Living the Dream: A New Life in Italy

Oltre i confini dello stivale esiste “l’Italian dream”, ossia il sogno da parte degli stranieri di venire a vivere in Italia. Nonostante gli alti e bassi della crisi, l’inestricabile burocrazia e l’indecifrabile politica, tantissime sono le testimonianze di chi ha fatto dell’Italia la propria dimora fissa e che la sceglierebbe altre mille volte. Ad essere innamorati del Bel Paese sono soprattutto gli americani, affascinati dall’arte, dalla cultura e dal vivere quotidiano nelle metropoli, nelle cittadine e nei borghi di cui amano le persone, la bellezza dei paesaggi,  l’arte, la storia, la cultura e, cucina! Tutti, inoltre, ritengono che sia un ambiente sicuro e con poca delinquenza rispetto ad altri paesi.

I wonder how many readers of La Gazzetta dream of owning property in Italy and living their dream? Well, I have done precisely that and have many tales to tell about the bureaucracy, the taxes, the neighbors, and moving in; but that is just the beginning. I have never regretted my decision to buy a flat in the Veneto despite well-meaning advice warning against it, but I now know that what makes my life there perfect is more than just having an apartment and a view from the balcony of hills and vineyards.

Essential for my happiness is a sense of belonging, being part of the community. Here are a few observations about making a perfect new life in Italy.

Learn the language. I am not saying you need to be fluent; I am very far from that and am constantly aware of the mistakes I make when I try to chat, but the important thing is to communicate. I find that Italians are always pleased, and sometimes surprised, to hear foreigners try to speak their language.

Remember that, especially in a small place, you might be the only foreign resident so they will be curious about you and everyone will know who you are. Don't be shy. Introduce yourself and offer a bit of personal information. Italians love to gossip. In my village they all know when I'm in residence because the shutters are open. Seasonal gifts usually follow my arrival: a basket of cherries; tomatoes and aubergines; apricots; hazelnuts. I feel cherished, or even spoiled, but I love it! 

It's important to become part of local life. I joined the library when I first arrived and got to know the librarian well enough to ask for advice about anything that was puzzling me. 

I subsequently learned that there was a local demand for English lessons and that the library would be the ideal venue, so my English Conversation Group began on Wednesday evenings and happens whenever I'm in residence. Now in its 10th year, it's very popular and great fun. We play word games, do role-play exercises, read newspaper cuttings of interesting items, or practice specifics to help someone who's going on holiday to the UK or the U.S.

Through the conversation group, I've made many friends who invite me to events or suggest things I might like to know about, because they know how curious I am about Italian life. I have helped with grape picking (sometimes paid in bottles!) and the olive harvest. I have tried the very basic local mud cure as I was assured it is "the best mud in Italy." (This turned out to be the perfect title for my book about my Italian adventures.) Someone in my group has a passion for cows and invited me to a malga (mountain refuge hut) in the Dolomites to learn about his prize-winning cheese. He even asked me if I wanted to kill a pig and make sausages, but I haven't taken things to that extreme yet!

My book about becoming absorbed into local Italian life led to an invitation from the library book club at the U.S. army base in Vicenza. I had an invitation to speak to a fascinating group of people and I found myself in the embarrassing position of speaking to enthusiastic readers who knew more about my life than I did! The librarian has now become one of my dearest friends in the Veneto.

Once a year in May, the village celebrates the importance of its ancient 12th century canal and holds a Canale Fiorito Festival where all the banks and bridges are decorated with flowers and visitors can take rides on decorated barges up to the local castle and back. 

When I first arrived, I looked around the market stalls and decided they were pretty much the same as anywhere else in Italy. I had a conversation with our Councillor for Culture about new ideas. I realized that people were very interested in the few English items I had brought for my flat and offered to fill a small market stall with Cose Inglesi. The logistics of doing this have provided me with many a happy day finding little treasures in charity shops and car boot sales and have given us the opportunity to explore new places across Europe on our way driving to Italy once a year with a car full of assorted bric a brac. I love the days spent at my market stall, chatting to locals and explaining the purpose of curious items. The final bonus is that my profits help to pay my Italian taxes.

Meeting people in the library, the streets or local shops can be a source of great pleasure. Chatting to the last bargeman of the canal which runs through the village introduced me to the history of the place and I began to take interest in his little museum. Somehow, they seem to believe that I am an exotic who can make things happen. When he asked me to help to save it because funding had run out, I had an inspiration. Why not twin his museum of inland navigation with an English canal museum? It wasn't hard to tempt my fellow countrymen to link up with a canal museum near Venice and funding then flowed in because of international recognition. A grateful museum presented me with a walnut forcola, a curious structure to hold an oar which now has pride of place in my flat.

Who knows what new discoveries I'll make this year? Despite warnings from my friends that I would grow bored with always returning to the same place, I don't at all. Each return visit brings new friends and experiences and a feeling that I have increased my understanding of Italian life by becoming an ever more involved member of the local community.