilarious anecdotes and funny experiences. Care to share one with us?
I managed to get into linguistic trouble within an hour of moving to Italy. The kind airport shuttle driver attempted to engage my very jetlagged self in conversation. He commented on the amount of luggage I had, and asked how long I was staying in Italy.
“Un’ano!” I happily cried, delighted that I could understand the question.
Then he laughed. And laughed. And laughed. And when he finally caught his breath, he explained I meant something different.
“Un’anno,” he enunciated, still grinning. “Do you understand? Anno.”
“Grazie!” I returned. “ANNO!”
When I got four bags up one flight of stairs, met the landlord and was finally in my very own Roman apartment, the first thing I unpacked was my dictionary.
Ano. Anno. My heart sank when I realized that the two n’s made a difference.
“How long will you be here?” The driver had asked.
“Oh, an anus!” I had replied.
To this day, I wish Italian friends a happy new year very carefully.
Which three tips would you like to give future expats before they embark on their new life in Rome?
- Learn as much Italian as you can before you come, and then enroll in classes or a language exchange when you arrive. The language will make all the difference in terms of your experience really living in Italy.
- Be ready for sticker shock. The cost of living in Rome is high. You will either need to forgo the central location or be ready to fork out the rent to live in the center. The wine is affordable but gas (both for the car and home) will set you back a pretty penny.
- Keep in touch with your old life as well. As amazing as your new Roman life will be, your friends and family back home will be a crucial lifeline if/when the distance or the culture shock overwhelms you.
How is the expat community in Rome? Did you have a hard time finding like-minded people or fellow expats?
It was not at all difficult to meet like-minded expats. In fact, the opposite. There is a wonderfully supportive group of expats in Rome. The challenging part is not relying upon that network too heavily. Don’t make friends with only English-speakers. Take the time and invest in building local friendships as well.
How would you summarize your expat life in Rome in a single, catchy sentence?
A bit of wine, a dose of sarcasm, and a whole lot of patience.