When people find out that you’ve relocated to Italy they assume that your life is going to mirror that of the characters in films like, La Dolce Vita and Under the Tuscan Sun: That you’ll be immersed in culture, spend your days over languid luncheons and your evenings engaged in passeggiata.
I’m not going to say that there’s not been long lunches with course upon course of exquisite food and great company. There has been, and as expected summer evenings where aperitivi are taken as the waiter whistles as he brings you complimentary nibbles.
The reality is very different. I don’t spend my time wandering around art galleries or marvelling at ancient architecture. My days are not made up with conversations with peasant farmers or sampling wine in dark cellars. In fact sometimes it’s actually not easy living in rural Abruzzo.
Your priorities have to change. Take a few weeks ago for instance. We had snow and temperatures that would, to coin an English idiom, worry a brass monkey. Back in England I’d have just turned up the thermostat and not given it a thought. But when you live in an ancient stone house with no central heating you have to be prepared. So one day I spent two hours sawing wood into wood burner lengths and then walked down onto our land to drag half a small tree home.
There are so many minor things are different from living in England that you have to get used to. Things like shop opening hours. Back in the UK we were used to 24 hour supermarkets and corner shops that stay open until the early hours. Here shops open from 08.30 to 13.00 and then close, they re-open around 16.00 to 19.30. Some supermarkets are open all day and it’s best to make sure you have enough provisions on a Sunday as many small shops don’t open and most supermarkets close at lunchtime.
The same thing applies to working hours here, there’s a shut down from 13.00 to 16.00 for lunch: Not siesta, that’s a Spanish thing.
Then there’s the art of eating, breakfast here is a sweet morsel not a cooked breakfast and most definitely not bacon and eggs. Lunch takes time as it’s the main family meal, so everyone sits down and catches up with each other over several courses, and dinner is a smaller meal either with friends or the nuclear family.
One thing you do before you come to Italy is you devour as much information as your brain can cope with and then learn that you needn’t have bothered. Guide book baloney, I call it. Things like, you must not order a cappuccino after 11.00, as it’ll offend the barista and it’s just not done. Guide book baloney – I’ve been out with Italian’s who’ve ordered them in the afternoon. Another one is that if you’re invited to dinner you must take a gift of pastries or chocolates and never foreign food. GBB – Italian’s are happy that you accepted the invitation and do not expect a gift and also welcome new food to try. Another GBB subject is dress codes, all the books talk about Italian’s having style and panache, that they dress to impress at all times – no one seems to have noticed that here jogging bottoms are the king of fashion and finally my favourite piece of misinformation is the one that says Italian men only go without socks on the beach and would never been seen outside the beach in sandals with bare feet. More GBB, come summer everyone’s in flip flops.
One thing that seems insignificant but does take time to get used to is your surroundings. You grow up in one country and everything is imprinted on you over years, suddenly you’re in a place where the countryside is different, the sounds and smells dissimilar and the wildlife is new to you. Never in the UK did I wake up to snakes in the back garden or have to hit the brakes as a wild boar the size of a Morris Minor runs across the road.
And don’t get me started on the driving here – that’s a blog post all of its own.
I know you may think all of these things are unimportant in the grand scheme of things, and I tend to agree with you. I guess what I’m really saying is it’s not all air-kissing in town, pasta with everything and la bella figura. It’s pretty close and it’s fabulous being here. But I guess the key to surviving in Italy is being able to adapt and to assimilate.