I have been asked this question why I settled in Italy by puzzled Italian friends more times than I can count.
To be honest, no culture is better or worse than another.
Cultures are just different, and that’s what makes the world a beautiful and interesting place! People are different too, and they seek different things in life. Certain things I want from life are not the same things others want. In fact, certain circumstances in my life in Italy carved a path which led me to travel to 50 countries before I turned 30. These experiences led me to understand that each place has its advantages and disadvantages. It’s all about finding the place that best suits you.
No matter how many places I have lived and loved, the one place I will always go back to is Italy. There are so many reasons I call this place home, but in this article I will describe only three. Of course, you don’t love a place just because of its physical beauty, history, landscapes, and delicious food and wine. What makes any experience memorable is the people–my top reason for settling in Italy.
It’s difficult to understand why, but I had always struggled to make connections with people from my own culture. I felt like an alien in my own country on many occasions. Of course, I have wonderful family, relatives, and friends. I love them dearly, and no one can ever replace them. I have met some of the most amazing people in the world, right at home in the US.
But the reality was that when I met other Americans, I found I could relate to, and become friends with, only about 1 in 100. In Italy, it was 7 out of 10. If I have to break it down, let’s start with one simple example of something Italians are famous for: hospitality. First of all though, a flashback to the little town in Pennsylvania where I grew up. There were around 10 homes on my street, including ours. I was born in that house, and my mom still lives there today.
In all my life, I have only been invited inside one of those other 9 homes on our little street.
However, within 3 weeks of moving to Italy, I was invited into the home of every neighbor in my building. It didn’t seem to matter that I was a foreigner, that they didn’t know me, and that I only spoke five words of Italian at the time. Speaking of conversations, every time I meet a new Italian, there is a gentle curiosity about me, my story, how I came to Italy, and what I am all about.
The questions come one after the other, but I never tire of them.
The hospitality of the Italians is one of their best traits. They are always welcoming to guests and they make sure that everyone feels included in any type of gathering.
One of the most influential cultures in Europe, Italian culture is best known for its fashion, art, and food. Italian food is one of my favorite cuisines. It’s tasty, diverse, and definitely worth trying at least once.
The conversation somehow always steers in the direction of the things I love the most: beautiful architecture, languages, art, culture, travel, philosophy, psychology, current affairs. I understood early on that I had so many interests in common with so many Italians. I adore these conversations. It feels like a song in my heart that was missing all my life.
We all know that Italians love to talk. Moreover, they don’t leave people alone. Fast forward to one Christmas when I went home from Italy to visit my brother in Florida. He took me to a holiday party at his colleague’s home. When we arrived, there was no one to greet us at the door.
People were spread out in little groups all over the house and backyard. At a certain point, we sat down at a big round table to begin eating. No one—not a single person (besides my brother)—talked to me.
Again, that dreadful feeling of being an alien in my own country. I couldn’t stop thinking that if I were in Italy, by now at least 10 people would have introduced themselves and started a delightful conversation. There I was in my own country, feeling like a sore thumb. Talk about reverse culture shock. Now let’s talk about generosity. Italians are generous to the point of not even remembering what or how much they did for others.
One of my friends and her husband invited me for dinner more times than I could count, always preparing something that suited my vegan diet. At a certain point, I said, “OK now I am going to prepare dinner for you guys. You are coming to my house next time. Now it’s my turn! You have cooked for me so many times!”
To that, my friend asked, puzzled, “But when?” She didn’t even remember that she had cooked a wonderful dinner for me on numerous occasions. She wasn’t keeping track or expecting anything in return. This is the beauty of Italian generosity, and it’s not just about inviting you to dinner.
Italian generosity extends to every aspect of life, and Italians will show up for any occasion when help is needed. They thrive on it, and they genuinely enjoy it. I can never forget the time I left Italy to work in India for a year, and I had to arrange a lot of things in time for my departure.
I never asked for a single bit of help from anyone. I didn’t have to, because friends, colleagues, and clients came out of nowhere and offered help. Italian lifestyle is one of the most enjoyable in the world.
For a reasonable amount deducted from your taxes, you have access to a public health system that works. You can visit the doctor whenever you need to, and it’s free. You pay a reasonable “ticket fee” for exams like blood work.
Once I needed to get surgery. Although my situation was not urgent, I got a hospital appointment about five weeks from the doctor’s order. The doctors and nurses were extremely professional, thorough, helpful, and friendly. The doctor came to visit me at the same time every morning for a checkup, taking the time to give me detailed explanations each time.
The best thing is, if you are between jobs in Italy, you are still covered by health insurance.
It is not attached to your job, and you don’t have the hassle of getting a bridge insurance plan between jobs. If you are a small business owner, you don’t have to worry about paying an arm and a leg for a private insurance plan, or God forbid—losing all your savings due to a serious illness or car accident.
Knowing that an essential need is taken care of, gives me a sense of comfort that I cannot describe in words.
I had a mountain of debt that lasted years after obtaining my Bachelor’s degree in the US. I didn’t want to do that to myself again when I pursued Master’s studies. A master’s degree in the United States could cost you between $80,000 and $100,000, which can turn into enormous debt for life.
In Italy, I paid $1,800 for a two-year Master of Arts degree.
There is nothing that can change the fact that I am an American at my core. This is the country that shaped me, that gave me opportunities and gave me life. For that I am forever grateful. Just because I have settled in other places during my life does not mean that I do not still love America. It will always have a special place in my heart.
Have I left the US for good? This is another question I always get asked.
To be honest, I don’t know if I will ever be anywhere “for good.” I am a global citizen, and I am open to opportunities that the Universe may present to me, wherever they may be. It is a great place to live in. The weather is perfect, the scenery is gorgeous and it offers a better quality of life. ?