Interview with Testa Dura in Calabria
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Name: testa dura
Date of Interview: October 1, 2006
Area of Italy you live in?
Let us know a little about yourself?
I will turn 30 in October of 2006, and, for the past year and a half, have been living (quite happily) in sin with my Calabrese fidanzato. No, I didn’t move here for him; I was here for about a year and a half all by my lonesome before we officially met and started dating. I grew up in a small coal mining town in Pennsylvania, and then lived in a mid-sized city in North Carolina and in center city Philadelphia before landing in my current home in Calabria—an 11th century walled village with a population of about 350 (outside of tourist season).
Why did you decide to move to Italy?
In June of 2002, I came for a visit to my ancestor’s village on a basic genealogical quest. I loved it, and in August of 2003, I moved here permanently. I haven’t been back to the United States since June of 2004. I don’t have any immediate relatives still here in the village, but I do have many distant cousins that eagerly claim me as their own (and make me feel guilty that I don’t visit them more often—gotta love Italian families!). I decided to move here when I had a job that was ending in the States, and I needed to change gears anyway. I thought Italy would be as good a place as any for a 26-year-old attorney/writer.
What type of process did you go through to be able to move here?
I received citizenship jure sanguinis through my grandmother’s Italian heritage. I had to collect documents back to my great-grandfather, who was born in Italy, up through my grandmother, father, and me. I filed everything in person at the Philadelphia Consulate in April of 2004 and basically never heard from them again. Sure, they sent my dad a form letter saying that our request was approved and that the documents were being sent to Italy in December of 2004, but I never got a “Welcome to Italian Citizenship” packet or the like that some people say they’ve received. Instead, I repeatedly called the comune here in Italy to check on the status of my paperwork until they assured me everything was registered. Now, as of October 2006, everything is finished, and I’m preparing for more rounds of Italian bureaucracy to be officially set up here, finally. Incidentally, I was illegal here for two and a half years, having no permesso di soggiorno or visa ever. The Carabinieri did question me at one point, and I went to the Questura as suggested, but they told me, basically, not to worry about it since my documents to be registered were already in Italy. Who was I to argue with the Questura? So I just waited it out. In any event, nothing here should be taken as advice on how to handle *your* move to Italy; I’m just the messenger.
What problems did you run into during the initial process and how were you able to fix them ?
I was *extremely* lucky and didn’t really encounter any problems with the documents I had to acquire (other than the long wait for citizenship). There were initial raised eyebrows from the consular officer regarding some name discrepancies (I think that’s required of them), but they never actually asked me to fix anything.
How long have you been here?
I moved here in August of 2003, so I just completed my 3-year anniversary.
What type of adjustment problems have you had?
I’m a fairly laid-back person, so the inevitable wait for everything really never bothered me. The erratic store hours (shopkeeper leaving to do errands) can get annoying, but you get used to it pretty quickly. I would say things more on the social end have been difficult for me. Many of the Italian women my age that I’ve met simply aren’t interested in making new girlfriends. And many of the ones who are receptive are married with children, and so, are at a different stage in their lives than I am. Moreover, women and men aren’t really close friends like is so normal in the United States—where at least half of my closest friends are male—so it was difficult to adjust to their social scene and norms at first. Connected with this, though, is that I came here without knowing the language, so that made it difficult to communicate to form bonds at first. Coupled with the fact that I’m naturally a shy person, this was a *big* hurdle to overcome, but happened over time.
What do you wish someone had told you before you made the leap?
I wish someone would’ve told me that by coming without knowing the language, I was bound to feel like I lost a part of my personality on the plane ride over. I like to joke and laugh; sarcasm is usually involved. This is hard to accomplish without a firm grasp of the language—especially in a land where sarcasm really isn’t the comedic method of choice! Gradually this has come back, and I feel so much more like myself again. I *love* when my fidanzato laughs at something I say…and it’s not because I made a masculine word feminine! Of course, this is not to imply that I would say you definitely have to know the language before you come. On the contrary! I think I’m a much stronger and confident person because of the way everything happened. Looking back, sometimes I can’t believe how far I’ve come since I first arrived—and that’s a damn good feeling. Come as you feel comfortable. Period.
What inside secret could you pass on to others looking to move over?
As I tell everyone who comes even for a visit, “Don’t use logic.” At least not the logic you’re used to. Italians and Italian systems function exactly as *they* understand they should. This is their country, and they like it this way. There’s no need for us to ask why something is the way it is—it just is. You’re not going to change Italy; millions have tried and failed and were miserable along the way! So just go with it, stand in the “lines,” wait your turn, and try to smile.
Do you have any disappointments, things you thought would happen but haven't for whatever reasons ?
I thought I would travel around Italy and Europe more, but you know what? It’s kind of expensive. On a related note, I had *really* hoped the dollaro would improve.
What has changed about you since you have been here ?
I’ve fallen in love, so, you know, that’s changed me immensely. Other than that, though, I’d say I’m more likely to defend America (when she deserves it) as an expat than I was before as an ordinary disgruntled citizen. On the other hand, I'm probably also more critical of her as well...a function of the whole "taking a step back" thing, I imagine.
Do you think that you will stay forever?
Absolutely, but don’t tell my mother just yet.
Can you think of any other questions that should be added to this questionnaire?
Did you come here knowing Italian? If not, how did you learn? Apart from family and friends, what do you miss most from your home country? What do you do to feel at home here? Anything you thought you’d never do but now you do all the time? Anything you do that is clearly against the Italian way, but you do it anyway (and with pride)? Describe your experience in five words or less.
Can you think of anything that you would like seen added to this site?
The getting here/adjusting to life sections are impressively comprehensive, so maybe some more things on everyday life...book and movie reviews (Italian or otherwise) and discussion of Italian television programs (news and fluff) come to mind.
I’ll use this space to answer my own suggested questions:
Did you come here knowing Italian? If not, how did you learn?
I didn’t speak Italian when I came, although I did have the basic phrases down pat (ciao, come stai, etc.). I read Italian newspapers, watched Italian television (soap operas, although not great for entertainment value, are excellent for language learning because they are so predictable) and films dubbed in Italian (ones you’ve seen a thousand times are the best because you already know the English by heart), and, ahem, I got me one of them Eye-talian boyfriends—who doesn’t speak a word of English.
Apart from family and friends, what do you miss most from your home country?
I miss the variety of ethnic foods readily available. Sure I could make just about anything here, but it takes a lot of work to find ingredients and a lot of time to prepare, especially when I live with someone who is a *far* less adventurous eater than I am. What do you do to feel at home here? I’m on the Internet a lot for work, but I also make time to check out all the world and local news, sports, and celebrity gossip—along with keeping in touch with friends and family through emails and chats. But most importantly, my fidanzato gave me a puppy who understands English, Italian, and the Calabrese dialect. She actually has given me an identity apart from “L’americana” because now I’m also “La mamma di Luna” (although I did have to convince them to use the word for mother as opposed to “padrona” or mistress).
Anything you thought you’d never do but now you do all the time?
I use my hands to express myself—this after a lifetime of trying to suppress them (I do have Italian heritage after all). The hand gestures really are another language over here, but you’ll be “speaking” it in no time. I also clean a lot more than I would’ve in the United States. Call it peer pressure!
Anything you do that is clearly against the Italian way, but you do it anyway (and with pride)?
I drink cappuccino whenever the heck I want and ignore the odd looks from the barista. I repeatedly say “per favore” and “grazie” even when people tell me to stop (my fidanzato’s parents insist I don’t need to say “no, grazie” every time I don’t want more of something at the dinner table, but I just can’t stop myself). Ah! And despite constant questions as to why I don’t like going to the beach, I *refuse* to tan my skin into leather.
Describe your experience in five words or less.
Best thing I’ve ever done.