Moving to Italy

So, you want to move to Italy. You want to leave baseball, apple pie, and the Fourth of July behind and come to the Old World, see how life is on the other side of the Atlantic. No more fast food, no more daily grind, no more ugly buildings--just sit-down restaurants, art, and romance.

Forget it.

Here in the cultural center of Florence, MacDonalds is opening their second grease outlet, Dominos is delivering pizzas, and Italians are foregoing Piazza Michelangelo for a quite night at home sitting on the sofa and watching the latest film rented from Blockbuster Video.

Fortunately, Italy hasn't been totally Americanized--nor is it likely to be any time soon. Italians take pride in their culture, even as they adopt the conveniences from abroad.

If you're looking for a change in lifestyle, Italy is still a great place to find something different. It's not an easy transition, though.

First, you have to be able to work. Since there's not quite enough work to go around for Italians, you won't be able to get a work visa. Without a work visa, you can't get a job. It's like that union membership catch-22. You can't be a member without a union job, and you can't get a union job without being a member.

So, how do you get work? There are two ways. First, find an Italian to marry. There are many single Italians, and many of them are attractive, though they may not necessarily speak English, which can make for interesting charades-like conversation.

The other option is to work "in the black" as they call it here. As you might imagine, that consists of working without proper documents, and is a good way for an employer to get fined large sums of money if you get caught. Despite the risks, many restaurants, bars, and pubs hire Americans to work without documents, especially in the summer when they need people who can speak English.

Also, you'll need a place to live. This is easier--though not much. Flipping through the local ads, you'll find that many apartments are let out only to students or to people who are relocating from one city to another because of their job. Once you find a place that you can rent, the process is much the same as in America. You pay first and last month rent, plus a fee to the rental agency equal to one month's rent.

This is the basic stuff. What about the day-to-day of living in a new country, especially one as interesting as Italy? Here's some advice.

Start smoking. Nearly everyone in Italy does, and they don't have the non-smoker protections that you're used to in the States. While you can find a non-smoking section in a restaurant, people usually smoke in them anyway. In fact, a non-smoking sign in Italy is usually considered a good excuse to light up.

Learn not to do anything. It's what many Italians do best--and most Italians I know will consider that a compliment. In fact, people get very creative here to keep from being creative. Strikes every other week, stores that stay open for 5 hours a day, these are just a couple of nationally accepted methods of not doing anything. When you first get here, you will probably have an urge to be active at every moment of the day, as this is considered a virtue in our fast-paced American culture. In Italy, it is considered rude, and is a good way to earn enemies. Relax, sit down, smoke a cigarette.

Forget everything you think you know about driving. For your first month or so, leave the driving to an Italian. Unless you're a New York cabby or a Formula 1 racer, not only will driving be frustrating for you, it could be dangerous. Take a bus, take the metro, walk--don't get behind the wheel.

When you do start driving, here's some things to remember.

a) The lines on the road mean nothing at all. They are there solely for aesthetics. If you think they do some silly thing like divide the road into lanes, tell you where to stop for a light, or separate traffic driving in one direction from the traffic driving in the other direction, you will be the only person who thinks so and that could get you into trouble.
b) Do not drive defensively. If you are a defensive driver, stay home. Only angry, aggressive, and outright obnoxious drivers make it from point A to B in one piece.
c) If the two points above do not make you stop and think "Hmmm, maybe I'll just take a cab," but instead make you think, "Wow, that Italian driving sure sounds fun!" you will probably be okay.

It would take two websites on three different servers to give you all the information possible on moving to Italy. I won't attempt it. Instead, come here yourself, and see what it's like. 90% of Americans who move to Italy stay here for the rest of their life--one in 5 chew Trident.

Aaron Craig
Florence, Italy
If you'd like more information, email me.