If my last post was any indicator, you may have noted that I’ve had a pretty sh*t week. Almost every day this week was one of those I’d-like-to-take-Italy-and-stuff-it-into-a-soccer-ball-and-punt-it-into-space kinda days.
I know I’ve promised my readers an #EVAitaly level 10 story (if you don’t know what that is, check the link), full of venom spewing quips about the ridiculousness of all Italians. HOWEVER, in an effort to stay on the happy side of life, I’ve decided that I should first point the finger at myself… (and then point it at this country . Oh yeah, there will be pointing! Don’t think this little gesture of apparent conscientiousness gets you off the hook, Italy!).
SO, let’s all breathe and take a look at some of the crazy crap we Americans in Italy try to pull, shall we? More specifically, let’s look at some of the crap I pull or have pulled since arriving in this fine land:
1. I have not yet taken a real Italian language course.
Ok, keep your pants on. I do speak Italian. And I don’t think I have as horrible of an accent as I could, hailing from Texas. And I only use Itanglish for its comedic purposes when speaking in English, not in actual Italian conversation.
But I only speak Italian because I studied French in school. When I got here, I basically applied an Italian accent to the grammar rules of French and attempted to catch on to the rest. I never took a class or sat in a lesson (with the exception of a free course offered by the comune for immigrants that shall have to be addressed in another post – I would NOT call it a language course). I did a couple of casual language exchanges with friends wanting to learn English, but nothing really structured. Nothing that even came close to addressing conditional, conjunctive, subjunctive, etc.
I have been hiding behind the advantage I grew up with: two language-teaching, translator-trained parents. Languages were just always around as I was growing up, so I picked up Italian the way you pick up walking or riding a bike.
I fall occasionally, but I get by.
The result is that now I speak conversational Reggiano Italian. What does that mean? It means I can only use Present and Passato Prossimo verb tenses, because that’s all that’s used in conversation here. It means that the array of slang that I have picked up is all in the “cazzo” and “Dio ______” realm, as opposed to (for example) the “figo” realm like in Parma. It means that any time I have to write something, my marito has to check it… and then laugh.
It’s really my own damn fault for not just sitting my tush down in an Italian language course. But I don’t want to. I don’t have time and I don’t have motivation, and so I remain here… at fault for not immersing myself as much as I could in the language.
There. See? Pointing the finger at myself.
2. For the first 4 years here, I isolated myself and remained dependent on my marito.
When I first arrived in Italy, I was presented with the incredibly difficult task of trying to make friends in a small town, in a different language, in a strange country, and with people who already had their group pretty well defined.
It sucked hard.
I attempted a few dinners out with girls, but I felt like they were just judging me (they were). I attempted to follow my husband’s crowd around town, but I felt like a pathetic tag-along (I was).
It was really really hard, and so after a few months, I gave up. I found it easier to isolate myself than to put myself out there and try to make friends. Much of it was a language barrier issue (see the importance of above).
I felt like I couldn’t possibly make friends if I couldn’t crack a joke in Italian. DO YOU KNOW HOW HARD IT IS TO BE FUNNY IN ITALIAN? It’s ridiculous. They don’t get sarcasm and making puns is tricky when you’re learning the language. It took me about 4 years to realize that one thing everyone DID find funny was the concept of an American in this tiny little town. Slowly, but surely, I’ve now harassed a few girls into being my friends.
But it took me a LONG time.
Lesson of the story – don’t give up. I lost a lot of time there.
3. I expected to change their minds.
It ain’t never gonna change, so get over it.
There will never come a day when Italians wake up one morning and decide to meet all their afternoon deadlines. There will never come a day when an Italian public administration office revamps its filing system to require less paper. There will never come a day when you can hire a plumber based on a Yelp review, instead of La Famiglia’s.
Just get over it.
I know that you’re reading this, and you may even think you’re understanding what I’m saying. I read something like this years ago when I arrived in Italy. And I, too, thought I was understanding. But I still had to go through the inevitable phases of submitting to the system:
- and eventual submission.
Like a mother pleading with her teenage daughter not to make the same mistake she made of sleeping with the quarterback of the football team*, I am pleading with you to skip the first two phases. Yet I know that you will do it anyway. You’ll get hurt. You’ll be upset. And then you’ll get over it.
It’s a part of immigrant life.
* Mom, I did not sleep with the quarterback of the football team. The metaphor was just a result of creative license and Texan cultural influence. He wasn’t the quarterback; I think he was a receiver. Just kidding. 🙂
4. I thought I could make it on my own.
I’ve always been a very independent person. I have no problem with the concept of holding down 4 jobs to make enough money to pay rent. So when we arrived here, to the apartment my marito owns outright, I thought we were going to have it super easy. No rent! Whoohooo! Party time!
If this website had a big red buzzer, I would hit it now.
I could go into all the details, but it would make this even longer than necessary. Just listen to me:
The way it works here ; the way the system functions, the way the culture operates – does not allow for independence in the way that we are used to it in America. Now stop being outraged by that statement, and listen again.
All the resources you need already exist in a communal form within La Famiglia. USE THEM. Don’t try to be a hero and do it all yourself. You might as well go find a brick wall and smash your head into it all day.
USE La Famiglia and the help that they are not only willing to give, but that they feel obliged and honored to give. Denying their help is just prolonging the inevitable and offending them in the process.
5. I have been known to tell fairy tales.
It is incredibly tempting to fall into the role that has been assigned to you by folks back home:
“My friend, M, lives a total fairy tale life! She met an Italian in Australia, fell in love, and moved to his small town in Italy. They got married in the mountains and they just bought land next to a castle that looks like Heaven itself. She is sooooo lucky.”
THIS is the reason that depression is on the rise – Facebook envy. If you look at my personal Facebook account, sure, that’s what you see. Yay, how great for me.
My first 4 years here in Italy, I didn’t tell anyone at all about the bad stuff. Even when I did, it somehow came off as cute and quaint, instead of frustrating and soul-wrenching. It’s partially because it was easier that way – to play into people’s expectations. It seems no matter what happens in Italy (Berlusconi trials come to mind), the general reaction from Americans is: “Oh, that silly Italy. I can’t wait to go on a gondola ride in Venice!“.
In fact, it wasn’t until I started writing here that I started telling the truth about crap that frustrates me here in Italy. And, of course, it’s always a fine line that you tread between addressing difficult realities and just bitching about life.
I suspect that in reaction to this, there will be some who say “M, shut up, you live it Italy – why can’t you just be positive?“. And there will be others who say, “M, you’re being too polite. This place sucks the soul out of me“.
To the former I would respond: “I am a positive, optimistic person, asshole. Go sprinkle glitter on someone else.” To the latter I would respond, “Suck it up or leave; those seem like the two options you’ve got.”
Or, do like I’m doing: talk it out. I find that it helps immensely.