I’m kicking off the very first Moving to Italy Interviews with one of my all-time favorite Italy bloggers: Georgette Jupe from Florence! I’ve been following her and her fabulous blog Girl in Florence ever since I first moved to Italy and have found so many of her articles not only useful, but highly entertaining.
My name is Georgette Jupe and I am a digital marketing strategist and ITALY Magazine community manager but most of all, I’m a ‘Tuscan Texas’ from San Antonio, Texas now living in Florence, Italy. I also have a blog, ‘Girl in Florence’ which was a sort of writing outlet to share what it is I adore about the beautiful city of Florence and my mishaps along the way (and there are many). Now ‘Girl in Florence‘ includes plenty of tips for foodie hotspots and where to go in Italy, ‘Locals I Love’ interviews with real people living and working abroad, and travel posts from all over Europe. I’d love to think of myself as a fearless badass but to keep it 100%, a quote that I sort of live by is “I haven’t failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.”
What brought you to Italy and why have you stayed?
This is a question that I am used to asking but less accustomed to answering ;-). Well, the reason I came was because like many other young Americans, I dreamed of studying abroad and living like a local while studying in Los Angeles. The dream however, was to go to London and meet a handsome, witty Brit, but as fate would happen I got the opportunity to study in Florence which was really not on my radar.
I came for the scholastic year and ended up loving everything about it, my partner in crime best friend Kat were up for any adventure including meeting actual Italians and straying from the ‘study abroad bubble’ that is all too often the case for many who come to Florence.
Naturally I met an Italian guy which is a big reason I decided to come back to Florence upon graduation and since 2007, I’ve called this city my home even if that relationship didn’t work out. I stayed and still stay for my relationship with Firenze, she keeps me hooked! Now I’ve met the guy of my dreams, well sort of – he was my my best guy friend for over six years ;-) and is French but together we share our love for this country we both adore. It makes my ‘how did you come to Italy’ story a little more complicated than most but together with our beagle, we have made a little family in the country.
I think partly why I adore being here is that I came with little to no expectations. I didn’t know much about Florence before I came and while intimidated at first by the language, learned quickly that being happy here included speaking the native tongue. Once you stop the comparing and complaining life here is so much better, building relationships with friends is key as having a strong support system abroad is a must if you want to consider this a long-term life decision. I definitely didn’t want to become a ‘angry or bitter’ expat but instead truly integrate and experience life a little slower.
Agreed! I think being a positive person helps you survive here. So how did you land your first job in Italy?
Oh my, I think I was so desperate to find work, I would have cleaned the streets for a few euros. But really, I was a nanny. Like so many people who come here and have to navigate the complicated legal system to obtain a visa, I did what you do when you don’t yet speak Italian. Now you have The Florentine’s (local English newspaper) classifieds which are a wonderful place to look for work
And that would be play with kids, babysit and teach conversational English for really low pay. It wasn’t really something I loved to do – I often came home in tears after being treated to a child’s screaming fit or a particularly bad day on the ATAF bus system. However, I always did adore kids plus some of those people I worked for became contacts later in life and also good friends. I never said no to anything and even worked in a leather store in the center for a short period (I suck at selling to tourists). I also sometimes play celebrant at spiritual weddings but that is a story for another day ;-).
I live in an apartment owned by the woman whose kids I used to babysit and truth be told I feel a bit like I ‘paid my dues’ on having a series of awkward jobs before doing what I actually love today, freelance writing, social media strategy and blogging about Italy and travel. So many of my friends have done similar things to live in Italy and we all sort of bonded over it, plus it means you definitely have some interesting stories to tell, like the time I ate dinner at the house of a noble.
How were you able to legally stay in Italy? What documents did you have to apply for?
So basically you just opened up Pandora’s box, haven’t you? Well, as a student, I came over on a study visa which wasn’t that difficult even if the Los Angeles Italian consulate is hardly accommodating and friendly. When I came back in 2007, it was very difficult to get a work visa. Eventually I was sponsored by my ex-boyfriend’s family and then changed the type of visa to ‘lavoro autonomo’ which is what I still have today, basically a ‘you work for yourself’ type permit which now lasts for the duration of two years, renewable.
I can’t tell you the original documents I needed for the visa, you would need about five blog posts for that, but I can say it was all listed in the permesso di soggiorno packet you get in the post office. This last renewal I needed to present a ‘bilancio’ of my last year earnings and taxes paid. Naturally as soon as I got it, no one ever asked me for it so it sadly is collecting dust in my wallet. But I am ever so proud that it is there. I do have to maintain a certain level of income to keep my type of visa which a commercialista (accountant) helps me with.
Normally you have to wait for a ‘flussi’ or lottery opening to get a work visa but I am not sure if that is still the case or if they are flexible about that, to be honest being current with the latest rules and laws is exhausting in itself. Everyone told me I couldn’t do what I did but by some miracle or perhaps it was because I rubbed the dirty nose of that boar in mercato nuovo so many times in Florence, I was finally able to get a work visa.
Jokes aside you really need to be in legal in Italy because you want to be a well, normal human. Obtain residency, get on the health system because who knows, you might want to buy a car one day or apply for a credit card. I know there was a time when people could just sort of come here and find odd jobs to survive but you really don’t want to do that in 2015. From my experience, they even ask you for residency when you open a bank account.
Lastly, I truly believe that you need to really want to live here because it will take numerous trips to the questura, tears of frustration and always more paperwork. This is why I wrote a post on this very subject. I have a series of posts that I have written on this very subject that you check out here.
Yes, you guys should check out her advice on the permesso. It’s really useful and I remember using it myself when I first came to italy. What about the “dreaded” Italian consulate? Any advice there?
The consulate I don’t dread because I never deal with them, only the Italian questura (the immigration branch). I can just say they are used to dealing with starry-eyed Italy hopefuls all day so my recommendation is keeping your cool, stay as nice as a buttery oreo cookie and come prepared. Don’t bring just one copy of your paper, bring two – no three copies, passport pictures. Don’t be afraid to ask questions, or ask them to write down exactly what you need. Arm yourself with information.
If you need help, go to the immigration help window in your city before you head to the questura to make sure you have everything in order.
Bring an Italian friend (buy them lunch or dinner because they deserve it) to translate for you if you aren’t confident in Italian along with a book, snacks and water because you might be there for a few hours. If you happen to be in Florence don’t be surprised if you see a ‘bench graveyard’ in the questura because apparently many have come out of their sockets, also don’t even think about using the bathroom inside, if it actually is open. I did once a few years ago and I am still getting over the trauma. Needless to say, it should go without saying that you need to carry a packet of tissues with you at all times.
Oh man, yes I remember just how grim the Florence questura was! It felt like a prison in there. So besides being traumatized by the questura, did you experience culture shock when you moved to Italy?
I think I experienced a bit of culture shock like many people do, especially when it came to meetings and work. I couldn’t ‘get’ why people were always late. Also living in an Italian household with ‘la mamma’ will bring about all sorts of ‘shocks’ like the lack of any type of privacy and public conversation about your weight gain or loss. At first I thought, what do you mean they don’t use dryers or believe in take-away coffee? Or let’s talk about dating, or the lack of? When did going on a few dates automatically mean you’re in a relationship?
While that is all a little silly and you get over all of that quite easily I think what was hardest for me was seeing so many young people my age not working, mostly because they couldn’t find jobs.
Also the jobs anyone did get were very low paid which is why many of them lived at the home of their parents, the ones whose parents couldn’t afford to buy them a house outright. I know freelancers that only manage about 500 euros a month after taxes, which as you all know is not even enough to get yourself an apartment in Florence, much less food or travel. Luckily I have also seen the other side, of people rocking it at their career but it usually is very difficult.
I think I am as adjusted as can be now, being with a French guy that every local person thinks is Italian helps, but I do love talking and thinking about cultural differences. In fact we have a blogger roundtable called COSI, where several of us give our personal takes on subjects like working in Italy, learning the language or nervous breakdowns. You definitely have to join in sometime Sarah!
Yes, I love COSI. Ya’ll are like knights of the Italy roundtable! So what about when you go back home to the U.S.. Is it difficult to adjust?
This is a good question, the answer is yes. The longer I live here, the less I understand about home. I’ll tell you what happens, for a good week I am in a sort of fantasyland. I gorge on Mexican food, drink too many margaritas, go shopping at Target and hang out with family and friends. About two weeks in, if I don’t go somewhere else, I start to crawl up and down the walls wanting to come back to Italy. It’s a very personal feeling, I adore the USA but I am just more adapted to life in Europe and the lifestyle.
What I mean by that is I get sick of the constant getting in and out of my car to go anywhere, or entertainment revolved around eating or spending money. Plus there is so much choice (which is good and bad)! I am used to a cereal aisle with a few versions of muesli and yet the second I hit up the supermarket back in Texas, I honestly get overwhelmed.
Are we drinking coconut water or green juice instead of water and why can’t I find any decent fresh lasagna sheets ;-). What I have been doing now to ease that process is visiting a new city before going back to my hometown to make it more of a vacation. Last year we went to Miami and Key West which was a lot of fun and that way I have a few days to adjust, even with jetlag, before visiting my many family members and being doused with holy water. I’ll be honest, I don’t miss home but I do miss the people. On the flip side, living abroad has made me appreciate Texas and the people there a lot more than I ever did before.
Completely agree. I go in double shock mode when I return home. Speaking of home, what’s the most annoying question you get from family and friends back at home? How do you respond?
When am I getting married, oh my gosh make it stop! Seriously I have no idea why people are so obsessed with the potential nuptials of others but I get it all of the time, especially now that I am 30.
Oh you seem happy, when is the marriage date? Hmmmmmmmm
Yeah we like getting straight up and personal with these subjects down in the south. I get that at the age of 30 I should already be hitched with a kid or two on the way but I luckily get to use Italy as a buffer for that conversation. Oh you didn’t know that Italians wait a lot longer to ‘sposare’ and start a family – no rush? See, it works!
Everyone’s life is unique and I am just sort of ‘used’ to the marriage/home/family questions now. I normally don’t talk that much about my life in Italy when I am back home and tend to just listen to the updates/problems/experiences of others, I think it’s a little easier this way.
Haha! Yes being from Georgia my mother has already planned out my Italian marriage, childbirth and divorce. Aaaand on a lighter note, I’m dying to know what’s in your suitcase when you come back from America?
Fun snacks from Trader Joes, I loved their trail mix and peanut butter pretzel bits a little too much. I also bring back the standard peanut butter, BBQ spices, Mexican goodies like tortillas and chili peppers. I also pick up a lot of clothes, like Levis which are a lot cheaper in the states. Also fun techy gadgets if they aren’t too expensive.
And I can’t forget ridiculous gag gifts like Texas ‘wine glasses’ (basically a wine stem on a jam jar), offensive fridge magnets or invisible pen ink, you never know when that might come in handy.
What’s the one thing you could change about Italy?
I like Italy the way it is but I would change a few things. Right now youth unemployment is pretty high and shows no signs of growing anytime soon.. Most people I know have crappy work contracts that are temporary or have little to no benefits but they accept this because ‘it’s a job.’ It can be depressing to be out with friends and here talk about a series of failed job interviews.
I hate this idea that the country doesn’t mind the ‘brain drain’ of talented Italians leaving to find work abroad that actually allows them to be independent and actually create a career. We need those people here. I feel like so many people are afraid to change jobs and pursue other passions because of the fear of uncertainty.
I guess I would also change the apathy of people, the ‘e’ cosi’ society’ that just shrugs its shoulders without really trying to incite change but never loses an opportunity to complain daily about the country.
I get that it’s difficult, that there are tough decisions that might need to be made on how to help grow the economy. But my god, I would hate for Italy to be the next Greece. There are so many wonderful things about this country, heck I want to raise my kids here, that I would hate to see a society of people afraid to start families or even move out of their parent’s home because there isn’t any decent hope of a future for them. We shall wait and see, I am always hopeful that situation will get better.
What’s the one thing Italy has that you wish you could bring to the rest of the world?
The art of enjoying life and vacations without feeling guilty about it, which is something us North Americans could really benefit from learning ;-). At the end of the day, despite what happened during the day, coming home to a great meal and a cheap bottle of wine is enough to make anyone smile.
Stay tuned for more Moving to Italy Interviews! For other moving to Italy related topics, head on over to my Moving to Italy page where you’ll find other articles I’ve written.
Got a question? —> Leave a comment below (your question could be really useful for other readers as well) and either I or Georgette will respond ASAP!