Adjusting to a new culture is never easy, and there are some quirks to Italy that may always prick under my American skin. The disorganization, for instance. When you show up to an appointment at an Italian hospital, you have to wander the halls and peek into doors until you find your doctor… or at least someone who can find him for you. Or when you need to contact the gas company about an error in your bill, you have to go to their headquarters and stand in a tangled huddle of a line to talk to someone who will inevitably tell you “Come back later.” And those basic permission documents you need to legally stay in the country? They’re held up in some Italian black hole for 1 ½ years (and counting).
The disorganization and bureaucratic laziness certainly top the list of Things That Rankle, but there are plenty of smaller irks:
– How bill-paying is done exclusively at the post office, where long lines make it frustrating for those who want to actually mail something
– How shopping cart wheels swivel at will and must be pushed with full-body strength to avoid collisions
– How the libraries do not have children’s sections
– How awkward run-ins with gypsies, beggars, and peddlers are unavoidable
– How fashion dictates that women navigate even the cobbliest of stone streets in strappy stilettos (I haven’t mastered that skill yet)
However, there is so much utter loveliness to Italian culture, and most of the “quirks” I noticed when first moving here have turned out to be little blessings. Many of them are relational, such as building a rapport with the local pharmacist since we don’t have the option of grabbing medicine off a shelf, or elderly women talking freely (and good-heartedly) about our personal business. I love the way Italy’s easygoing personality translates into holidays every few weeks, national two-hour lunch breaks, and limited store hours (it’s easier to do without a 24-hr Wal-Mart than you’d think!). I’ve even grown to appreciate the lack of air conditioning and clothes dryers; the absence of both gives spacious, breathable air a place of honor in our lives.
I enjoy living in a place where everyone has a bidet, an armoire, and a love of good wine. Where I can take for granted that I will be kissed on both cheeks in greeting and that a hospital stay will treat our wallet gently. Where an attendant will pump my gas and where late night TV guarantees to be insanely amusing. Where laws are flexible and ham is cured and windows are open and parking spaces are subject to imagination and lunch is the big meal and cleavage is always appropriate and roundabouts keep intersections spinning merrily. This is a country I want to know more deeply.
We found our house o’ dreams yesterday. I am afraid to write about it in the same way I was afraid to speak as Dan and I walked through the rooms, squeezing each other’s hand over and over to make sure we were seeing the same thing, terrified someone else was going to snatch it away before we had a chance to sign the contract (okay, so the irrational terror was entirely on my part). But nobody snatched it away. As of one hour ago, it’s ours.
Imagine cozy and airy waltzing together in a gabled hilltop condo. Shiny wood and windows everywhere and a Texas-sized patio with a breathtaking view of downtown. A lush green yard with rose bushes and a darling wooden swing. Three silky dogs for the girls to play with and downstairs (and next door) neighbors we already know. A marble bathtub. A fireplace. Oh, oh, oh. I did not realize one could fall so desperately in love with a house.
We’ll be moving in July (a whole two miles away from our current apartment), and the tedium of packing and changing addresses shines like joy on the horizon. This perfect little dream house is where we will put down roots. I can’t wait to finally be part of a neighborhood community, something a high-rise apartment can never provide. This feels like the end of our trial period—depression, temporary job contract, and cramped living space all traded in for something so much better—and the true beginning of our happy Italian life.