While the idea of Italy likely conjures up the images of drinking aspritz aperol at a picturesque bar on a cobblestone street, endless plates of pasta, and maybe a little dose of Under the Tuscan Sun vibes, it's these things and so much more. Living here, I've discovered a deeper side of this amazing country, particularly in the south where I live.
1. They're Recycling Rock Stars
I've been told this is not the case in the north, but in the south, they've got the whole recycle thing figured out. Every day, you put out one or more small bins that contain plastic and aluminum, glass, compostables, or paper. It annoys some people, but I like putting each piece of paper or food packaging in the appropriate container, knowing it's going to have a second (and third) life as something else.
2. The Cost of Living is Low, Particularly in the South
One of the joys I have not gotten over yet is how cheap everything is compared to what it would cost in the US. I paid over $2,000 a month for a two-bedroom house in San Diego. In Calabria, I pay €800 for a four-bedroom house by the sea. And that's expensive for locals!
The funny thing is, the longer I'm here, the more I do see prices from a local slant. I was at an Irish pub (!) for St. Patrick's Day, and the hamburger and fries were €15. My friend asked if I thought that was expensive. I said not from an American perspective, but definitely from a Calabrese perspective.
3. People Don't Make a Ton of Money
The other side to the coin of things being cheap in Italy is that people make very little. The national average income is €3,720 a month, and it's about half that here in Calabria. And unemployment is very high. I know many people with degrees who are teaching English or working in bars because there simply aren't a lot of professional jobs down here.
4. No One (But Foreigners) Rents Houses
Italy doesn't have this culture of buying a new house when you get tired of the old one or even renting a house instead of buying. Italian culture involves parents giving their kids their house when they die. That also comes with Nonno's mountain home and Nonna's house by the sea.
I'm noticing this when looking for rentals. Where I am, there are vacation rentals that are only available for the summer months (and at exorbitant prices). When you talk to an Italian who rents out a vacation house three months of the year and try to convince him that it's better to get monthly income from the rental all year long, he scratches his head and doesn't understand. I lucked out that my landlord/friend got it and was willing to rent to me, otherwise I might not have the house I do.
5. Website? Ha.
I'm an information-seeker. When I want to know something about a business, I go to its website. Only in Calabria, few businesses have websites. They might have a Facebook page, but that's it. So I have to call (ug) or go to the business to ask questions.
The way I find out about events is funny. They create flyers and share them in Whatsapp groups. There's no Eventbrite or registering online. Just read the flyer and show up if you're interested!
Italy, and in particular Calabria, is so much more than the movies portray. I'm loving peeling off the layers here every day!