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Tag Archives: Italian culture

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. 

 

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Things are different here

31 Mar
After almost two years here, we have different patterns and habits, routines we have adopted that have become second nature. I had pause to think about some of them recently and thought I would share with you some things we do in Italy that we did not/could not/would not do in the U.S.
  1. Eat pizza with a knife and fork
    Very fresh Mozzarella di Bufala is key!

    Very fresh Mozzarella di Bufala is key!

  2. Spend an hour-and-a-half each day commuting to & from work…on foot
  3. Walk to dinner — an hour from home — just because it’s a beautiful night
  4. Take a taxi home from dinner
  5. Car-Sharing!
  6. Kiss my boss when arriving at his home for a party (il bacetto, “the little kiss”)
  7. Say “Ciao bello/Ciao bella” to, well, almost everyone
  8. Give our building super/doorman/manager a tip for Easter, Christmas and Ferragosto. Oh that’s right; we didn’t have a portiere in Portland!
  9. Have dinner with a dog (he was next to us in the restaurant, and very well-behaved)
  10. Decide to walk instead of waiting for the bus because the transit tracker app says the bus is still 25 minutes away and it only takes 20 minutes to walk home.
  11. Shrug my shoulders when the bus that was 25 minutes away passes me 5 minutes later. Whaddya gonna do?
  12. Janie trots out the door under a watchful eye....

    Janie trots out the door under a watchful eye….

    Let our cats play in the elevator lobby and call it “enrichment”
  13. Worry when the crazy unfortunate man next door stops yelling…then find myself relieved when he starts yelling again because it means he’s OK.
  14. Get our groceries delivered: Best thing ever. (Remember Homegrocer.com? Way ahead of its time!) Here it’s a guy with a tiny truck or un motorino delivering the stuff we bought at the store an hour ago. Essential when you drink wine buy heavy bottles of beverages and do not have a car.
  15. Keep a restaurant list online because I so often am asked “Where should we eat in Rome?”
  16. Be kissed by waiters (il bacetto) at favorite restaurants
  17. See Ric kissed by & kiss friends, waiters, co-workers – yes by men too
  18. Worry someone will see me without make-up and think I am una brutta figura on Saturday morning
  19. Do something because it makes me una bella figura
  20. New Year's Eve Vespers with Papa F! We were right on the aisle. Ric snapped this pic with his phone.

    New Year’s Eve Vespers with Papa F! We were right on the aisle. Ric snapped this pic with his phone.

    Only buy fish on Tuesday and Friday because that’s when it’s fresh
  21. Plan meals around what is actually fresh in the market and local, not what I feel like eating that was shipped in from another continent
  22. Go to mass and see the Pope!

  23. Write a blog
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