Missing the U.S.A.

19 Jun
19 June 2016. There must be something in the air causing ex-pat Americans in Italy to miss America.  I am pretty certain it isn’t Trump, Clinton or Sanders conjuring up the emotional response to missing the homeland, but a rash of articles, blogs, and posts to Facebook broke out in the past couple of weeks.
We’ve now been in Rome four years (as of May 18, 2016) and retired for one (as of May 19). We have found the experience as true ex-pats, outside the protective bubble of the embassy, to put us more in touch with what it is really like to live here. And yet we do not have to face many of the challenges working Italians that are raising families face. We have no pesky jobs.
Still, I have to say from time-to-time I get a little maudlin about not being in the United States. Rome is so beautiful and a delight to walk through when people aren’t knocking you off the sidewalk, but there are a few things from the U.S. that I miss so very much.
Clothes dryers
Drying rack on our terrace. It faces south, so when the weather is good the drying is fast. That's Libby in the foreground.

Drying rack on our terrace. It faces south, so when the weather is good the drying is fast. That’s Libby in the foreground.

You can try to romanticize the fresh-air drying, clothes warmed by the sun, blah, blah, blah. The truth is, all we have is a terrace with a rack from IKEA. The clothes come out stiff. I have never ironed so much in my life. There is nothing fresh about the motorino-scented air of Roma and if I leave them out too long, they gather pollen and dust. 
In winter, we have to hang clothes on a smaller rack in our second bedroom because they won’t dry in the cold and not enough sun hits the terrace. Drying bed sheets can take 24 hours. Give me a good old tumble dryer! We had one in our embassy apartment but running one is cost-prohibitive for the average person. Plus, there’s not room for one in our apartment.  
Ethnic food
Yes, we love Italian food. We can (and do) eat it day and night, but we miss the diversity of Peruvian, Mexican, Lebanese, Thai, Japanese, Vietnamese, and Indian available in most great cities. Certainly some are available in Roma. We’ve tried Thai in Roma and just was not comparable to anything we get in the U.S., although there is an excellent Lebanese place. On our recent trip through Switzerland, we managed to find excellent Mexican, Vietnamese, and Indian food. Oh, yeah, we had Italian, too. 
It is also challenging to find certain ingredients. I have been seeking fresh cilantro for 4 years. No dice. 
Understanding what is going on around me most of the time
How wondrous it would be to not only understand the words but also most of the pop culture references. Italian journalistic style takes some getting used to. Reading the paper is a chore for me, and I can understand the TV news only if I sit and watch it, completely focused, so I don’t. 
Family and friends and easy visits
Seeing family means an awfully big trip for one of us. We have American friends in Roma, but it is a transient community. In fact, our closest friends of the last two years are leaving this summer. 
Pedestrian-friendly sidewalks
Walking down the sidewalk is a full-body-contact sport in Roma. In the U.S. sidewalks are wide and level.  In the U.S. foot traffic moves more smoothly because there are norms. People in most cities, whether Paris or Portland, stay right or move over well in advance of any possible impact. In Roma, five people walking together expect to walk abreast of one another regardless of oncoming traffic. They gather in large groups in the middle of the sidewalk blocking passage while carrying on a conversation. People barge out of shop doors without glancing left or right. Add the bancarelli (sidewalk vendors) and cars parked on the sidewalks, and you get the picture: There’s little space left for pedestrians. 


A classic example of Roman parking: across the sidewalk, on a pedestrian crossing, in a school zone. I'm sure s/he was only going to be a couple of minutes...

A classic example of Roman parking: across the sidewalk, on a pedestrian crossing, in a school zone. I’m sure s/he was only going to be a couple of minutes…

This is our street. We live in the orangey-pink building on the left. Note the tow-away zone yet cars parked half-on-half-off the sidewalk. There is a sticker on the sign right below the arrow that says "Capito?" Ha! Never, ever do they enforce the parking law here.

This is our street. We live in the orangey-pink building on the left. Note the tow-away zone yet cars parked half-on-half-off the sidewalk. There is a sticker on the sign right below the arrow that says “Capito?” Ha! Never, ever do they enforce the parking law here.


Things working and making sense
  • Buses have no schedule because the traffic is heavy and double-parking is so rampant that the bus cannot keep to a schedule. AND the bus drivers are willy-nilly about departures from the top-of-the-route, so often 2 or 3 buses on the same line are within 5 or 10 minutes of one another and then there will be no bus for 45 minutes. WTF? Funny how in Paris you can set your watch to the bus. In Paris, the parking laws are enforced. How novel.  
  • Websites with an “events” page last updated in 2013
  • Stores that close for the afternoon just about when you have time to actually go shopping, and Post Office hours that are 8:35 to 13:05.
  • Parking in the pedestrian crossings, or on sidewalks, or anywhere the driver damn well feels like it. Arrrggghhhhh!
  • Needing to pay the cable company when we disconnect service. Yup, it costs €200 to disconnect and 60 days notice to do so. We might just test this program by not following the rules….
We recently took a cab home from Stazione Termini and the driver was incredulous that we choose to live in Roma. “Why?” he asked. “America is great. Everything works! Italy is a third-world country!” Even Italians know things don’t work here as well as in the U.S.
Talbots, Zappos, & Nordstrom
I miss my favorite stores and online shopping. We have Amazon.it (not good for clothes), and Lands End U.K. (which is good for clothes). I hate going from one tiny store to another looking for something. 
Going out to breakfast now-and-then
Real American smoked bacon is missing from my life. Along with fluffy omelets and breakfast potatoes. I don’t need them often, but more often than twice in four years would be great. 
Reading the Sunday paper (You still have them, right?)
Still we are privileged to live here. In May, we celebrated four years in Rome. Il tempo vola! My grievances are so-called First World Problems. The food in Italy is terrific, the coffee unbeatable, and the wine both excellent and inexpensive. After a recent 7-night stay in Switzerland where we practically had to sell our blood to afford wine, Italy looks mighty affordable. Our rent is less than we’d pay in Portland and we have trains
We do miss you, though, America! Baci to our friends and family. 


29 Responses to “Missing the U.S.A.”

  1. Barb Shogren August 1, 2016 at 17:57 #

    I so get it. So many of your comments were the same frustrations I had while living in Italy albeit 44 years ago!

    Although we were there with the military and had PX and Commissary privileges we lived off base on the economy. Drying clothes was a huge frustration. Many times I had to wash the baby clothes twice cause they took so long to dry they soured and when dry they were so rough that I had to iron them all to soften them. You didn’t mention the extremely small refrigerators and no screens.

    Here I am though, living part of the year in Roatan, Honduras, another 3rd world country! Go figure! By the way you and Ric are welcome anytime we are there.

    We now call the states “the land of stuff” and these days when I return I rejoice that I have my own car and there are many stores close at hand where I can buy “stuff” I need, or think I need.


    • gooddayrome August 2, 2016 at 05:08 #

      “Land of Stuff” indeed! That is both a good thing and a not-so-good thing, isn’t it? I do not miss having a car and actually am sorry to think we need will need to have one again. It’s just too easy to hop in a car instead of walking!

      Thanks for the invitation to Roatan. I think we’ll soak up a little USA First World luxury first!


  2. Trisha Thomas July 2, 2016 at 09:06 #

    Thank you for this post Laurel. I think there is a tendency among many people who write about Italy (me included sometimes) to romanticize everything….it’s all wine, food, Roman Ruins, Fiat Cinque Centos, Motorini, sunshine etc. Basta. I agree with absolutely everything on your list. I raised three children in this country without a dryer and paid a woman to handle all the washing and ironing. As you say, the sidewalks are a nightmare — I have been here over 20 years and there has been improvement on one front. It used to be that you could not take 10 steps without sticking your foot in dog poop. I used to walk from my apartment to the park with my three kids and everyday between house and park either one foot or a stroller wheel or something would always get covered in dog poop. Italians/Romans are now becoming more responsible about cleaning up. The bus service is still atrocious — no one ever pays for their tickets and no one ever checks, and the parking situation is ridiculous. I agree on the American breakfasts — I miss them. The coffee in Italy is great but I get tired of always standing at the coffee bar and throwing back my coffee in a hurry. Like you, I also miss the Sunday paper. Long leisurely Sunday breakfasts with waffles and the Sunday New York Times was a tradition in my family when I was growing up. None of that here. And finally, I also miss my family in the US. There is no getting around it, it is very expensive to fly back and forth from the US. I go at least once a year, and my family members try to come visit me, but it is not easy. So yes, I am missing the USA too.


    • gooddayrome July 2, 2016 at 13:50 #

      Thank you, Trisha, for your personalized reply. I always love your stories and your comments here are no exception.

      We are spending a month in Ortisei and cannot help but wonder if we’d settled here if we’d be quite so jaded as we are after four years in Roma. Ortisei is a delightful blend of Austrian efficiency and cleanliness mixed with liberal amounts of Italian food, sociality, and willingness to slow down and enjoy the day. Everyone validates on the buses. (Roma would make MILLIONS if they required that.) I’d still miss the U.S., though.

      Thanks for reading!


  3. Sarah Campbell June 22, 2016 at 17:02 #

    I really enjoyed this post – an honest look at the reality of your adopted country. I have only visited Italy for 3 weeks (no dryer and it took forever in October for clothes to dry) but would like to spend a few months there once I retire. Posts like this help people make informed decisions, you can’t be on “vacation” forever. Thanks so much.


    • gooddayrome June 22, 2016 at 17:33 #

      Thank you for visiting and reading! I would encourage anyone to visit for a long stay — note you cannot exceed 90 days in the Schengen Zone without a visa — and once we return to the U.S. we will be back for long-ish stays, too. But living as a resident is different. No, it is not always a vacation even when you are retired!


  4. mvaden1948 June 20, 2016 at 17:40 #

    Just want you to know Laurel, that even though they still publish the Seattle Sunday paper I no longer bother with it because it isn’t worth the price. It’s about the size of a daily. And everything in it (except coupons) is available online.

    Liked by 1 person

    • gooddayrome June 20, 2016 at 17:44 #

      Sad to see. I miss the Sunday comics. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

      • mvaden1948 June 20, 2016 at 18:24 #

        I do too but they just weren’t worth $2.50 which was the price the last time I bought it. And the travel section all but disappeared.

        Liked by 1 person

  5. John Henderson June 20, 2016 at 12:23 #

    Nice nostalgia, but it didn’t hit with me. I still find romance drying my clothes on my big terrace. It gives me one more excuse to hang out and look out at the Tiber and tree-lined Lungotevere Testaccio. Yes, the bus system is as dependable as the stock market but I lived my whole American life in the West. Public transportation all but didn’t exist. And when my girlfriend and I spend 30 minutes looking for a place to park her car, I’m even more thankful for Rome’s buses, however flawed. American breakfasts? Bingo. You got me there. Italians don’t go out for breakfasts. Which is why they’re so fit and the Americans waiting outside designer breakfast joints need two chairs to sit waiting for a table. But find me an American pastry as good as a chocolate cornetto and I might move back. Things I miss about America: Clif Bars, college football, cable TV shows and my Jacuzzi. That’s about it.


    • gooddayrome June 20, 2016 at 17:49 #

      Give it a couple more years, John. The glow may dim.

      I must say, we miss many things about Italy when we are outside of her but are on wonderment upon return that people put up with some of the defects. Here’s hoping the new mayor can make a dent in Rome’s public service issues!


  6. Marcia Kakiuchi June 20, 2016 at 04:35 #

    Your cat looks sooo happy outside on the veranda. I find it so interesting that the area just doesn’t have clothes dryers as a norm. I would think with much humidity at all, clothes would take just forever to dry outside or inside!

    I do agree with the sidewalks being so crowded AND the locals (or visitors) seemingly being unaware of who or what is around them. I found that prevalent in Europe on my trips, in South America (Brazil in particular!), Mexico…and basically in the good ole USA Fred Meyer’s! What’s happened to our societies…too into themselves and their iPhones to care about anyone else around them!!!

    Your experiences are just masterful especially since you’ve had longer than a normal 2 weeks vacation to get to know the culture enough to have an informed opinion!!!!!!


    • gooddayrome June 20, 2016 at 05:38 #

      The cats do love the terrace, especially when it is too hot to move.

      The problem with dryers is that electricity is insanely expensive and space is limited. We don’t know where we’d put one if we had one. In winter, it takes a long time to dry jeans, towels and sheets indoors. (And a lot of space!) In summer, between hot sun and the afternoon breeze called the “ponentino” that helps cool the city, laundry dries pretty quickly.

      You are right about everyone having their heads in their phones! However, we noticed that in London, Paris, small Swiss towns, and even Milano, people sort of anticipate sidewalk traffic and move out of your way. Not here!


      • mvaden1948 June 20, 2016 at 17:38 #

        The apartment I love in Venice has a combo washer/dryer for clothes. “If” you figure out how to set it correctly it will dry as well as wash but it takes forever…especially jeans. Since there is a cleaning lady who comes and changes towels and bed linens once a week I had no experience of trying to wash and dry the king sized sheets but doubt they would fit in the tiny machine. I took to putting up my travel clothesline and hanging my undies in the bathroom (which is large by Italian standards) it was faster.

        Liked by 1 person

  7. Gayle Seely June 19, 2016 at 15:35 #

    I enjoyed this, Laurel, and I do agree they are all first world problems. But I have just come back from 3 weeks in Newport Beach, California, and I have similar feelings. For one thing, I spent a lot of time on the freeways in the Los Angeles area, which is always a trip after you have been away for a while, and I have decided that if California decided to actually enforce their speed ( and other driving ) laws, they would have a surplus instead of a huge deficit. But I do miss walking over to the Newport Pier. In NB they have wonderful grocery stores ( with probably hand grown cilantro ) but they are a hassle and a half to get to in the summer months: Bristol Farms makes Whole Foods look weak but on PCH ( Pacific Coast Highway ) it is bumper to bumper for the better part of an hour to get there. They have great Trader Joe’s – IF you are up for a good car ride. ( They are actually closer than ours here by mileage. ) So I end up going to Pavilions ( Safeway ). They have cilantro, and it is fresh, but not organic. Ethic food is all around – but, once again, you need to take your life in your hands to get to it. I was listening to the radio ( NPR ) up in Costa Mesa last trip and the traffic did one of those sudden accordion stopping things and I came THIS CLOSE to rear-ending a Lamborghini. I suspect repair prices for that would be almost Swiss. Anyway, I LOVE that you are living in Rome and having these problems. They are such interesting ones. And I think you will miss this, someday, when you are sitting inside after 6 weeks of rain and 40 degree temps. But thanks for sharing. And I suspect that if Italy ever got around to enforcing just their driving laws they, too, would have a surplus. IF they could manage to collect the fines.


    • gooddayrome June 20, 2016 at 05:32 #

      Oh, Amen to that! If Rome ticketed everyone who was illegally parked on a Saturday night, they’d balance the budget. Of course, they would have to collect those fines. That would be a challenge. At least our lifestyle allows us to avoid dreadful traffic and hour-long drives just to shop. Even if the bus doesn’t come, we can walk almost everywhere.


  8. Chloe Erkenbrecher June 19, 2016 at 13:18 #

    Try growing cilantro in pots on your terrace. If you keep it cut down, you might have luck with it and keep it producing, but it doesn’t appreciate hot weather. You would get good spring and fall crops however. We lived here for years without a drier but finally gave in and bought one. I think that we are the only people in town who can dry our clothes in cold, wet weather. Would a drier fit on your terrace? Of course, you would have to give up your cilantro.


    • gooddayrome June 19, 2016 at 13:25 #

      Haven’t found cilantro seeds or starts, either. Dryer on the terrace would be a tight fit, but no electrical there. Alas, we won’t be here forever. Thanks for being creative!


  9. Suvi June 19, 2016 at 10:04 #

    No fresh cilantro? OMG, I could not. I live in Finland and even here we have it.

    About the tumble dryer, I haven’t had one for six years but there’s light at the end of the tunnel, as we will soon be moving and getting one. I am looking forward to easier laundry days!

    This was a very interesting post, thank you ❤


    • gooddayrome June 19, 2016 at 10:35 #

      Thank you, Suvi! I have heard some people can find cilantro in other parts of Italy, but no luck here! We use ground coriander as best we can. I would buy a dryer but there is nowhere to put it in our little apartment!

      Liked by 1 person

      • Suvi June 19, 2016 at 11:57 #

        I also use the ground stuff for emergencies (I could add cilantro to anything, hehe) but unfortunately the taste is very bland compared to the real thing 😦


        • gooddayrome June 19, 2016 at 12:52 #

          I know! I miss the freshness. I used to grow it in Portland!

          Liked by 1 person

  10. Chloe Erkenbrecher June 19, 2016 at 09:23 #

    Maarja is correct. You will never again be totally American. You are not on a vacation in Italy, you have now been a resident of that country for several years and this has made you partially Italian in your thinking and way of life. I sometimes find I have more culture shock when I return to the US than when I return to France. I guess, when it comes down to it, I love being an American and being able to live in Europe also.


    • gooddayrome June 19, 2016 at 09:46 #

      Hi Chloe. We feel like we’ve had two major transitions: One from traveler to resident when we came over and had jobs at the Embassy, then a second more profound one when we left the loving embrace of the Embassy.

      As we have traveled this past year, we’ve spent more time outside of Italy than we had prior and were reminded of how much more organized other countries are. But Italy cannot seem to adopt systems that make sense. People want change but do not want to have to change.

      When we went back to the U.S. last August we were in culture shock! We missed so much about Italy, but reveled in how organized everything is.

      I would certainly never give up my passport!


  11. apollard June 19, 2016 at 08:04 #

    An Italian friend here with me in New Zealand commented that what they love most about not living in Italy is the clarity around the law. There is some laws, everyone knows what they are, everyone follows them. In Italy there are endless amounts of laws that are changed intermittently so no one quite knows what they currently are, has to have professional assistance to make sure they are doing their taxes right and many don’t even try to always be law abiding…interesting, is that your experience?


    • gooddayrome June 19, 2016 at 09:33 #

      In Rome, there are clearly people who think they are above-the-law with respect to parking. In over 4 years I have only seen the polizia issuing tickets 3 times. Everyone just parks where they want to, impeding buses and pedestrians. There is a narcissism to it. God forbid one would be in a wheelchair here and try to get around! Do they obey other laws, i.e., tax laws? Italian culture is renowned for being “furbo” and getting by with what one can and corruption is among the highest in the world. I have a theory that if they just enforced parking laws, maybe some of the others would be adhered to as well.

      Chaos reigns in so many areas: fighting to get on the bus or train before alighting passengers can exit; butting in line at the supermarket because you have fewer items than I do; not knowing how to form a line; walking down the street and not yielding to other walkers. But one-on-one people are very nice and go out-of-their-way to assist.

      Liked by 1 person

  12. Maarja June 19, 2016 at 06:04 #

    Yes Laurel I do understand this! You are now going to be people with a foot in two lands forever! It will be fun to exchange impressions when you are back in Portland! Bises Maarja

    Liked by 1 person

    • gooddayrome June 19, 2016 at 09:26 #

      Indeed, Maarja! When we are not in Italy we miss so many things Italian!



  1. We interrupt this move for a Swiss break | gooddayrome - October 13, 2016

    […] will miss our life in Italy yet in some ways we can hardly wait to get our butts on the plane. (See Missing the U.S.A.) We have a lot of little errands to do before we move back to Oregon, but most of them cannot be […]


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