Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Just because I live in Italy doesn't mean I'm on "vacation."

WTF? Really.

I have to say I'm getting annoyed with this idea many folks have back in the States that I sit around all day chilling.

I would like to see them deal with Municipio #1 (Centro Storico) Comune when getting their residency, try to get a driver's license, learn a new language after the age of 30, live in an apartment the size of most of their kitchens, deal with smelly BO on the bus (I know when you're a tourist or a selling roses you have been out all day walking but man please have some compassion for your fellow human beings), random strikes, etc.

I'm not on vacation. I do work. Hard. Writing might not seem like a "job" but it is. I do it 24/7. And so far this year I've earned exactly $0 from it. So yes I get a little defensive about people thinking writing is not work. I mean just because I can write an e-mail and half the movies released by hollywood suck doesn't mean anyone can be a screenwriter. It is a skill, a craft and it helps to have to some talent. There are some hacks out there but even they have to know structure.

People don't sit around and say, "yeah I can direct", but I can't tell you how many people have said/say to me "I would write movies if I had the time." Thats like me saying I could be Miuccia Prada or Karl Lagerfled because I can reattach a button to a blouse.

Has this happened to other expats? Do acquaintances back home think your life is one big Hollywood movie filled with days of doing nothing other than drinking wine/eating cheese/sitting on the beach etc.?

38 comments:

Caro said...

This happens me constantly. A friend spent a few days at a wedding in Verona and another few in Venice and kept gushing about how lucky I was to live here, she had no idea what a great life I have. Because I obviously spend my days sipping Prosecco and basking in the sun instead of spending 9 hours a day working and nearly 3 commuting for crappy Italian starvation wages...

nyc/caribbean ragazza said...

Caro - My parents live in place that receives a lot of tourists. While it's a beautiful island getting simple things accomplished can be a major pain in the butt. French/Dutch red tape, higher costs for goods and services, etc, things you don't see when you are in a place for only a few days.

Vacationing in "paradise" and living there are two completely different things.

Sara, Ms Adventures in Italy said...

You have arrived, girl! :)

I was just talking to someone I just met on the phone (in NYC) and she said "jealous" - with your post fresh in my mind I couldn't help but say, well it's not all fun and roses :P

nyc/caribbean ragazza said...

sara - I get people saying, "oh you're lucky" or "I'm jealous". I do feel lucky to live in Rome BUT I said to someone I really need a vacation and they said "from what, your vacation?" This was the wrong week to say that crap to me. ha

Tina said...

I wrote about this exact topic a year and a half ago http://tinatangos.com/blog/expats/no-its-not-vacation/

The longer I lived in Argentina, the more people thought I had this great, easy life of dancing tango every night and sleeping in all day every day. Noooo. Makes me want to bang my head against a wall, he he.

I want to rewrite that post now and say "So you think I was on vacation in Buenos Aires? Okaaaay, YOU try and deal with having to hoard coins during a coin shortage because the buses only take coins, YOU try and stand in line for three hours at inmigraciones trying to stay legally, YOU try and survive 21 days without gas in your home, meaning no showers or cooking because the gasista is taking his dear sweet time fixing the gas lines, YOU try and keep your cool because the internet went down again and you have a deadline you're missing..." Sigh. Yeah I know.

When that happens, just be glad you have easy access to good wine and pour a glass ;-) he he. It's what I do.

Skywalker said...

I'm one of the jealous people who would want to crash your place (sorry) but alas I kinda figure that you needed a change of scenery in order to get that writing bug going.

You do share you're excursions but alas, I don't really think "Gee NYCCR is off galavanting in Italy while I live my miserable pregnant experience in DC"...nope. Its more like "a writer seeking inspiration".

Italy is your muse. Love ya. Ciao Bella

nyc/caribbean ragazza said...

Tina - having access to excellent wine that doesn't cost a lot help a great deal! I'm going to read your post again.

skywalker - ha. I know you don't think that. I'm just surprised someone would think a single person of my age without a trust fund would be able to just "hang out." I'm not backpacking. I live here.

Anonymous said...

I wish I had a dollar for everytime someone here told me how lucky i was to live in Italy for 6 years.

I just smile and nod and try to keep the conversation brief!
Autumn

Lilacspecs said...

People often tell me how lucky I am to be living in Europe, but maybe cause it's Flanders or maybe caus eI complain so much, no one seems to view it as a vacation.

Kataroma said...

Yeah it happens to me all the time and it drives me nuts because these people think that they actually know something about Italy based on a couple of weeks in the historical center of Rome, Venice, Florence and maybe Cinque Terre. Get a job in Italy and work for crappy Italian wages for a while and then we'll talk I say! :)

Kataroma said...

oh and getting your Italian drivers license counts too!

Diana Strinati Baur said...

oh i love this post at a very deep level. When you are here and we are hanging out with a bottle of wine by the pool we will TALK darling. Love the lagerfeld analogy. grrrrr.

Amanda said...

I'd have to partly disagree. While people from back home don't think we chill all day, they do think we have a great life filled with travels and adventures, and most of the time they are right. If I were them, I'd be jealous of me.

Sure, up until last week I was working as a nanny (for a pair of 3 and 4 yr. old brothers WHO ARE STILL NOT POTTY-TRAINED) because I can't get a teaching job for visa reasons. (My degree from NYU means nothing out here!) We have to survive on my husband's salary only, which means never eating out (& scouring ads for sale items and store brand specials to cook at home) and never jet setting around Europe. We learn high German in class (which is so daunting), but only hear crazy incomprehensible dialect spoken all around us. We have no Swiss friends and rarely see other expat friends because we don't live in one of the bigger cities. Everything closes at 18:00. We pay heaps for health insurance and for renewing our residence permits. I shop at the Salvation Army. And I now spend my days looking for a job. Yet despite all of these struggles, I feel so blessed to live here.

No, it's not all fun and games and glamorous, but if it were really so miserable, we'd move back to California. Why do we stay? Because the weekends actually do feel like vacation! We cycle across the border into Bregenz, Austria. We hike in the Swiss Alps. We camp along the lakes in Ticino. We take road trips with our friends to their German hometowns. And we eat great cheese!

I can't believe this is my life! BUT, I imagine that many expats out there, perhaps those forced to move because of an involuntary job transfer, especially military, have a much more difficult situation because their destinations aren't always the most desirable places. We moved to Switzerland because a great opportunity came up for my husband and we wanted to take a chance, which I think influences our daily mindset.

Kim B. said...

Sorry for the insensitivity of the person who sarcastically asked if you needed a vacation from your vacation.

I guess for me, it kind of has two aspects. People think my life *must* be glamorous since I live in Paris. No matter how many times I say I live in a 400-sq-ft apartment or that I can't find a 'real' job or that there's not enough hot water in our heater for my husband and I to take showers successively.

On the other hand, I think I use it as a protective cloak sometimes. I may not be doing anything exciting professionally, I may not be the success I was "meant" to be according to my high school and college "achievements" but at least if you're broke and 39 in Paris, you're broke and 39 in Paris. It's not as embarrassing as being broke and 39 and back home.

And Diana's right, your analogy about being able to sew on a button not making you Prada is right on!

Clearly your "friend" touched a nerve with all of us! Don't let her/him get you down! They just don't know.

nyc/caribbean ragazza said...

autumn - ha!

lilacspecs - that's the thing. I DO feel lucky to live here but I'm not on vacation. Maybe if I worked for a big multi-national corporation they wouldn't think I was? Do people think writers in NYC are on vacation?

kataroma - I know. Don't even get me started. Visiting a country for a couple weeks on vacation does not make one an expert on said country.

diana - I'm so looking forward to it.

Amanda - Let me be clear, it's the vacation comments that drive me nuts not the "I'm so jealous you live in Rome" ones. Saying/thinking I'm on vacation implies I don't work and living in Rome is easy as pie. When in fact even if I wasn't working it's hard to move to a new country that is so different from your home country. I agree with you it's harder to move to a place because of love or a job vs. moving because you want to. I find the expats who did the latter are much happier here as they had a better idea of what they were getting into and roll with the punches easier. Once my financial situation improves, I can't wait to go on weekend/day trips again. It's truly one of the great things about living here. Plus excellent food and wine, the Italian National Soccer team, etc.

kimb- I get they were being funny but it really pissed me off. I need a vacation because I haven't had one a long time and my body is telling me I need to take a break very soon. Regarding your comment on being broke and in Paris vs. being broke in the States I'm going to write a post about that.

joanne at frutto della passione said...

Oh wow, I think you hit a nerve with this post. There is the impression among Italians back home that here in Italy no works as hard as people in North America do. If I hear "Here we live to work, in Italy you work to live." one more time I will punch someone. I leave my home at 7.30am and never get home before 6pm (last night I got home at 8) my husband's hours are about the same. I do not take a 3 hour lunch and nap break, nor does anyone I know. I will happily discuss the perks another day, I had serious post office issues yesterday and I'm still cranky about it!! I know how tough Rome can be, so much so that I would never move back, so hang in there!

nyc/caribbean ragazza said...

joanne - If you lived a small village then maybe I can see people assuming life was less hectic.

Milan is like any other major city. And life in a big city can be stressful at times.

My Italian friends work very hard BUT they do have a more balance in their lives, unlike the majority of my American friends.

J.Doe said...

That used to get on my nerves so much when I was living in Florence. People assumed I was living the sweet, Under a Tuscan Sun life, and thought I was just a bitter sour grape when I complained about my Florentine life.
Living ANYWHERE is different from a vacation. I can't tell you how much I enjoyed my vacation to California, lounging on the beach, eating in restaurants, walking, seeing disneyland and universal studios... but then I moved there permanently and things like rent and utility bills had to be paid and the vacation was over. It's the same in Italy.
I never took a survey but I'm sure most expats from everywhere get the 'so you are on a vacation in...' line from strangers

Anonymous said...

Related to the phenomenon of expats thinking that I was on a vacation in Italy for 4 years and couldn't understand that a vacation in a place is not the same as living there are the native Italians who also couldn't understand why I was in Italy. They all assumed the grass was greener on the other side (US)"Why are you here?" they'd ask. When I told them that my husband is a fiorentino they didn't seem to think that was a good reason to live in Italy."
Oh well, you can never win.But if it makes you feel any better now that we are in the US my husband gets the 'you are not on vacation 24/7? Why? What's wrong with you?' comments

nyc/caribbean ragazza said...

j. doe - so true! I visited L.A. a few times before my move and living there was a VERY different story.

anon - that is too funny. I do get asked "why Rome/Italy" by Italians. Some shake their heads and say I'm crazy. ha

michelle | bleeding espresso said...

Sosososo with you. I've been thinking of a post on this as well, inspired by:

http://almostfearless.com/2009/06/30/even-pico-iyer-hears-it-why-you-living-abroad-annoys-some-people/

and the original:

http://happydays.blogs.nytimes.com/2009/06/07/the-joy-of-less/?em

It's a hard thing for me to really pin down, though, since of course I feel that I'm lucky to live the life I do (we all should!), but I've also made a lot of sacrifices (and continue to make them) to actually live it. It's hard for some people to understand that there's daily living here just as anywhere, especially since I don't like to dwell on the negatives, particularly in public (on the blog, FB, etc...many times (although not always!) I feel it's bad energy that I don't want to spread). So in a sense, I think I'm sometimes a little to blame for people envying this lifestyle...although they should be smart enough to know that nothing and nowhere is perfect, right?

Definitely annoying and frustrating though, especially when many of the people who are jealous of my life, for instance, could never live this way for a variety of reasons...not the least of which is the lack of an extraordinary expendable income ;)

glamah16 said...

Seems now you have to work harder, not the opposite.

scatteredmoments said...

Agreed! What ever happened to don't judge a man until you walk a mile in his shoes? I too am sick of people assuming that I live in fabulous wine and sun soaked vacation land. So frustrating. But isn't is so American to want to let them know how hard it is? To prove ourselves? I say let them have the dream/ fantasy. We know how hard it is and the reward for achieving is just that must sweeter.

Sara said...

I stumbled across your blog from Blogher and I have to say I understand!

I am an expat currently living in Chile and every time I talk to certain friends and family it's like "Oh...how is your trip?" What? I'm pretty sure people on trips don't go to work everyday or deal with half the crap I do.

Also, no one can quite wrap their minds around the fact that I live in the southern hemisphere therefore it is WINTER here. It is not hot. I do not want to go to the beach right now.

*getting off soapbox

nyc/caribbean ragazza said...

michelle - I will have to read those links. I try not to sugar coat things but I'm very happy here, therefore the rants are few and far between. I so agree with you esp. your last paragraph.

glamah - true. And the exchange rate doesn't help.

sm - oh good point. Why do I feel the need to tell people it's not a permanent vacation? hmmm

sara - thanks for stopping by. "How's your trip?" haha. It's just hard for some people to understand the whole expatriate situation.

La Bella Città said...

Everything is so true it made me laugh. Getting a residence, drivers license, fiscal code.... took literally forever and I am duel US.EU citizen\, so i cant imagine the roadblock if i wasnt. I constantly hear myself saying- im not just sitting around waiting for my boyfriend to come home. working from an online company and writing my daily blog labellacitt.com is actually a job. Yes, i work from home, so i can schedule my days, but im not hanging out and shopping at prada all day. I do consider myself lucky living in Milan and getting an insider perspective on a whole different culture, but all expats know that its hard. you dont want to complain, cause the life we live is pretty awesome, but its not la dolce vita 24/7 :-)i love your blog!!!

nyc/caribbean ragazza said...

la bella citta - grazie...thanks for stopping by.

Yes we were lucky to have EU/USA citizenship. The process of getting residency was brutal. I can't imagine trying to get a PdiS in Rome. Talk about back-logged paperwork.

Ms. Violetta said...

People who make comments like that are simply jealous. Jealous because they don't risk to upset their tidy little world.
Green envy brings out the worst in people. Italy on vacation is vastly different than actually making a life there.

nyc/caribbean ragazza said...

ms. violetta - as others have said, expats do make big changes and /or sacrifices to move overseas. While there are amazing moments, it's not (for most people) La Dolce Vita 24/7

Cherrye at My Bella Vita said...

Great post and comments. I laughed at what you and Michelle said about some people not being willing to make the sacrifices. I had dinner with a cousin when I was in TX who had gone to Venice last year. When I was slightly ranting about how hard some things are she said, "I can't believe that. I could SO see myself living there..."

Funny thing is, I could SO not see her living here... People just don't know.

nyc/caribbean ragazza said...

cherrye - that is funny. I've had people say that to me as well. They probably wouldn't last longer than a month. Italy is not America and neither is France, Ghana, Japan etc. etc.

Italianissima said...

Sorry to chime in late on this post but I think it is dead on. I just got back from a 5 week "vacation" in Italy as well. When I told people that I was going to Italy for 5 weeks I got all sorts of snarky comments about how "nice it must be to go on vacation in Italy." Ha! While I am not working (ie have a paying job) when I am there, I am also not on vacation. For starters we stay with my mom and so I have my share of "passare lo straccio" and washing dishes and hand washing clothes since it is expensive to use the washing machine we have for "emergencies." I was also getting up at 5 am due to my son who is an early riser. My DH and I did go to Venice for 2 nights where we stayed in a hotel and which I did consider my real vacation since I did not have to make my own bed or cook my own meals (and my son was with his nonna so I could sleep in - weeee!).

nyc/caribbean ragazza said...

Italianissima - ha. The same happened to us when we went to visit our family in St. Martin during the summer. In three weeks I think we went to the beach maybe twice. Instead we were running around that island and Anguilla like crazy trying to see relatives.

Now that we are older and working we told our parents (who moved back after retiring) that we MUST have some down time when we visit.

The wild rooters in the hills start crowing at sunrise so there is no sleeping in.

andrea said...

haha I laugh at you who is complaining because you got home from work at 8..that is early for me, and then I am a slave of my blackberry for the rest of the night.
I don't think expats live in a constant state of vacation, but that doesn't mean that the overall quality of life is not better than the US.

nyc/caribbean ragazza said...

andrea - Who are you referring to? I had dinner meetings or screenings in L.A. three to five times I week and stacks of scripts to read. I worked all weekend.

I agree with you my quality of life here is better. It's the main reason I moved.

initials CG said...

Oh can I sympathize!

Give it ten years and you're still asking yourself these questions.

Like your blog.

bblogger said...

People seem to have the misconception that if one moves abroad, one can live life as if it is one big vacation. The only people who can move abroad and "vacation" while staying in Italy are the rich...it takes MONEY to live abroad, just as it takes money to live here.

I can relate!! :) Writing takes A LOT of brain power. I am just beginning myself.

Good luck to you!! :)

nyc/caribbean ragazza said...

ICG - thanks!

bblogger - exactly...good luck with your writing.