Interview with Lesley in Grossetto
City? Capalbio (Gr), Tuscany
Date of Interview? Aug. 20, 2005
Let us know a little about you?
I'm a 28 year old Australian in a relationship with my Italian boyfriend of just over a year, living together in a town in Southern Tuscany. I am currently not working but looking for opportunities. Right now I'm studying Italian in a 4-week course in a local town. Before moving here I had a very good job in the tourism/events industry prior to which I'd completed a science degree.
Why did you decide to move to Italy?
I was in Europe last year, 2004, for two and a half months on a part holiday/part work trip. I'd been invited to stay with an Italian family for a month to teach their daughters English. During that time I picked up the language (had barely spoken a word before arriving!) and was also introduced to a friend of theirs who became my boyfriend. Back home in Australia I'd been working for 7 years in the same company and had wanted, prior to even coming over here, a change. When I returned to Australia after my holiday here I decided my change was to be leaving my work, leaving my family, friends, culture, favourite foods, language.. the list goes on.. and moving over here to explore a new life living with my Italian boyfriend. And so, here I am!
What type of process did you go through to be able to move here ?
To move over here I decided to opt for the "working/holiday one-year visa" as age-wise I was still able to qualify for it and I figured it would be one of the easier visas to obtain. Plus, I thought a one-year visa would enable me to taste the new life and have some time to make a decision about whether I could do it and whether or not I wanted to stay on longer before applying for a longer term visa - of which type I had, and still have, no idea or whether it's even possible! I'm hoping that I may be employed and sponsored to stay on.
What problems did you run into during the initial process and how were you able to fix them?
At the time of trying to obtain information about visas I was flat out at work in event mode. My private time was extremely limited. The biggest issue with that was the Italian Consulate in my city was only open between specific hours on specific days - never seemed to be the afternoon which was the only time I could ever find time to do anything. So, I emailed asking for some information. I was responded to by email telling me to read the website (I had, and it did not answer my questions which was why I had emailed in the first place...) and to call the office. I emailed back apologising but explaining my situation and why I couldn't call or visit during their office hours and almost pleading that they respond to my few basic questions on email, only to receive a phone call from a member of the consulate who spoke to me in a very heated, patronising way telling me that these issues ARE NOT dealt with via email and ONLY over the phone or in person. The call left me on the verge of tears! Lesson 1 - DO NOT try to email for information! Italians/Europeans don't seem to use email as much as we Australians rely/use it. Telephone or face-to-face is THE ONLY WAY!
Thankfully, an Italian-Australian friend of ours, quite well-known in the local community, was an acquaintance of the consulate representative and made an appointment to take me in and meet this person. It turned out to be the very same man who had made me feel so terrible on the phone, but once I was there with a respected Italian person I was suddenly an ok person! Lesson 2 - if you know someone, things will get done (this seems to be how almost everything is conducted here - it really and truly is all about WHO you know!) The process was then relatively smooth (except a moment of grief when in the first meeting -WITH Italian friend present- the consulate rep. ensured on handshake that there would be no problems and that I would have my visa, to only then call me two weeks later to tell me that I needed this, that and the other document and that he would have to send it all through to Rome and await their response. I was flying out days later.. you can imagine the tension! However, it all eventuated, I got my visa and here I am. Lesson 3 - IF possible, get onto the organisation of your visa AS SOON AS POSSIBLE. The more time the better, as "Italian time" is very different from "Australian time"; as in the length of time something takes to be done in. The Italian end of the visa affair was a nightmare.
Within 8-days of arrival you must apply for your 'permesso di soggiorno' (permit to stay). Off we trotted to the immigration office in Grosseto (I would highly recommend going with an Italian person if you possibly can. I don't know how I would have got through without my boyfriend and/or his family to help) where we waited (in god-only-knows what style of 'queuing system' that was!) and waited and waited only to finally get to the desk and be told we needed a number. What number? From where? There is a ticket machine outside before you enter (no signs whatsoever) and without this ticket you can not be served. We go back out to find the ticket machine empty and so queue again. Only to wait another hour. And to then be told that there are a limited number of tickets per day (40) and if you don't get one you need to come back 'tomorrow'. The frustration...... We also discovered that to our mistake we hadn't gone to the local police station in our town to get approval from there BEFORE going to the immigration office in Grosseto. Again, 'who you know' came into court and my boyfriend's family's police-mate sorted that form out for us within an afternoon. Off to Grosseto again. BUT.. we had a friend of ours who works in Grosseto go and get a ticket for us at 6am so we wouldn't miss out when we got there later in the morning. Lined up for another two hours, WITH TICKET, to hand over forms (thankfully I had all the correct ones AND photocopies - IF YOU DON'T HAVE PHOTOCOPIES THEY WILL SEND YOU AWAY AGAIN!!! I recommend 3-4 copies of every single piece of documentation, passport etc that you can think of) and a postal STAMP (who knew you needed a stamp??? Thank god my boyfriend's family knew that or else we'd have been sent away again. Think we gave them an 80cent stamp from memory). So, all is submitted and I am told to come back in 30-days to collect my permesso. 30-days later, I call the office (my Italian boyfriend insists we should just go in, I say, that may be a waste of time if it's not ready) to be told, mine is not ready. My boyfriend doubts this (what is it that he knows that I don't? Italian systems!) and we drive in regardless. After another long wait in line.... we are told 'yes, your permesso is ready!'. I am speechless and frustrated. Who lied to me on the phone? But... are then told.... the person who will process your 'permesso' is not in the office today and is only here from 9:30-10:30am on 'x' days. Come back again! We live 50km from Grosseto. This is becoming a massive pain in the bum! So, off we trott again the following Monday (time by the way is running out as all this has to be done in the 8 days) where we wait in line again and then finally go in and sit down with the man who asks me a bunch of questions, blackens both my hands completely with stamp ink, takes prints of each of my fingers, palms etc etc.. then sends me on my way. Permesso in hand. Task accomplished. Why, why, why don't they have signs?? There was not a single sign anywhere telling us any information at all. If they were to have a simple sign dot-pointing the procedures (ie. "take a ticket" first and foremost, have photocopies, have a stamp, opening hours etc) it would save a lot of people a lot of headaches. As I said before, I don't know how I would've got by on my own speaking very little Italian and not understanding their culture (eg. queuing.. or lack of it!). Welcome to Italy! Welcome to a whole new world in terms of how things are done..
How long have you been here? I've been here since March this year (2005) so just on six months.
What type of adjustment problems have you had?
Adjustments seem to be made almost every day! Moving to a new country is an eye-opening, and seemingly never-ending experience! Mainly just adjusting to how things are done so differently here, like the visa story. It makes for great laughs afterwards when recounting the stories, but living with it is another world. Australia is much more a 'toe-the-line', obey the rules kind of country. Here it's as if rules were only made to be broken! Plus, 'environmentally friendly' is a term that is yet to make an impact (I can't speak for all of Italy, only where I'm based) on the people. I see things on a daily basis - rubbish tossed out car windows, water waste - that make me cringe. Adjusting to family being such an intricate part of your daily life is also taking some time...! I am very close with my family but we also know when we need our distance and time to do our own thing. Here the 'closeness' is actually quite suffocating. It feels more like an obligation than a choice. And it's not just the immediate family, it's the uncles/aunties/grandparents/cousins.. everyone's in on it, and everyone knows everything about anything you've said, thought or done! It is quite confronting when you're used to be a very independent person. In saying that though, the family have been phenomenally helpful with my settling in, bending over backwards to do whatever they can to help and making me feel a member of the family from day-one.
What do you wish someone had told you before you made the leap ?
How hard the first few months can be, emotionally. I've been here now 6-months and still have really bad days/moments. How poorly paying most of the work is and how hard it is to find a good job, not just for foreigners, but for the Italians too. How important it is to be able to speak the language - for finding work, for making friends, fitting in, day-to-day living, making phone calls.. language can be a massive barrier.
What inside secret could you pass on to others looking to move over ?
Do not be afraid to use your 'looks and charm' to your advantage!!! As terrible as that sounds from a politically correct perspective, it's true here in Italy. A good looking and charming woman will have people running from everywhere to help her if she just uses a little charm and a tiny bit of 'eyelid batting'! Whether you like it or not, almost every Italian man that looks your way (even the police or guards) have one thing on their mind. Particularly if you are blonde. You will get sick of the attention, but will soon learn that you can use it to your advantage when need be! Just be extremely careful not to OVER use it.. as that could lead you to some uncomfortable situations! These men are not the LEAST bit backward in coming forward.. no matter what their age!
Do you have any disappointments, things you thought would happen but haven't for whatever reasons ?
Friendships. Back home I am so fortunate to have a large group of aquaintances and a group of really good, close friends. I have never had problems making friends, have always fitted in well and am usually the conversation starter, the 'life of the party' etc etc. Here in Italy I have been floored by how hard it's been to find and/or make friends. It doesn't help that we live in a regional town area, but I think it's more than that. Here, everything is so family orientated. Even young couples spend a lot of their social time with family. Girls don't seem to go out together like they do back home. Everything is focused around the boyfriend, the family, work and home. The men are a lot more jealous and possessive than back home and I think this restricts the social activities of the women. But this is also vice versa.. the women/girls are an extremely jealous bunch who are easily threatened! I've had a particular instance here, with the girlfriend of my boyfriend's friend, who seemed to hate me for no particular reason. After many attempts at befriending her, talking to her, going out with them etc and constantly being blatantly ignored, left-out etc, I finally told my boyfriend enough was enough. He had a discussion with her and it turned out she was jealous of me. I was gobsmacked.. I've never faced this type of situation in Australia. I'm hoping by doing my language course it may help (I speak good conversational Italian, I just want to get my fluency and grammar to a better level) not only with communication but hopefully I may also meet some people. Friendships are one thing I am missing desperately
What has changed about you since you have been here ?
I've learnt to spend a lot of time on my own, and be comfortable and happy with that. When you leave your family and friends behind and move to a new country (whether you know no one or just a few people) you will spend quite a lot of time on your own, even if only at first. This can also apply to being alone with your thoughts.. unless you're lucky enough to speak fluent Italian, you will often find yourself in social situations (dinners are the worst!) where everyone goes off on huge cross-tabled shouted discussions and you have no clue what's going on! So, you sit back with a smile on your face and disappear into your own thoughts while watching the antics of those around you! I've also learnt to laugh at things that would otherwise drive me insane. Just because something is different it doesn't necessarily mean it's worse. It's just different from what I'm accustomed to.
Do you think that you will stay forever?
Probably not. At this stage, the ideal would be to live here for a few years and then move back to Australia. Coming here has made me realise just how special and fortunate and beautiful and 'user friendly' and modern and up-to-date and people-orientated (ie.service departments go out of their way to help you, not like here where you're seen as an annoyance in so many cases) and multi-cultural and open-minded and opportunity-filled Australia is. Thankfully, my boyfriend is open to the idea of moving to Australia, which is a huge thing. Most Italian men will not even contemplate moving from their town of birth or their mamma! This isn't to say I don't like Italy - I definitely do. I just think I've been so blessed to be born in such an incredible country like Australia and I think a life there can be a lot 'easier' and 'richer' (not just financially). Here is the sort of place it would be perfect to retire to. Looking around, I don't see the type of services, education, assistance, employment, provisions etc that I think would cater for how I would like to raise a family. My dream would be to be able to live between the two... how? Who knows!
Can you think of any other questions that should be added to this questionnaire?
Perhaps some positive questions about the experiences? Reading back it seems that most things are about the negatives which might be a bit off-putting for anyone thinking of making the move. Might be more realistic that way though! haha. Also, perhaps a question on cultural differences?
Can you think of anything that you would like seen added to this site?
I haven't had a good look around the site yet.. read a few bits then started doing this questionaire, but like what I've seen so far though. Only comment I have so far is perhaps put something on the home page for making people realise it's an expat site for not just Americans. When I saw the .com I figured it was an American site only. I was very excited when I saw mention of Australian, UK's etc.. as I realised it applied to all of us! Thanks so much!