There are so many days when I feel like shit in Italy. I classically spill the coffee as I’m pouring it out of the Moka pot–how the heck do you get it all to just go in the little baby mug?! I go for a run in my neighborhood and have to withstand stares and glares of all varieties that send me into a feminist rage. Later, the judgemental girl working the cash register detects my American accent and insists on speaking to me in pitiful yet patronizing English. Afternoon rolls around and we discover that my cooking and the subsequent humidity in the house has caused a mild mold outbreak on our walls. We get to dinner and all I can do is thank goodness the in-laws gave us that 5-liter box of red wine- how thoughtful. It should be a rule that all newlyweds get wine as a mandatory gift.
Once again I am living “abroad” and away from my family and home country. I am in the beginnings of the messy process of adjusting and re-experiencing culture shock in Italy– where I confidently speak the language (most of the time) and have studied, lived and traveled extensively. My familiarity hasn’t helped me much and sometimes the frustration is so real. I am faced with the fact that I am and always will be, an outsider. Am I an expat or an immigrant? Expat vs Immigrant I realize more and more each day the many ways in which I am NOT an Italian and despite my immigration status, will never be able to become one.
Luckily, this was never my goal. I didn’t come to Italy to pretend to be someone I’m not. I also don’t have any intention to force Italy to become a little America to make me more comfortable here. I know well enough now that being a foreigner means observing and accepting and appreciating whenever possible. I can’t change Italy no matter how much things may bother me sometimes.
It may have sounded romantic to my friends back in Ohio, but I essentially moved to Italy because we had no other choice. I speak his language and he speaks very little of mine. We work on English every day but the road is long and recent political events have deterred me from springing for a ticket back to the states. Despite Italy’s debilitating economic crisis, we really have a better chance at a modest life here than we would in the U.S. Studying abroad here stripped me of any fantasies about the idyllic Tuscan sun and let me tell you, sweating my bum off last summer as an Au Pair confirmed to me–Italy is not all gelato and beaches and pasta….although yum….
There are some days when I feel like I’m conjugating all my verbs correctly and managing to converse at a semi-educated adult level. And then there are the days when I resort to pouting like a toddler and pointing and whining “HOW DO YOU SAY THAT? CAN YOU JUST LOOK IT UP IN ENGLISH FOR ME FOR ONCE?!” This inter-cultural marriage thing is not by any means easy, see: What no one tells you about marrying someone who doesn’t speak English . I work so hard to say the simplest phrases some days. It’s like my everyday life is an episode of “kids say the darndest things” only it’s always me, in Italian, as a child-adult…and I can’t tell you how hard it is to teach your husband your native language. We try to make a point to work on English every day after breakfast but the fact is that especially in the beginning, learning a new language is a lot of work with little reward. I get to be Christine teacher again but it is boring and slow.
This time of year especially, being away from family can be difficult. I’m embracing my new family and baking them banana bread and pies for good measure. I’m so lucky that we got to celebrate Thanksgiving in good company and while the meal is never the same as when we have the family classic “I’m thankful for” speech- I’m beyond grateful all the same. My pumpkin pie kicked ass this year and I got to share a little bit of what’s important to me.
Sometimes, I just feel like I need a life hug. One day at a time. One pie at a time.
Eventually, culture shock does start to ease up a bit, even if the process isn’t linear.
To read about it check out: When culture shock starts to get easier
Do you consider yourself an expat or an immigrant? Tell me about it in the comments.