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Expat Advice: Culture Shock in Southern Tuscany, Italy

Submitted by Mirabai

Tuscany, Italy

An expat living in Southern Tuscany recommends first and foremost to learn the language. She says that there will be days that are so hard you'll want to cry. But, try not to let things get you too flustered. Have fun and enjoy the beautiful, old land with old traditions.

What is the name of the city or town that you are reporting on?

Southern Tuscany

Did you receive any cross-cultural training for your move abroad? If yes, was it before or after the move?

No, not really. I'd come here on holiday at age 35, unaware at that stage I was on the verge of separation from my husband, and knew this is where I wanted to be. He wouldn't follow me, so we separated (in Rome, as it happens), we went home, I put in my notice at work, whittled my belongings down to virtually nothing, booked a 3 month stint at a language school and was back here a month later. Beyond the language school, I made the concerted effort not to make plans. The cross-cultural training (read: trial by fire and tears) came later.

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If they speak another language in your new country, do you speak the language? If yes, did you learn the language before you moved or while abroad? If no, are you planning to learn the language?

The last couple of years have been a long road and I was edging into 'fluent' range as I speak only Italian at home. However, my partner and I went back to Australia to visit my parents and we stayed in Aus for 5 weeks. While we continued to speak Italiano, the background language was always English, of course, so I feel on the back foot again. I highly recommend learning the language intensively at a school. To dog paddle through the language for years just makes it harder, and you learn all the bad habits!

Were you worried or concerned about culture shock before you moved abroad?

No, not essentially. I don't tend to see everything through rose-coloured lenses. It's not all picture-perfect light and festas-in-the-streets and 'al sole mio'. I knew that before I came here. Also, I'm a mix of Polish, German, English and Belgian, so growing up having multi cultural parents and grandparents with multi cultural quirks is quite normal. One last thing I want to add here is that I was surprised, when I was here on holiday, how few people speak English. That surprised me as I wasn't aware of it.

How significant was the culture shock you experienced when you moved abroad?

Not a great deal shocks me...though (as someone else wrote here) the overt sex trafficking and escort/mistress culture is hard to take. I think the culture shock has slowly seeped in. I've noticed the original adrenaline high anxiety has collapsed into a depression that's been hard to shake for the last 5 weeks. It's taken almost 2 years for this to happen and, most likely, the trip back to Aus was a catalyst. Also, my expat friend recently lost her Italian husband here and I'm faced with another side of reality.

Expats often talk about going through the "stages of culture shock." Examples include the honeymoon phase, the irritation-to-anger stage, the rejection of the culture stage, and the cultural adjustment phase. Do you feel like you went through these or any other stages as you settled into the new culture?

Ok, I think I've outlined this above, but the honeymoon phase was more for me like bumbling through daily life!! Irritation to anger - yep, there was plenty of that and there still is where the language is concerned. Also, even though I've been driving for 20 years, because my licence is Australian, I can't exchange it for an Italian one. I have to do the exam from scratch. So, little freedoms such as that, which I took for granted can add up to irritation that collapses into a futile anger, and probably rejection of the culture. That, and the fact you've got to get a bloody stamp for everything! As for adjusting and settling into the new culture? I think I need another year here, working without disruption or distraction from the old life (which is why I deleted my Facebook account) in order to let things organically happen. I can't force these things, and I can't change others. I'm learning patience and that I can't microcontrol everything.

What, if any, were some of the changes you noticed in yourself that might have been caused by culture shock? These might include things such as anger, depression, anxiety, increased eating or drinking, frustration, homesickness, etc.

Depression, definitely. Tears at sad songs, tears at a fumbled second language, over-reacting to small nuisances... I think last February was the worst. We were set to have 10 days in Tenerife, in the sun, and had to cancel when my partner's father became gravely ill and was hospitalised in intensive care for 40 days. The drive to and from the hospital is an hour, and we were in the middle of moving house. We stayed at my partner's parents' place for a month... Frustration? Yes. Homesickness? No. Decreased eating and drinking, rather than increased.

What are some things you appreciate most about the new culture?

The warmth of the community I live in, just to be welcomed every day by those familiar faces and their smiles. My partner, who has just been wonderful, gentle and patient; my sister-in-law and in-laws. The antiquity, the church bells, the art, the culture of food and wine, and the living in tune with the seasons.

What are the most challenging aspects of the new culture?

I'd kill for some fresh ginger and a good, hot Indian curry most days! Setting up businesses - the bureaucracy and taxes can be crippling and are changeable. I take my hat off to accountants here.

Did you "commit" any embarrassing or humorous cultural blunders? If you did and you'd like to share them, please do tell!

All the time, probably... I walk around barefoot in my house, without slippers on. I asked if I could "Sweep the Floor" for someone. Oh...that's right...I mixed my spinach contorno (side dish) into my spaghetti. I was audibly gasped at.

Do you have any advice or thoughts about culture shock you would like to share?

Number one: Learn. The. Language. It will make it so much easier for you long term.

Do an online TEFL course, or enroll in class tuition for teaching ESL. It's a great fallback...and surprisingly heaps of fun.

Ask for help, seek out other English-speaking expats and make friends with them but don't rely too heavily on only them.

Listen to your gut. If something doesn't feel right, it probably isn't. It's saved my skin a number of times. Don't get cranky, but learn to say 'no' and mean it (still working on the assertive no!)

Be creative with the skills you have. Every little short course, degree, experience you've had can be cobbled together to help you find work.

Don't let things get you too flustered. There are days that will be so hard you'll want to cry. Even catching a bus from A to B can make you want to squawk.

Most of all, have fun. You're in a wonderful, beautiful, old land with old traditions and a diversity from north to south. Dig your toes in.

On the Italy Expat Forum

Join our Italy Forum and talk with other expats in Italy who can offer you insight and tips about living in Italy. Here are a few of the latest discussions on the Italy Expat Forum:

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Applying for Italian Citizenship in USA (33 replies)

Hello everyone. I have several questions so I will mark them starting with #1. I would like to apply for my Italian Citizenship along with my 2 adult children (18&21). My jurisdiction Italian Consulate is Chicago(I do not live in that state). I have sent 65 emails (no response)& called them for over 1 year & they do not answer the phone!! Maybe you can help me. I already have my father's Italian birth certificate from Italy, his marriage certificate and naturalization paper from USA. I have mine, my 2 adult children birth certificate with apostille.I have an appt for November, 2020, we have to fly to Chicago PLUS rent a car & hotel...and I made 1 appointment thinking my whole family will attended to at this appt, then I read in some forums each applicant must make hisher own appt?? If this is true what should I do?? We all need to be processed at the same time.....(That's #1 question) OK here's my other questions and sorry so many questions but I need to get to Italy ASAP as an Italian citizen. #2 -What other formsdocuments, where do I get the formsdocuments that I need and how much is the cost? Do I write a personal check or money order for each of these forms? #3-How long does the whole process take if I apply for my Italian citizenship in USA? #4- Do I need to prove any kind of fundssavings I have in bank or do I need to prove anything else??#5- I am on SSDI so I live on my money from SSDI, so I can not work or working. #6- What am I missing as far as what else I need? Thx in advance everyone...

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Unmarried couple with child. He qualifies for citizenship. (4 replies)

Hi. I’ve learned a bunch reading your posts (thank you) and I am wondering if you can please answer a couple of questions. My long-time live-in boyfriend of nearly 17 years, the father of our 3-year old daughter--my husband for intents and purposes, but not by law, qualifies for Italian citizenship. We just realized this last week. His grandmother was from Naples, married his American military grandfather, moved to the U.S., had a green card, never became naturalized, and had a daughter, his mom, who was born after 1948. His mom didn’t renounce her citizenship. Some research made this news less exciting as we realized he’d have to deal with the SF consulate, and that would probably take a very very long. We were already looking into moving to Europe (we checked out Portugal in November, and were aiming for long term residency there via d7 visa) when I stumbled upon this information, and it seems like a much better option for him and our daughter to have citizenship and have the ability to move around the EU. So we’d like to go to Italy to do the paperwork there because it would be faster, and also, because we were already wanting to go somewhere for an adventure. But how would that work out for me? Would I be subjected to regular Schengen visa time limits and not granted a permesso di soggiorno because we’re not married? Or would I be able to be able to get a permesso di soggiorno along with my partner and our daughter? We’re not married because not married, but we could be married. We just never did that because I felt funny about the dress and wedding and fuss and all, and we were always working and moved quite a few times, and then a bunch of years passed. But so, we could get married if I can’t stay with them. Does anyone know the answer to this? And then, if the answer is that I’d have to deal with regular Schengen visa time limits, and then we decide to get married so that I can get a permesso di soggiorno also, would it matter to get married in the U.S. before we left or in Italy like a month or two into our time there? Thank you for your help.

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Italy expat forum topic
Do I have everything I need? (3 replies)

Good afternoon. I will be requesting dual citizenship(Italian Citizenship) in Italy. I was wondering if you kind people can help me out and if I have everything I need. I have 3 daughters 18, 22, 29 yrs old. I have my mothers birth certificate, marriage certificate, USA naturlization certificate. I have myself and my daughter's USA birth certificates with the Apostille and translated into Italian. I have my divorce decree translated in Italian. So I go to the Questura where I will be living in Italy and will they give me all the forms we need to fill out for Italian citizenship or does the post office give me the forms? What forms do we need and how much are they$$? After filling out the forms for each family member what type of payment do they take?(cash, money order?) Then after filling out the forms we just pop back in the Questura and tellthem we want Italian Citizenship (Dual)? How many days will we have to find us a place to live? When we get to Italy we must go to Questura and tell them we need to stay more than 3 months and why, correct? Is this when they issue the Permesso di soggiorno? Finally, how long will it take for us to become Italian Citizens? *I hope I have not missed any steps here if so please help me out and what the correct steps are. Grazie!

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Comments about this Report

Sep 3, 2014 07:55

I had a different experience. I'm an expat now, but have been coming over to Italy for about 30 years: some vacations and a lot of work. I'm terrible at the language; for some reason, I learn it and tend to forget it unless I use it daily. Anyway, when I decided to hit the expat trail, I had some experiene here. One thing I would suggest is have a couple of language "cheat sheets" on you at all times. One of mine is my "911" card - if I'm having a medical emergency, help or require a dire necessity, that's on a 3x5 card. I have similar cards for shopping, traveling, etc. The key to using these cards is organization: know where they are at all times and get to them quickly. As many expats know with the language, they usually know the key words - usually, the nouns - but the adjectives, verb conjugations, etc. are hard to remember and, as Americans, we tend to kick ourselves over it. I agree with Miribai that you need to go to an Italian language school to get the ins and outs of the language. One other thing...I see expats all the time and unbelievably, they act like tourists. Cameras out constantly, touristy clothes, eating "safe" food - basically, not acting like an expat - are dead giveaways. To be a successful expat, one has to make non-expat friends, eat new and wonderful food, go to out-of-the-way places and basically become as Italian as you can. It's not difficult; in fact, it's easier to do this than grasp onto your old life in America, Australia, the UK or wherever else you come from. I could write a really long post on this, but I would have to agree with Miribai on most everything she says - it does get frustrating and depressing at times, but since I'm semi-retired (I do some TEFL work), I don't let it get to me. Having key Italian friends to not only help you with the language and culture is great, but cultivating them to go different places with you is better. For example, I had one of my Italian guy friends give me a tour of the local hospital - where to check in, who to call, introduced me to some EMT's as well as a few doctors and admins. Very helpful. Same thing with restaurants, stores, pharmacies, and so on. Bottom line: go out and do something Italians would do. One of my favorites is my Marcello Mastroianni impersonations.

Sep 9, 2015 09:04

Thanks for sharing...I don't usually click from the newsletter mail-out to the actual site but from your snippet that was included, I felt compelled to keep reading! I was most interested by the fact that you said you started having a mood change 2 years into your move- I'm slightly worried about this fact as I'm nearing my one year mark which has gone smoothly but my Italian fiancee is constantly worried about the "what if you have a crisis" situation that could happen in the future. By crisis, he means missing home (Canada).

Jan 11, 2017 18:47

Fantastic write-up. Just the kinds of comments that should be on each of these reports. Thanks.

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