American expat Michelle touches base with her Italian roots in Calabria, Italy

Going with the flow is one of the techniques that Michelle uses to enjoy her life in Calabria, Italy. Accepting the negatives and embracing the positives, as well as immersing herself in the local culture, are just some of the things that help this American freelance writer savor expat living in an Italian mountaintop village. (Photo credit: Franco Muià of IMmAGINE)

Michelle a.k.a. Sognatrice

-Where were you born?
Pennsylvania, USA

-In which country and city are you living now?
I live in a medieval mountaintop village in the region of Calabria, Italia.

-Are you living alone or with your family?
I am happily living (in sin) with my Calabrian fiancé. No, I didn’t move here for him; I was here for about a year and a half before we officially met and started dating.

-How long have you been living in Italy?
I’ll be here 4 years in August 2007.

-What is your age?
30. And almost a half.

-When did you come up with the idea of living in Italy?
In June of 2002, I came for a visit to my ancestor’s village on a basic genealogical quest. I loved it, and in August of 2003, I moved here permanently and haven’t been back to the United States since June of 2004. I decided to move here when I had a job that was ending in the States, and I needed to change gears anyway. I thought Italy would be as good a place as any for a 26-year-old attorney/writer. I wrote more about this decision here.

-Was it hard to get a visa or a working permit?
I didn’t do either of those. I got Italian citizenship through the jure sanguinis process, i.e., through Italian heritage.

-Was it difficult for you to get medical insurance before you went there or when you first arrived?
Didn’t do that either until I signed up for the free health care system as a citizen.

-How do you make your living in Italy? Do you have any type of income generated?
I’m primarily a freelance writer, but I also teach English and do some translating as well. For those interested, finding a job teaching English isn’t difficult; it’s making enough money doing it to survive that’s hard.

-Do you speak Italian and do you think it's important to speak the local language?
I didn’t speak Italian when I came, although I did have the basic phrases down pat (ciao, come stai, etc.). In order to learn, I read Italian newspapers, watched Italian television (soap operas, although not great for entertainment value, are excellent for language learning because they are so predictable) and films dubbed in Italian (ones you’ve seen a thousand times are the best because you already know the English by heart), and, ahem, I got me one of them Eye-talian boyfriends—who doesn’t speak a word of English.

It’s *extremely* important to make an effort to learn the language here, otherwise you’ll be left out of a lot of daily interaction. Also, for me, I only now feel like I’m getting my personality back after having felt like I lost a part of me on the plane ride over. Making jokes is difficult in a foreign language even when you’re fluent; when you can barely communicate and are only concentrating on understanding and being understood, there’s no room for light-hearted fun. You’ll feel 100% more a part of everything if you make an effort to learn—and they love when you try!

-Do you miss home and family sometimes?
Of course! The phone and computer are two of my best friends.

-What do you think about the Italians?
Well, considering one of them is my fiancé and many of them are my future in-laws, I think they’re just swell. Even though they don’t get as many tourists as more well-known parts of Italy, the locals here love visitors and will talk to anyone in Calabrese dialect for hours even if you can’t understand a word. It’s harder to get *really* close to them, but they’re definitely friendly and helpful.

-What are the positive and negative aspects of living in Italy?
Positives: wonderful, welcoming people, great climate with little humidity and next to no pollution, great food, the fact that fresh everything is readily available and not 3x more expensive than processed food, the laidback lifestyle, learning a new language and culture (even if I did grow up Italian-American), connecting with my family from the past who never got a chance to come back here after going to America, understanding my grandmother and her family *a lot* more, really living life, feeling free to pursue a career I probably wouldn't have pursued if in America, closeness to wonderful vacation spots, and many more.

Negatives: the absolute slowness of everything, complete lack of customer service, high cost of living mixed with low salaries, a horrible euro/dollar conversion rate, lack of movie theaters (only one that's open at weird times where I am), NO ENGLISH BOOKSTORES (there are some further north and in bigger cities, but near me, NOTHING; very sad); again, there are many more I'm sure.

-Do you have any tips for our readers about living in Italy?
Drop your expectations of efficiency at passport control and, if you don’t know how to already, learn to go with the flow.

And, as I tell everyone who comes even for a visit, “Don’t use logic.” At least not the logic you’re used to. Italians and Italian systems function exactly as *they* understand they should. This is their country, and they like it this way. There’s no need for us to ask why something is the way it is--it just is. You’re not going to change Italy. Millions have tried and failed and were miserable along the way. So just go with it, stand in the “lines,” wait your turn, and try to smile.

-Do you have any favorite Web sites or blogs about Italy?
So many, so I will list mine and the major expats site I frequent. On my blog, I have a list of other Italian expat blogs I read, so do check them out!

My site is “bleeding espresso…”

Expats in Italy

Thanks for making me smile

jaci's picture

Thanks to you, for your honest and warming verse, that encourages me onwards towards my dream of becoming a part of Italian life.

Grazie :)

sognatrice's picture

Thank YOU Jaci, for the lovely comment; hope to see you in these parts soon!

Che fortunata che sei!

coccinella's picture

Ciao Sognatrice,

Thank you for coming to my page and I love your interview too. It's a long time since I've been to Italy. My friends live in Bari, which isn't too far from you, I guess. The Scottish half of my friends is called Fiona and she didn't speak a word of Italian when she went to live with her fella Bartolo. It didn't take her long though and she learnt a lot of it by watching television too.

Apparently I speak Japanese with an Italian accent!

I've had a quick look at your blog and will delve in some more after work.


Ciao Emily!

sognatrice's picture

Thanks for checking out my interview and blog--from your comment on my blog, I see we have Brad Pitt in common, sort of ;)

Too funny that you speak Japanese with an Italian accent; I wonder what I'd sound like...hmm....

Bari is actually quite a ways from me (about a 5 hour drive) as I'm pretty far down into the toe (I'm in the ball of the foot, if you will, on the Ionian Sea); I've always wanted to go to Puglia though. Must see those trulli!!!!

Enjoyed reading your interview!!

Germaniza's picture

Finally I got around to reading - and enjoying - YOUR interview!! Sorry it took me so long. It sounds like Italy and Malta have more in common than just the location in southern Europe! ;)

Ciao Germaniza!

sognatrice's picture

I thought the same thing about Italy and Malta when I read your interview (and from reading bits of your blog) :)