Whitney: Texana in Italia
Please tell us a little bit about yourself. Who you are, where you come from, when you moved to Rome, etc.
My name is Whitney and I previously worked for six years in the education department of a contemporary art museum in my home state of Texas. I’ve always enjoyed foreign languages and travel. I studied French in high school and college and visited France whenever possible. However, I met a French speaking Italian while in Texas and after dating for some time we decided that his return to Rome was a step we should take together. We had a year to prepare and during that time I enrolled in the American University of Rome. We flew to Rome at the end of December in 2008 with my two orange tabbies under our feet on the flight.
When and why did you decide to start blogging about your experiences?
One month prior to leaving for Rome I began my blog. I saw it as a means to inform both family and friends of my life and experiences abroad. I realize now that it helped assuage the anxiety and tension that mounted before departure, and it has remained an intrinsic outlet that allows me to share my joys, struggles, fears and discoveries.
Do you have any favorite blog entries of yours?
Yes, I have a few: Olive Picking, a Matter of Course and Love...long distance. They are very different, but reflect the pendulum of emotion that exists in life and definitely in the expat experience. Olive Picking… is an honest depiction of an authentic, Italian experience, and one that reflects what some people may imagine or fantasize as being typical in Italy, while Love…Long Distance reveals the frustration and occasional heartache that is a given when embarking on an adventure far away from loved ones, especially Mothers.
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?
Things eventually settle down and you obtain a certain amount of equilibrium, but it takes time and then there are always new events or experiences that can jostle your resolve all over again, but the biggest change for me is lack of space. I am definitely accustomed to and more comfortable with wide open spaces, and big cities in the U.S. and Texas are relatively large and sprawling. It is something I complained about back home—the waste of space, yet I was not habituated to what that actually means.
Also, not driving or owning a vehicle that belongs to me is a huge change. I really miss taking off in my own car. I find myself dependent on other people or the Roman city transit system, not an easy adjustment for a “lone cowgirl”. Other differences emerge all over the place and don’t always present themselves immediately, some greater, some smaller; like what it actually feels like to rarely see a movie in your native language, or tiring of pasta and pizza no matter how much you thought you never would. You inevitably do at times. And I constantly wrestle with nostalgia for things about home.
Do you think you were fully prepared for what awaited you in Rome? If you could, would you change some decisions/preparations you made?
Even Romans are not fully prepared for what lies in wait in Rome, yet that is part of the beauty of the “Eternal City”, anything’s possible. To try and plan for all the possible pitfalls, roadblocks and inconveniences would consume a lifetime, and you can never plan how you will feel. I knew beforehand that it would be difficult, lonesome and uncomfortable at times, but I also knew it would be exciting, new, entertaining and educational. I definitely wish I knew more of the Italian language prior to moving, that would have helped me feel more confident and in control in many situations that were either confusing or isolating due to language. The fantastic thing is that Italians are very forgiving and helpful when it comes to speaking their language, you will always receive an encouraging “piano piano”.
Every expat knows that expat life comes with some hilarious anecdotes and funny experiences. Care to share one with us?
Language blunders are frequent and an endless source of laughs, and yes at my expense. I’ve confused agnello (lamb) with anello (ring) by saying that I was looking for a lamb to buy in a jewelry store. And the most comical experiences have arisen in situations that you are unable to decipher and navigate either due to intricate cultural cues or of course, language. Once outside of Rome, in a quaint village where my husband’s family has a home, an elderly man approached me as I was sitting in the back seat of our car with the door open. He pleasantly struck up a one-sided conversation and surmised that I was from the big city—Rome. He rattled off Italian dialect, smiled and leaned in to give a big squeeze to my upper thigh which was bare when I was seated in my shorts, and then bid me farewell. My husband was putting something in the trunk during this exchange, yet the old timer ignored him completely. My husband told me afterward that the “anziano” was being rather fresh, but I missed all of that. I asked my husband why he let old man squeeze my upper thigh and his eyes went wide, he had not realized that the little man with the cane had been so bold. I was at first annoyed, but then we just burst into laughter. Now we joke about my “boyfriend” whenever we return.
Which three tips would you like to give future expats before they embark on their new life in Rome?
- Study the language as much as possible in your situation before moving, this will help with all kinds of interactions, from buying groceries to preparing a rental contract. Italians like paperwork so there is no shortage of complicated literature to read.
- Be patient, with your chosen city, country, countrymen and especially yourself.
- When things become overwhelming and you feel like giving in, remember why you came to Rome, the aspects that you love about it. Don’t lose sight of those charms, whether it is the food, art, architecture, or people. Daily living is not like vacation, but don’t let that prevent you from reveling in the simple pleasures that the city has to offer. You must allow yourself respite from quotidian challenges.
How is the expat community in Rome? Did you have a hard time finding like-minded people or fellow expats?
Rome has a large and lively expat community and it is possible to join several different groups that have weekly or monthly meetings. I was fortunate and met people at the university where I attended. There were many American students, but also students from all over the world. Meeting classmates and some expat professors helped smooth my transition into Roman life. It is always helpful to meet and know others who have gone through or are going through the same set of experiences and emotions that you are.
How would you summarize your expat life in Rome in a single, catchy sentence?
Piano piano (little by little), Rome etches its signature deeper into my heart, mind and soul.