Separated from Italy

So apparently my absence has been noted! I appreciate all the interest in my whereabouts and wellbeing, and I apologize for not explaining sooner.

Ahhh, where to start.

Whence last we spoke, back in October, I was very focused on cocktail creation. Why? Well, drinking helps, right? 🙂    K, maybe that humor is a little dark for the moment. Joking aside, the short and diplomatic version of my story over the past few months is this:

  • Owning a business is tough;
  • Inter-cultural marriage is tough;
  • Doing both in a foreign country is super tough.

In November, my husband and I followed through on Part A of our plan to expand our business into the American market. I moved to Denver, Colorado, and began setting up for our company. Part B of the plan is that he’ll join me at the end of 2016, and we’ll continue to operate between the US and Italy.

The distance from Reggio Emilia and my return to my home country have, however, had a somewhat unexpected effect.

I have returned to being me!

That may sound strange, but I now see that I had lost myself quite a bit over my years in Italy. I used this blog as a way to cope with the every day, but in general I was unhappy. I’m understanding now that this was mainly because of the changes I saw in myself in my journey to adapt to the local culture.

I’ve talked before about learning how to submit, how to push and pull through a conversation in Italian, and ultimately how to chose between being a failure and being fake. I’ll quickly pull some of the pearls of wisdom I rolled around in my head from those posts, but you’d be better off to read them in full.

From “1,2,3, è così: Learning to submit to the system“:

I was quite fed up with la sistema and these ridiculous rules that involved discussing every minuscule detail with the entire Famiglia before purchasing anything, repairing anything, or going anywhere.

From “An American speaking Italian is like a dancer having two left feet“:

The complex combination of Italian language and culture requires that a conversation has a certain degree of push and pull — a certain degree of suffering balanced by persistence, of beauty balanced by frustration, and of anger balanced by passion.

It doesn’t matter if we are trying to make the same point or reach the same conclusion. Without this tugging back and forth, it’s as if the content of the conversation loses its validity. We have to disagree a bit before we can agree. Hypothetical situations have to be proposed and dismissed. Rhetorical questions have to be asked and mocked. Sensations of both guilt and justification have to be expressed by both sides. We have to dance.

From “The fear of the fake: What “authenticity” means to a foreigner in a strange land“:

Clearly we all bring with us values that are rooted in the culture we grew up with. Sometimes it’s hard to even recognize that we are sticking to them too much because they are so intrinsic in nature. In the article, Ibarra gave the example of a Malaysian executive whose company was taken over by a Dutch multinational. Suddenly he found that his style of business didn’t work with his new colleagues, and “he had to choose between being a failure and being a fake”.

And here we come to the crux of the discussion about “authenticity”. The fear of the fake.

It’s a very fine line to walk – maintaining your identity and adapting to a new one. In the past few months that I’ve been here in Colorado, a strange kind of reset has happened for me. I am back to my old self completely. I’m perky, optimistic, and generally excited about everything. And no one is put off by it. I don’t feel that I need to express suffering in order to achieve something in a business negotiation. I actually receive praise and recognition for accomplishments I’ve made. In fact, in general, I’ve accomplished much more in a much shorter amount of time! It’s… refreshing. And bittersweet.

Refreshing because it’s familiar and comforting. Bittersweet because I’m sad that I couldn’t be this me in Italy and have everything work out. My exuberance in Italy read as weakness.  My optimism read as naiveté. My directness read as inappropriate. Because people’s perceptions of me were not what I intended, and their reactions made me unhappy, I shifted my personality to match the outcome I wanted. I became an excellent negotiator in Italian because I learned how to manipulate the conversation. I became credible because I learned that suffering and complaining validates my argument. I became funny and likable because I made fun of my own directness as being inappropriately American.

And the whole time, I justified these changes in my personality as what one needs to do to adapt to the local culture. But… I don’t know… at what point is enough enough? Is it better to be yourself and always be on the outside looking in… or to adapt and conform at the expense of a couple of your personality traits? Neither option made me very happy.

So… I don’t know what the conclusion is here. There really isn’t one I guess. But for now, I’m REALLY enjoying my reset here in Colorado. I’m truly happy again, and I really really needed it. I do apologize for not posting as often as I previously did, however.

There are all kinds of observations I’ve had on the reverse culture shock of returning to America as well… I’ll try to verbalize them soon. I forgot how Americans are so… American! For now, I’m most active on my Instagram feed, where I post shocking images of Italo-American products that would make any respectable Italian cringe. Join me!


12 thoughts on “Separated from Italy

  1. Oh God — this hurts. I am so sorry and boy do I understand. I also have used my blog as a way to cope, as a way to laugh at myself and a way to make life in Italy sound silly rather than often aggravating and frustrating. I met my Italian husband in New York City, I married my Italian husband in Boston and we agreed we would live in both countries for periods of time. Boy did I have the shock of my life when I moved to Italy and had to cope with a disastrously difficult mother-in-law and discovered my husband had no intention of living anywhere but Rome for the rest of his life. I made the perhaps stupid mistake of having 3 children right away and getting stuck. There was no easy way to go back to the US or to the confident, carefree, adventurous American I used to be. I do have my work, which allows me to be me and that is an important outlet. I am glad you are having a Colorado re-set. I could definitely use a re-set myself. (A lot of my friends say if I wrote the blog behind the blog — the real story– I might have a bestseller). Oh well. Enjoy your time in Colorado and goodluck in everything you do.

  2. This is so interesting! We have lived in Rome just over four years now, the first three having been spent in the “bubble” of American Embassy life. When you work for the Embassy, you have access to the USPS, online shopping, a social circle, medical care, etc. They even pay your rent and negotiate with the landlords, do the maintenance, etc.

    This past year we have been on our own, and though retired and not burdened by having to make a living here, we are more exposed to how it really is to live in Italian culture. I miss many things that work and make sense in the U.S. and am frustrated that Italy chooses not to fix its problems. È cosi! Why is it that the perfect shot of espresso matters more than enforcing parking laws in Rome so that traffic can move and people can safely cross the street? I love that the wine is excellent and affordable (save me from wine prices in France!), but why do I have to pay hundreds of euros to disconnect my cable & internet service? I find myself being less and less rosy and optimistic! Until I read your post, I was concerned I was becoming unusually jaded and pessimistic. Now I see I have just become a complaining Italy resident. Luckily we travel a lot and we will return to the U.S. eventually.

    I will always love visiting Italy, but it is totally different to be a resident, even if one has an American spouse.

  3. Maria, I am sorry for all that is happening but at the same time I am so happy that are getting the reset you deserve. I was in a bit of a toxic relationship with an Italian for many years in Florence who put ‘complaining and suffering’ as his highest priorities for conversation. I had the same issue as you, sort of hiding myself and acting different than I normally would as to not get judged by him and his family. I can’t even IMAGINE now being in that space mentally or physically again. You will be a rocking badass no matter when you are, and I hope we get to meet in person one day!

  4. L’aspetto positivo di leggere questo tipo di blog è che ti fa capire i limiti del mondo nel quale vivi, in modo da poter bilanciare i limiti che vedi nel mondo altrui; dall’interno certe cose, semplicemente, non si vedono.
    C’è un mito, molto carino, che oltre alle persone si adatta anche alle culture; Giove ha donato all’umanità due sacchi, uno davanti a noi nel quale vi sono i difetti altrui e uno lo portiamo sulla schiena nel quale sono riposti i nostri difetti.

  5. Wow. I have often wanted to move to Italy. I never did so because it is so clearly dysfunctional in ways that are so clearly not going to change. In one excellent post, you have explained why. Let’s hope your husband loves the States and things work out.

  6. Life in america might be more efficient, certainly with banks, federal, state and local agencies…in regard to workers I find Italy in another category entirely. One has to be a lot more tolerant and patient, and much more in tune with how things get done around here. In NY for example, people are hired for their competence…not who they know. Theres a lot of competition -if someone does good work they tend to be popular and be in greater demand(hence its harder to get that guy to do stuff). Here in Sardinia if you live here you become aware of who is reliable and who does good work. But when youre new here, it takes some time to learn your own lessons. Living here without a big sense of humor would not be for everyone! Its so rewarding when you find good people, and for me they have turned into lasting friendships.

  7. Maria, I’m sorry to hear that you suffered (though that may seem a bit drastic of a word) trying to live in Italy. Your ability to express your re-set feelings now that you’re back in the U.S. is very interesting — I often wonder how I would adapt there. I live in Germany (married to a German) and can relate SO WELL to your feelings and sentiments about bella Italia, but for other reasons, of course. Different problems than those in Italy seem to prevail in Germany, for me at least, and after 7.5 years in Stuttgart, I still feel odd and uncomfortable – all day long, every day: still saying things to myself, for example, at the cashier grocery like ‘it doesn’t have to be this miserable.’ But if I understood you, your Italian husband will join you in Colorado? If that’s correct, get ready for his side — it will be critical to try to relate to whatever he feels. As you’ve noted, America is NOT Italy. But many adapt to the US – my entire family immigrated to the US and stayed forever. I’m the first to have left… hmmmm — and we have a house in northern Italy so we’re slowly moving there, but with time to adjust. I hope you enjoy your ‘new’ life in the U.S. and look back at the positive.

  8. The second re-entry post that I read of the day. Maybe I’m lucky, but most of my Italian friends and in-laws here have lived and worked in other countries and that makes it SO MUCH easier, because they know what it is to be the foreigner. I wish you all the best of luck, and keep posting on what it’s like to return because I have to move back to my own country of origin too very soon (even though I’m not sure I want to!) and I’m realy interested to hear what you have to say.

  9. A role reversal : I am an American man seeing an Italian women from Modena. We both have good jobs in our own countries so can can afford transatlantic visits (Vacation day balancing being the pickle).

    I have thought about moving over there but somehow always get grounded, perhaps it’s the new start or the immigration legalities. How did you get citizenship?

  10. This made me weep with solidarity and recognition you put it so well in words. How I have changed so much of myself. I’ve lost myself in Italy. Finally this year I divorced my Italian husband who did my have any intentions which matched my own and put me through five years of hell in Italian courts, I’m thinking of relocating and what has kept me stuck is a 50% share of a house with my ex. It has frustrated every effort of mine. Maybe this year I’m ready to be a renter again and to move on and enjoy my life. Thanks for the inspiration again I’ve followed your blog for years!, May you find your soft place to fall.

  11. My god, what has happened to you since this post about relocating to CO? This my first time on your blog and your story was powerful, I couldn’t wait to read more to find out what happened when your husband joined you, where are you now?

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