Recently, there was a rather heated online debate about Florence, Italy, on whether life here is being portrayed as too perfect, and shouldn't be. Some comments ensued to the effect that Florence was actually a downright awful place for expats to choose to live. Others pushed back by listing Italy's long list of attractions, and so the debate went on.
Which is it? Is life in Italy the dolce vita, riding on a scooter with your hair blowing in the Tuscan breeze, or one of Dante's nine circles of Hell?
Italy and I have had a serious relationship for three years now. It may not be one of mutual affection, but I love her madly, and she allows me residence.
Because I love her so, I feel comfortable in telling you, she is not perfect. Italy has aggravating faults and irritating habits that may not be in line with the sweet life you are picturing.
It's true; you can't just waltz through Peretola Airport and expect homemade pasta and stunning vistas without a little sacrifice. You will have to earn the right, sometimes through sheer determination, to stand at Piazza Michelangelo and inhale the pink sunsets. It won't always be pretty. But for me, it has been worth it.
It's all perspective, I guess, but here are a few of her downfalls in my book:
DRIVING/PARKING: This is utter chaos, with no regulations enforced or rules followed. Value your shiny new vehicle, or your life? Everyone is seemingly outrunning the bulls of Pamplona in their own miniature tin world. This full speed race occurs while drivers are simultaneously talking on the phone, smoking and leaning out the window to "gesture" and yell at other drivers.
NUTELLA: In the land of exquisite food, this one remains a mystery to me. On and in everything, nutella reigns supreme. I've yet to be converted, but am clearly in the minority.
BUREAUCRACY: Whether it's the post office or navigating the governmental procedures to procure a Permesso di Soggiorno, it is utterly without a defined procedure. People will take a half day from work just to go to the post office. It seems that no one can stand in a line, few can wait their turn, and coffee breaks (theirs, not yours) bring any forward progress to a complete standstill.
HEALTH: Obsessed with their health and yours, Italians possess an uncanny amount of knowledge of internal organs and unusual diseases. All things relating to digestion are fascinating conversation and nothing seems too personal to discuss, even with casual acquaintances. Any cold, flu, or disease will immediately be chalked up to the change in weather.
DA SOLA: Alone. The word for lonely and alone is basically the same in Italian. In a country where cell phones are in constant use, and all grandmas seem to walk arm in arm with another, no one, apparently, is ever alone. From the barrista to the fruttivendolo, I can receive the sympathetic 'poverina' nod and obligatory asking if I am still da sola.
SIDEWALKS: Street cleaners must have the most secure job in Florence. As if the cobblestoned, uneven sidewalks wouldn't be challenging enough, many Florentines can't be bothered to clean up after their dogs. Sidewalks so narrow that two can't easily walk side by side, are often littered with papers, bottles, and overflowing garbage cans.
A half dozen reasons why Italy may not be paradise, and a reminder that being an expat here, or anywhere else, probably isn't for everyone. For me, however, Italy remains glorious, and (almost always) worth the effort!