Oh why hello! And how have I stalled a bit on this special space of mine. I’ve been reflecting a lot on the direction of my blog, what its meant to me in the past and where I shall take it in the future. If you’ve been following are are brand new here, after 7 years of loving yet tolerating Florence (plus 4 years of undergrad studies in Italian prior which brought me to Rome and Perugia to study/live abroad, so probably 10+ years of living/traveling between US/Italy all together), I decided to make a mega move. I recently reshaped my life to live between San Francisco and Florence. For now, of course! Who knows, life is unpredictable.
To answer the questions I posed subito: This blog has been a special place to me to document my reflections as an American navigating life in Florence with a food obsessed lens and I will always consider it my eternal beloved. I will continue to write about food in Florence here when I get a chance. In fact, this space will be getting a lot more Florence food TLC as I will be there next week- follow along via the grams! (@curiousappetite)
While I may no longer not live in Florence everyday, it will always be one of my long-distance limbs which I’ll never be able to live without. And luckily since Curious Appetite’s food tours in Florence are still running thanks to a team on the ground, I am able to stay updated, albeit vicariously, though the team. In order to not go completely crazy behind my computer while sharing what I’ve learned over the years in Italy, I personally lead Italian-themed gourmet experiences in San Francisco if you’d like to eat & drink Italian style with me:)
Instead of the usual food-fueled round-up, this post is dedicated to some personal reflections I’ve had about life in Florence after essentially leaving my full-time life there nearly a year ago. Since blog posts are boring without useful info/imagery, I hope you’ll enjoy the food porn finds in SF peppered in between paragraphs!
So if you came here and wanted quick intel- visit this page of links with food stories and dining guides I’ve compiled for external publications or these personal picks from my blog for where to eat in Florence (or a guide to budget eats in Florence here) and Bologna. You want to know what life is like in Italy, advice on how to move to Italy and working in Italy, check out my good friend’s blog Girl in Florence since she is more detailed on the matter.
If you’re curious about why I left Italy and what it was like living in Italy- I will tell anyone to seriously re-think any lofty dream they may have about a life in Italy and to appreciate it as a great vacation destination or frequent spot to jaunt to/hang out in for several weeks out of the year.
I would not suggest anyone to willingly move to Italy UNLESS…drumroll for breathless rant:
you have a unrelenting grit, truly love Italy and Italian culture (like how you still love your long-time partner after a big fight, not how you feel in love fast and furiously with a fling you met at a bar in Barcelona), speak Italian fluently, have legal living rights already sorted in advance or don’t mind waiting 10 years/spending a million euros on therapy for the trauma of dealing with Italian immigration (or are bulletproof emotionally) don’t mind being yelled at for no good reason, do not get annoyed by inefficiencies, can see the forest for the trees, do not have any expectations whatsoever of the service industry, are okay with outdated gender norms and xenophobia, unless you can work remotely or work as a freelancer- be prepared to make little money if you magically can find work. If all of those hurdles sound feasible to you- then yes Italy is for you! Have a ball! Knock yourself out! Don’t forget the prozac and self-care, people!
Of course there are a few unicorns who make it in Italy long-term. Generally speaking, those are my realistic 2 cents on the matter.
As you can see, I have my grinchy moments. But it comes from a good place in wanting to protect you. However, I would not trade my wish to live in Italy for anything, so how much am I really protecting anyone. Sometimes we need to make our own mistakes to truly live.
During my 7 year saga of living in Florence (not counting the years prior as a study abroad student in Rome and Perugia), I wondered if I could ever live somewhere else like London (where I did live once in 2005) but for the most part- I thought Florence and Italy would be my home forever. Then suddenly, someone who was once dear to me passed away tragically. Like young and hit by a bus tragic. Thus ensued my existential pondering.
To fast forward/catch up, read these posts which detail my transition to San Francisco
So now I’ve been in San Francisco for a year, technically 2 now if you count 2018 when I cherry picked months trying it on- what are my thoughts? What’s it like not living in Florence full-time anymore, you ask?
Well, in a way I still feel like I live in Florence. In 2019 I spent a few months there, I still have a crash pad, plan to travel back/forth frequently for the time being and my work keeps me connected, albeit from afar.
I definitely am less agitated by not living in Florence on a day to day basis. It’s nice to not be asked about my existence as an American in Italy by strangers. I.e. what America is like, why I left (do I have to detail my existential crises to everyone?!) or having to hear the subsequent 2 phrases as if everyday were groundhog day “sei studente?” (are you a student) “Da quando sei qui in Italia- Ti piace?” (how long have you been in Italy- do you like it?”
I don’t think it’s because I sound like an American when I speak Italian. I think no matter how long you live in a place or how well you learn a language, you’ll always have a tiny tiny accent. And Italians are curious to know where you are from and what possessed you to learn one of the most practically (although gorgeous) useless languages on the planet.
And while I appreciate these questions came from a harmless place of curiosity, I just wanted to go about my daily life without interviews from strangers.
Like any other normal working human adult, I’d like to do my mundane day-to-day tasks/errands without the attention of being an outsider. Sometimes as a young female foreigner, you simply don’t feel respected or immediately put in a box and I’m sure this sentiment is grander for immigrants who arbitrarily don’t classify as “expats.”
Dealing with daily life in Italy was aggravating and I felt I was always on my guard from potentially being taken advantage of and felt I was constantly trying to figure out how to outsmart some obstacle course.
Without boring you with specific examples to answer the FAQ “why would you come back to the states when you were living in Italy?!”- the best way I can put it was like living with a partner I was no longer in love with. Let’s say this partner was Fabio and to everyone else- seemed like a dreamboat. How could anyone fall out of love with Fabio?!
Well, I was slowly growing to resent Fabio no matter how perfect everyone else thought he was, and daily arguments ensued over the littlest of things.
Since all humans are inherently flawed, ultimately no one is necessarily at fault when a relationship fails. It goes back to the romantic question Tom Robbins posed in Still Life with Woodpecker (one of the most honest love stories I ever read): how does one make love stay?
Sometimes you can’t make love stay. Sometimes you have to part with what you love, especially when their cons begin to overwhelmingly outweigh their pros.
On reflections regarding life back in America…
(A stark contrast to Italy’s blatant face slaps to middle eastern food purveyors: https://www.eater.com/2017/6/30/15892900/italy-ban-ethnic-foreign-food-immigrants-kabab-nationalism)
I appreciate there are more young people in the US compared to Italy with promising careers and aspirations. Although the cost of those living in a city like San Francisco weighs heavy on the morale on the creative/freelance community.
But being away has also allowed me to appreciate the burgeoning workforce in Italy with my age group and the creative ways they are carving out careers. Wages and taxes still suck, but at least there is healthcare in Italy, and private options which aren’t insanely costly like in the US.
At the end of the day, the exorbitant rent and lack of healthcare and social services continues to have me question the viability of living in a city like San Francisco long-term.
Has it been easy?
Ups and downs were to be expected- it’s not easy transitioning from a place like Florence to a place like San Francisco. At times, I look back on my time in Florence as greener pastures. While there was more bureaucracy in Italy to sift through, in a strange way I adapted and it made sense to me, oddly. I am very suspicious when there is not a jungle gym of hoops to jump though when dealing with bureaucratic matters in the states. I’m constantly waiting for the other shoe to drop.
But we have to grow up and expand, resisting the urge to rest on our laurels. And while this transition has been uncomfortable at times, I wouldn’t change a thing.
In terms of cultural “shock” I really don’t feel much per se. But I do have a few grievances about American culture in general. Namely, how so many bars don’t offer snacks, even for sale. How can you drink without a snack?! People are always suggesting drinks and rarely factor in dinner time which I find strange. Since many bars don’t serve food, hunger hits a belly full of hooch. I don’t understand how anyone could forget to eat or plan for dinner, especially when alcohol is involved.
A major grievance is how individualistic US culture is. Specifically, the underlying theme to “pick yourself up by your bootstraps” guided by a poor moral compass towards compassion.
I could grieve till blue in the face about all the things that drive me crazy about Italy/Italians. But my experience is Italians take community seriously. Bridges aren’t burned in haste. Rarely are others left in the lurch. You stick together. You don’t stick your elderly parents in homes, you build a home next to yours for them. I admire this.
While generalizations, of course not every family lives next to each other, but family/community is pretty damn important and safety nets are extended to each other.
Largely, I love Italians for their deep passion, respect and adoration for food. And for this, I ultimately admire and respect Italian culture. Food has always been this thing which fascinated me more than anything. And for the first time in my life, I met other people who took food just as seriously. For this, and this mostly- Italy made me feel at home.
I will never forgive the US for its lack of inclusion and paradoxical relationship with nourishing food for everyone (and not just for educated people with money). All the while not providing basic healthcare and for making health insurance premiums outrageously expensive. This is a fundamental incompatibility I don’t know I will ever find middle ground with, which continue to have me question if I could truly (as a matter of principle) live in the states forever.
But at the end of the day, in spite of the many flaws my “home” country has, I still find its silver lining in San Francisco as a charming, soulful city.
I am happy to be back on my West Coast. But I will always look to my jaunts to Florence with a heart full.
In your reflective trust,
hey! I’ll be in Florence very soon- let me know if you want me to check anything out for you to live vicariously through!