Five Years Living in Italy

January 25, 2022

A picture containing outdoor, sky, tree, mountainDescription automatically generated

Arpino, Lazio mountain views

It is hard for me to believe that I arrived in Rome in early January 2017—five years ago. I traveled directly to Arpino, Lazio where my cousin, Sonseere, was restructuring the apartment she had just purchased. I was wide eyed, naïve and unsure about what my future would be. Could I actually move to a town on the sea by myself, knowing no one? Would I survive the one year I had promised myself? 

That’s how it all began. Just over five years later, I can honestly say I am more in love with Italy every single day. I can also say that because it’s Italy, it’s complicated. 

Travelers dream of la dolce vita, the sweet life. When here for short periods as a guest in Italy, you experience plenty of the sweet life, that slow, relaxed sensual lifestyle we crave. The pizza, the pasta, the wines and aperitivi, it all steals our hearts. The art, architecture, antiquities, archeology, and history charm us even more. The variety of landscapes from mountains, woodlands, seaside and more add to the sheer beauty of the country. There is a magic here that I have not found elsewhere in my travels.

It all sounds like heaven, perfection, doesn’t it? And most writers paint this beautiful lifestyle for their readers. I want to share how I have survived these last five years, still love Italy, my home. The sweet life is not a 24/7 experience, at least for me.

When you rent an apartment or buy a home in Italy, you are immediately introduced to the paperwork and service nightmares that are at the heart of the Italian bureaucracy, or, as I call it, the Italian drive you crazy.  For those of us who moved here from the USA, or Canada, please understand that the sweet life we love affects how everything in Italy functions. That means you will spend a great deal of time just buying stamps at the post office. Some sweet older lady will not take a number but walk directly ahead of everyone to mail something. She will chat with the person behind the desk as though she was the only person in the room. Italians are used to this and will let her go ahead. This can happen several times while in line. 

A picture containing fruitDescription automatically generated

Fresh pasta ready for your pleasure

Setting up your utilities could take a couple days solid of phone calls, in person visits, and waiting. If you are not fluent in Italian, and I am not, the phone is one of the most challenging parts of my life here. Italian seems to be easier to understand and speak when in person than on the phone. I think we psychically pick up the lingo from the overall hand gestures, body language and facial expressions in person. I know I do. But, you have none of that on the phone. 

Here is one example of the phone delaying installation. I missed ONE phone call from my soon to be internet provider. It showed as an unknown number on my phone and I was half asleep. I missed it. 

After another week of waiting for a call, I went to the office of my supplier where no one spoke English. I explained how long it was taking—over a month—and I had heard nothing. She called the company who said that I never answered their phone calls or texts so they took me off the list. WHAT?  She did call back to put me back on the list but they put me at the bottom of the list as a new customer. It took another month to get my model delivered—and they did not install it. Why did it take so long if they do not even install it?  

A picture containing outdoor, dessertDescription automatically generated

Gelato Break by the Sea in Chiavari

I could write a book about these things. I don’t want to do that. It became much less frustrating when I surrendered to Italy. That’s my answer for their ways. It is their country. I am only choosing to live here. I must live by their rules, their ways. If you want more efficiency, more organization, try Denmark or Germany as your home. Otherwise, surrender.

I chose to live in Chiavari, Liguria because it was NOT a big tourist destination. In July and August, we see more people on their beach vacations. Otherwise, it is a town of 30,000 inhabitants on the Mediterranean Sea and the Italian Riviera. We have clean beaches, a phenomenal passigiata, or promenade along the beach where bars and restaurants are set up strategically for viewing the sea while eating. 

A glass of beer next to a plate of foodDescription automatically generated with low confidence

Apperitivo in Chiavari

Walk away from the seaside and you enter a medieval centro storico, with so many different portici, or arched walkways, that you can see several different arches on one street. 

A picture containing building, arch, colonnade, stoneDescription automatically generated

Just one portico of many in Chiavari

Every day is market day. I love the fresh produce, the cheeses, and everything else they sell. But remember, do NOT touch the produce, wear plastic gloves and pick up a tray. Cash is king—no charging or bank cards here. 

A picture containing tree, outdoor, people, groupDescription automatically generated

Market day in Chiavari

The same goes for the expanded markets on Friday and Saturday featuring clothing, cookware and all household goods. In my town, very few people speak English. It can be a challenge. 

It is more of a challenge when needing medical assistance for those of us learning Italian as we live here. Unfortunately, I have had too much experience with medical messes.

  • I broke my 5th metatarsal on my left foot
  • I tore the ligament that affects my 1st and 2nd toe and runs up the leg
  • Twice I was checked for thyroid cancer—twice I had bumps of some sort on my thyroid
  • I had pneumonia 2 weeks after arriving in Italy. That was my first experience with the pronto soccorso,  the emergency room. And that hospital was not a good experience—but they did find the pneumonia. I think they were understaffed and overworked. All other emergency experiences have gone well.
  • I had Covid-19 in March, 2020 when the death rate was super high. Luckily it was a milder case. However, I had Long Covid before it was recognized as a real thing.
  • I had a bizarre heart and breathing attack that sent me to the emergency room. They were so good with me. 
  • I have had many tests at local hospitals in my town and three others. It has all worked out well. 

I believe in the Italian medical system. They have very good doctors and even offer options not available in the USA. Once I arrived at the doctor or therapist, it really has been all good. It’s the time or effort to get there that is very different from my American experience. I surrender

From January 2017 until March 2020, I traveled quite freely using public transportation. I have been as far south as Tropea, Calabria and the east side of Sicily. I have traveled as far north as Milan on the west side and Friuli above Veneto on the east side. Traveling is a breeze and, while alone or with others, La Dolce Vita is always there. It should be as we travelers are customers. People express more warmth in general to the client or customers. If they make you feel welcome, you will return. They may genuinely like you and want to be your friend. Still, warm customer service brings us back for more. 

A picture containing building, water, outdoor, riverDescription automatically generated

Camogli near Chiavari

By the end of February 2020, all of Italy was in lockdown. We were severely restricted while our medical people figured out how to treat their Covid-19 patients. The entire world was short on equipment. Companies all over Italy began creating more ways to intubate patients, make hand sanitizers instead of alcoholic beverages, making face masks and paraphernalia for sterilizing. I loved that about the Italians. And, don’t forget singing from balconies, turning on lights to honor the medical staffs working around the clock, and sacrificing baci e abbracci, our hugs and kisses greetings and farewells, for touching elbows. 

The horrors of 2020 had a few hidden benefits. For me, I felt more like an Italian than and Italian-American dual citizen import because I shared the sorrows of my neighbors every single day. I definitely lived the way they did for many, many months. I watched the devastating parade of trucks and police escort from Lombardia to Rome, each filled with the dead who had nowhere to be buried. I wept with the people of Italy at that sight and all other heartbreaking announcements. I know I am not a born in Italy Italian. However, the gap between real Italians and me lessened due to Covid. 

I began to see what was important in my life and who was concerned about my well being. My neighbor became my friend during this time as we assisted one another, each a woman quarantined alone in our separate apartments. Many people from the US and elsewhere contacted me to see if I was safe, ok, sick, or what. Others never even mentioned it. Others never called or emailed me about it. This too was a lesson for me. Furthermore, I learned what I needed in life. I spoke to my daughter and granddaughter nearly every day while they were working from home and home schooling. The miles did not keep us apart. And, the importance of time together physically became even more apparent. 

One benefit from our isolation was unexpected and relished by me and most others. Italian services began to use their computers more! I can now go on line to order next month’s medicines or set up a doctor’s appointment. Whoo HOOO! I receive my utility bills via email—they still send the hard cover but it is an improvement. Businesses use WhatsApp for phone calls—I still have trouble understanding them—and texts. That makes them free. 

We in Italy were able to travel within Italy eventually—I believe it began in June. I was fortunate to travel all along the the coast of Liguria and into the hills above.

A picture containing buildingDescription automatically generated

One of many painted doors in Valloria, Liguria, in the hills above Imperia

I made it to Florence, Rome, and several hidden gem towns off the beaten path in Tuscany. I connected with friends all over Italy. Oh how I missed them. I have few friends in Chiavari itself. My heart was full once again.

Then the second lockdown began in October and went into 2021. And my doctor retired. I found out when I went on line to order medication refills. There is no system to let people know when things like this occur. I needed to pick another doctor. Luckily, my vicina, my neighbor and friend who happens to attend the same doctor’s office, recommended a new female doctor. She doesn’t speak much English at all—the first doctor spoke more English—but she is a much better doctor. I feel lucky to have found her. 

Most of 2021 I spent here in Chiavari. We really were not free to travel out of our hometowns for quite a while. It was a time for reflection. And a time to chat with my granddaughter every day. I swear phone conversations kept me sane. And meeting friends for a coffee was a gift from the heavens.

A picture containing outdoor, sky, water, natureDescription automatically generated

Seaside in Chiavari

I spent July through mid-September 2021 in the USA. I was in MN for my father’s 97th birthday and more. I spent time with my sister planning her first visit to Italy and just hanging out with her  and her animals. 

Next I spent a month with my Stephanie and Maggie in their new home. I did experience elevation sickness while with them and discovered blood clots in my legs. Still, it was hugs and love all around. My granddaughter Maggie is now taller than I am and is 11 years old. I have missed her desperately since returning to Italy. 

Before returning to Italy in Mid-September, I returned to Minnesota and would fly to Italy with my sister Patrice and her partner, Diana. For that story, please see my last four or five blogs for more details. 

After our marathon jaunt together around Italy with a detour to Athens, Greece, I have been  relaxing in my little appartamento in Chiavari. We have new restrictions due to the new covid variant. We are free to travel but I have simply been enjoying my home, my sea walks, my city shopping and exploring and just being a local. It feels right to be here. It feels like I belong here. The locals in my neighborhood no longer look at me oddly. They have accepted me into their environment. Shopkeepers, waiters, and other locals wave at me and say hello. I may be the Americana, la straniera, the American, the foreigner, but they accept me into the fold now and notice when I am not around. It feels like home.

All the bumps along the way, the frustrations with cultural differences, and the struggle to understand how to accomplish things still happen. But now I feel a sardonic laugh coming on when they occur. My neighbor who is Italian struggles with the system too. We just surrender and continue on. 

TextDescription automatically generated

Thanks to all of you who follow me on Patreon, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Linkedin and my website. I truly appreciate you all. More to come soon from Italy, my home.

Grazie Mille!

A dopo!

Ciao for now!

Follow the Ciao For Now Blog!

Thank you for following! 
Ciao for Now!

Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form

Follow the Ciao For Now Blog!
Thank you! Your submission has been received!
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form