Moving to Italy: Expectation vs. Reality | The Gap Life Diaries
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Moving to Italy: Expectation vs. Reality

When you move away from your home country to spend a few years elsewhere, you definitely have a picture in your mind of how life abroad will be. But sometimes, you don’t get what you bargained for.

FASHION:

The expectation:

I was pretty convinced that Italy would make me into the epitome of chic. That I’d start investing money in statement pieces, wearing heels to work and lipstick all week, designer handbag gently swinging from the crook of my arm as I floated around like the continental goddess that I’d inevitably become. After all, Italy is the style capital of the world, right?

The reality:

Wrong. With the exception of rich little old ladies who are jaw droppingly elegant 100% of the time, Italians don’t really dress any better than anyone else. There are a lot of badly-translated graphic tees, and even more shiny, pastel coloured trainers, and 90% of the stores I can actually afford to shop at are Spanish anyway. Far from morphing into a glam diva, last year I gave in and bought myself a puffer jacket (I confess: it’s like wearing a warm cloud all the time and I love it), I regularly wear trainers to work, and my fanciest purchase of the past year was a woolly hat with a bobble made of what possibly used to be a raccoon.

FOOD

The expectation:

It’s one of the things Italy is most famous for: the balanced, life-prolonging, Mediterranean diet, so you think you’ll just turn into a walking, talking, Bertolli advert. You’re picturing fresh fish, you’re picturing grilled peppers, you’re picturing basil and mozzarella slices and light drizzles of olive oil, right? Well I was too.

The reality:

I don’t know a single person who didn’t put on weight in their first year in Italy. Sure, Italy is healthier than the UK. Supermarkets are not crammed full of pre-packaged, sugar- and salt-filled ready meals, but that’s not to say that everyone eats as well as you’d imagine. Aside from there being a gelateria around literally every corner (and it being totally normal and acceptable for anyone to eat ice cream at any time of day and any month of the year, whether in company or not), carbs are life and Italians are huge on pasta, pizza, and bread. It’s totally normal to eat pasta twice a day, sharing a pizza is not a done thing, and parmesan is everywhere. Skinny people: be warned.

GETTING A JOB

The expectation:

I don’t know if this is just an English thing, or if it happens to everyone who moves abroad, but I think particularly in UK universities we are told so many times that we can go anywhere and do everything that we want to, that we really start to believe it. Surely Italy, with its crappy economy, must be in desperate need of well-educated Brits who are willing to arrive on time and get the job done. Isn’t it?

The reality:

Kind of. Italy is in desperate need of well-educated young people in the workplace, but this country is also a very tricky place to start a career. The university system is totally different from the UK’s (you study for the job you want to do – want to be an accountant? Study finance. Want to work in marketing? Study communications), and there are no grad-scheme equivalents, so if your degree has nothing to do with your industry of choice, and you don’t have any handy local contacts, you will hit a lot of brick walls right out the gate. If you’re really determined to get into doing something you didn’t specifically study for, you’re going to have to be prepared to work for free, and pay your rent with a side-job while you do, put up with rubbish contracts, and sell your soul for a little while. Once you’re in, you’re sorted, because nobody cares about your degree once you have practical experience, but it’s getting your foot in the door that’s the tricky part.

THE BORING STUFF

The expectation:

Maybe this is just me, but I thought that moving to mainland Europe would be a walk in the park. Isn’t that the point of the EU? In the UK, I’d always managed to get all of my “practical” things done either online, at the Post Office, or directly in the place I needed to go, and had honestly never considered these kinds of things could be problematic.

The reality:

Oh good Lord, the reality. The amount of paperwork you have to do when you move to Italy is insane. Pair that with the fact that as soon as you say you’re foreign, everyone in the offices wants to help you 200% less, and it’s basically a nightmare. Prepare for some serious frustration, and have a bottle of red ready for when you’re back from the Anagrafe. Goodness knows, you’ll need it.

How to: do bureaucracy in Italy without losing your mind

MAKING FRIENDS

The expectation:

Italians have a reputation for being super friendly and sociable, so you’d imagine you’d be welcomed with open arms, and hanging out with your big group of new Italian pals within the week.

The reality:

Again, kinda. Italians vary a lot from region to region. In the north, they have a reputation for being a bit more “closed”, by their own admission, while in the south people may pay a bit more attention to the foreigner who’s just moved in. Italians also don’t move around a lot, not even for university usually, so Italian friendship groups are mostly cemented at school, and the same ones continue well into adulthood. What this means is that a lot of Italians aren’t necessarily looking for new buddies, and you’re going to have to make a bit more effort than you’d have thought. That said, Italians are often super nice, and once you get chatting to some locals, you’ll quickly make friends. The key is finding the opportunity – at work or in a flat share are the top choices for easy friend-making. If one of your colleagues or housemates introduces you to someone who you get along with really well, don’t be ashamed to add them on Facebook and be proactive in meeting up – friend-stealing might’ve been a faux pas at high school, but you’re the weird foreigner now, so anything goes!

LIFESTYLE:

The expectation:  

When you move to the Mediterranean, you expect to be eating “al fresco” (not a thing, BTW) every night, having relaxing lunch dates before heading back to the office, catching up with friends over a creamy cappuccino on a Sunday morning in a postcard-perfect piazza, and spending your weekends with your sophisticated friends, enjoying the sunshine and sipping local wine.

The reality:

Pretty much. While the sophisticated company might be more of a challenge (just kidding, Turin friends!), the rest is more or less on point. Big, expensive nights out aren’t really a thing here, but spending time with your friends and relaxing absolutely is. Although you won’t be able to afford to eat out every night, you can certainly manage a dinner or two every week if you want to. Most restaurants aren’t prohibitively expensive, coffee is pleasingly cheap, and pretty piazzas plentiful, so breakfast catch-ups are on the cards even if you’re broke. Lunch breaks are sacred, and local wine is abundant, so when it comes to work-life-balance, Italy is more or less the dream.

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