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Lessons Learned My First 3 Months Living in Italy

I can't believe I've been here in Italy for three months! In some ways, time has flown by. In others (particularly when I'm waiting for something specific to happen), it's dragged on.

I knew this place would change me, and that I would need to be open to the lessons Italy would teach me. I know there are (many) more to come, but here are a few of the lessons I've learned as an expat in Italy in the first three months.

1. American Expectations & Logic Do Not Apply Here

I've written before about how important it is to let go of American expectations, but it bears repeating.

Italy is another world.

Here are a few of the expectations that I arrived with that I quickly learned didn't apply here.

  1. Every business has a website and pricing for its services

  2. There are rules about driving and parking

  3. Shopkeepers offer to help you when you are browsing a store

  4. Getting things like internet or a bank account should take just an hour or so

  5. Washing and drying clothes is simple

  6. People eat dinner at 6 pm

The list goes on and on and on, but suffice it to say, I no longer flinch when I see a child flopping around in the back seat of a car without a seatbelt, let alone a car seat. I know I'll have to call or visit a business to find out what services they offer. I snack in the evening so I can make it to dinner at 8 without starving. And yes, it takes me 3-5 days to dry clothes on the line in the winter.

2. Being Vulnerable and Accepting Help is Essential

Like most people, I hate being vulnerable. I'm pretty damn competent, so I try to do things on my own. Only...see point #1. I think I would have melted down and returned to the U.S. weeks ago if I hadn't had the help of friends and strangers alike.

My cat Gumbo got in a fight a few weeks ago, and his leg got infected from a scratch. Without a car, I felt helpless to get him to the vet. So I went to the vet's office and explained my predicament. She said she didn't normally do housecalls, but would make an exception for this sad little American.

Within 20 minutes, she closed up the office and drove me to my house to care for my furbaby. And she only charged $40!

Being without a car (though not for much longer) has really made me realize that it's okay to ask people for help. A friend will gladly scoop me up to take me to lunch or to the registry office for yet another piece of bureaucratic fun.

I have to remind myself: I would do the same if the tables were turned and a friend needed help.

3. Speaking of Bureaucratic Fun, The Only Way is Through

Now that I've received my permesso di soggiorno, I'm nearly done with applying for certificates and explaining in bad Italian what I need.

The lesson I've learned is that I have to let go of absolutely any expectation of this happening on my timeline. I picture myself in a boat in a river. I just let the current take me where it will, trusting I'll get where I need to go in the end!

Currently, I'm waiting to complete my certificato di residenza, my residency certificate. After visiting the wrong office (and the sharp-nailed dragon lady not being nice about it), I went with a friend to the correct office and filled out the paperwork. She told us in a "bon settimana" (a good week, meaning probably a bit longer), the caribinieri (police) would come to inspect my house (not sure why) and then I would be issued the certificate. It's been a week today and nothing has happened. So I float on down the river!

4. It's Not Always Beaches and Sunsets

When I arrived in September, I swam in the crystal sea every day. I walked every day. But now that winter is approaching, the weather has become temperamental and violent. We've had some crazy storms that have caused flooding, and the boardwalk is littered with sand and rocks from the storm. And this is only the beginning.

And the wind! Mamma mia, I've never experienced winds like this. They're 20 miles per hour and howl around my house, desperate to get in.

I didn't move here to have perfect weather all the time, but as a girl who lived in San Diego for 12 years (and Orlando five years before), winter is a new concept I'm trying to adjust to. I bought lots of heaters and socks!

5. It's Going to Take a While

I am not known for my patience, and generally, things come quickly to me. So while part of me wants to think I should be totally acclimated to my new life by the three-month mark, fully fluent in Italian, and surrounded by a bevy of cool new friends, that's not the reality.

As they say here, piano, piano. Little by little. I celebrate every tiny win, like:

  • Getting my permesso di soggiorno

  • Meeting an older Italian woman who lives nearby

  • Having a tiny group of truly awesome women

  • Finding a great masseuse a few minutes from my house

  • Learning a new word

This story isn't over. I've been broken wide open here in Italy, and I'm letting in the light. I came to be different. To experience different. And yes, it's been waaaaaay outside my comfort zone. But comfort is overrated (unless we're talking about heat. Then it's super important.). I'm here to be someone new, and that requires being open to learning lessons like these.

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