M. Elizabeth Evans is a blogger and writer living between Florence and the US. She loves her husband, Francesco, his majestic chest hair, red wine, and their dog, Oliver. Her blog, Surviving In Italy, is an award winning humor blog for expats, travelers, and anyone interested in Italy or Italian culture from an expat’s perspective.
What brought you to Italy and why have you stayed?
It’s kind of cliché really, I moved to Italy for art school in 2009. After school I stayed in Florence with my friend from art school to start a design company that we still run together called, Ossimori, I was dating Francesco at the time and after a year he proposed.
How were you able to legally stay in Italy? What documents did you have to apply for?
I had a student visa and later a spousal visa.
Any advice for visiting the “dreaded” Italian consulate? (if applicable, if not, any advice on visiting the Questura?)
That place is a nightmare. Get super drunk first and bring a bottle of wine in with you, too.
How did you land your first job in Italy? Was there anything about the job application process that was shockingly different from what you expected?
I don’t have the personality to be able to work in Italy. I’d totally lose my shit. Judging from the slow, la-la, attitude that grocery store clerks have in Florence, I can honestly say that I’d go postal with all of the slow, chatty, weeeeeee, stuff that happens. This isn’t to say that Italians are incredibly talented or smart, they are, but their businesses often (not always) work at a pace that would kill me. I’m a copywriter and a social media manager for a company in the US. I’ve always worked from home. Sigh. I’m lucky. Although, it’s not a bad idea for other expats. There are SO MANY remote positions available in the US now. US wages, but from home! Awesome!
How do your friends and family feel about you living in Italy? How do you respond?
My dad didn’t speak with me for like six months because he saw it as a massive step backwards. My friends were bummed but supportive. A lot of them have a sort of weird idea of what being an immigrant is like. I get it because I was that way too before I actually moved to another country. It seems magical but it can be really rough, even in a magical place like Italy.
What part about being married to an Italian drives you the craziest?
I think it would be easier to ask what doesn’t drive me crazy. ha! My husband is my best friend and we have an awesome relationship but the cultural difference has not been easy on us. We think differently, approach life differently, and deal with family and friends differently. For example, I have a five year plan, my husband lives by a, “boh, I suppose I’ll see what happens,” strategy that makes me crazy. In all fairness, his mentality is probably much healthier than mine, but I can’t even navigate life without goals. His family is also very southern Italian, a lot of sexism, like, “You, with the vagina, get up and wait on us because we have penises,” they want to control everything we do, which underwear I should pair with which pants, how we should raise our non-existent kids, our dog, you name it. It’s exhausting. And nagging is like an Olympic sport, “I don’t like your hair, or makeup, I hate that outfit on you, I bet you don’t know how to sweep.” Holy. Shit. It takes everything I have not to throw myself from a balcony. It’s insanely different from how I grew up. My dad is Iranian so he’s more involved (and opinionated) than a typical American parent but he can’t even hold a candle to my in-laws in terms of sheer controlling mania. My MIL once showed up at my apartment with a bunch of burnt orange and brown decorations she’d picked out on her own and went to town on our place. So, for the next two years our apartment was all brown and orange. Torture. And I’m such a visual person, I wanted to vomit in my mouth every time I entered the kitchen. I think the key is a sense of humor. My husband and I laugh at everything and make fun of each other constantly. We don’t take each other very seriously and I guess that’s how he hasn’t murdered me for my blog yet.
When you go back home to America, what is the most difficult thing to adjust to?
The food because it’s harder to find quality ingredients and most places are so gross. And the space. I feel like I’m on another planet. There is so much space! And nobody is staring at me! I feel invisible and it is glorious.
What has been your most embarassing Italian language moment?
I have millions. My Italian is significantly worse when I’m nervous and I get social anxiety around Italian people because my sense of humor just doesn’t translate well and I always freak people out. I’m an idiot. So I get nervous and then I can’t speak properly and I say weird things like, “My dog a sex addict, love make sex on your leg, so good, he thinks.” And then people just stare at me for a long time before they find an excuse to get away.
I find it really difficult to make Italian friends (in particular females). What’s your take on this? Any advice for lonely expats?
Ugh, yes! Me too! See above. haha. I have a few Italian friends but that’s because for one reason or another they had to be around me for YEARS. Long enough to finally figure out that I’m not completely insane. I’m super sarcastic and very honest and transparent but it’s a bad thing. I tend to openly say whatever I think all the time and I’ve noticed that most Italians don’t operate that way. When I meet someone, I don’t have the ability to try to make a good impression, I just kind of treat people like I’ve always known them and it works really well in a lot of countries, but not at all in Italy where superficiality and ‘bella figura’ is a big thing. I’m the kind of woman who sits down at a table and goes, “Oh my god! That woman is beautiful! Did anyone else see how nice her body was? Also? Did anyone else read that article on Bonobo sex? Did you guys know that they have sex like 70 times per day? No? Oh…” I don’t blame Italian people for not liking me that much. But, I do have a lot of Italian readers so maybe I just never meet the right italians in person? One of our Italian friends who lives in Rome wrote me one day and was like, “Hey, so, one of my colleagues is reading your blog? This is so weird. I’m sitting next to him and I just happened to see him reading one of your posts and laughing.” But I get a lot of angry mail from Italians too they’ll be like, “How dare you take the shits on Italy!” but they’ll be referring to a post where I wrote about how Italy was amazing but my humor doesn’t make sense to them so they’re just really insulted. I get it. I can’t blame them. I do write critically about Italy, too. I kind of think that I have an obligation to be honest since my blog might sway people to actually move to the country. I would never want someone to come and then be totally shocked or miserable because I made Italy look like Disneyland and it isn’t. It’s wonderful and beautiful but it has its problems like every country.
Your blog, Surviving in Italy, offers tons of useful (and hilarious!) advice on moving to Italy. What motivates you to share your experiences and Italy expertise?
Thank you Sarah! Honestly, when I moved to Italy it was blissful. I had the best time of my life in school and that year and a half was just amazing. Then, things became very different. The more “Italian,” I became, hanging out with mostly my husband’s Italian friends and his family, the more depressed I was. I was so depressed I was just sitting in my room crying constantly because I couldn’t relate to anyone and I felt isolated. And I thought, “I bet a lot of people are having this experience,” and I wanted them to know that they weren’t the only ones struggling. Also, most of the big Italy expat blogs started around the same time mine did. Before I moved to Italy there weren’t many blogs and I wanted to make things easier for students, expats and travelers. Italy is better if you have the inside info, as you know.
Do you get a lot of questions about moving to Italy from your readers? If so, what’s the most difficult question to answer and how do you usually respond?
I get a ton of questions from my readers about moving to Italy. Most of them want to know about work. How can they work? And honestly I tell them to try to be remote. It’s the easiest way to do it. There isn’t much work in Italy and if there is the pay is tragic. Another question I get often is, “Is it true that Italians aren’t circumcised,” and, “Is my Italian boyfriend lying to me.” My answers are, “Unless the Italian is also Jewish, he has a full elephant trunk in his pants,” and, “If you’re under twenty-five than yes he’s probably lying about something. Who knows what.”
The aim of “Moving to Italy Interviews” is to provide a wide range of perspectives on the Italy immigration process. Each interviewee has a unique “Italy” story to tell. Whether they are to be learned from, or simply enjoyed, it is my hope that this interview blog series provides new and enlightening information for Italy dreamers and enthusiasts alike. Read more Moving to Italy Interviews.