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.
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.
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.
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!