I recently went back home for one month to visit with my friends and family. While I love going back home and catching up with everyone that I left when I moved to Italy, there always seems to be a small part of me that dreads it.
For one, reverse culture shock always hits me like a windstorm. My mind instantly starts to critique every little thing that is different about the U.S. from Italy:
“Ugh, so many cars, why can’t people bike more often around here?”
“Ugh, why are these houses so disgustingly LARGE? Who needs that much space?”
“Ugh, why does this Starbucks cappuccino taste so sweet…and…so….awful.”
“Ugh, how hard is it to eat something decent in this airport?”
“Ugh, why is that women wearing a pink sweatsuit out in public?”
“Ugh, dinner at 5:30? I…just….can’t….”
The list goes on. I used to actually voice these “concerns” to my family and friends until I realized that I was saying “Well, in Italy, we do this” way too often. Although I haven’t quite overcome my Italy snobbery (c’mon, the coffee really is better here), I have learned to keep my reverse culture shock rambles to myself, much to my familiy’s relief!
Still, there are a few things that are simply impossible to keep to myself, even though I would much rather do so. It happens when someone asks me one of the dreaded questions.
What are these questions I despise so much? Let me replay several scenarios.
Mom: So, when are you moving back home?
My brain: Well my Dear Mother, that would all depend on one’s definition of home. If you mean home as the place where one’s family lives, never. But if you define home as “the place where one lives permanently”, then you see, I already have a home…and it just so happens to be an 85 square meter apartment in Italy! But if you mean home as “where the heart is” and all that malarkey, then that question is simply impossible to answer because my heart is here and there and …it’s just not in one place! So you see, its just not so simple, can you please be more specific?
Me: I don’t know Mom. I’m happy where I am right now and I know I always have the option to move back to the U.S. if I want to.
Dad: So, when are you going to get a real job?
My brain: (wholly offended) When was teaching English not considered a real profession?
Me: (keeping my cool) I have a job Dad – and I really enjoy it at the moment.
Aunt: Do you have an Italian boyfriend? (giggles) Is that why you’re staying in Italy?
My brain: What is this Pride and Prejudice? Why does everyone think “love” is the only motive for staying in Italy? I am an independent woman! Can I not just love Italy?
Me: It’s complicated, Auntie. But no, romance is not the reason why I am staying in Italy.
Friend #1: How many places in Europe have you visited?
My brain: Uh..like..one? Does the Madrid airport count? Omg…this is depressing. She’s going to think I’m a total hermit.
Me: I really enjoy just travelling within in Italy. I want to explore Italy first before visiting a lot of other countries. Besides, I work like a normal person and like everyone else, I take a vacation once a year.
Friend #2: Do you think you’ll stay there forever?
My brain: Hmmm let me just check with the gods of fate. Do you think you will live here forever?
Me: I’m not sure. I really like it at the moment and I’d like to stay for a few more years at least, but I don’t know exactly how long.
I know — my brain can be a complete *itch sometimes. Yet when posed with these quesitons I always feel slightly alienated, like my life is some giant science experiment.
It’s not that I hate my own country either – I love many things about the U.S. (well-functioning systems, convienience shopping, so much amazing international cuisine!), but there’s just something magical to me about Italy.
When I think back to the time before I made my big Italy move, I know I probably would have asked the same questions to someone living abroad. I understand that people are genuinely curious and want to know about my life and why I’ve made such a decision. My most dreaded questions are perfectly normal questions to ask.
Which is why I keep reminding myself that I’m the one who has moved away – meaning that all this reverse culture shock and dreaded question business is a result of my very own decision (Haha, self! You’re so cruel!). It’s the price I pay for my tiny apartment that overlooks a medieval city, my newly found appreciation for fashion (which does not always manifest itself in what I put on in the morning), and my cappuccino moustache. Of course its much more than these superficial dolce vita aspects – there’s my really fun job, the fact that I’m always learning something new, and most importantly, the dear friends I’ve made here that now make up my little home away from home.