A Useful Read When Thinking of Moving to Italy

08/26/2009 - 04:55

There is an interesting article in today's G2 section of the Guardian newspaper by a woman who moved to Italy, founded a successful business, and has now moved back to the UK [but still has the business] because she missed London http://www.guardian.co.uk/lifeandstyle/2009/aug/26/italy-dream-move-end Well worth the read



Its a good read Alan and Cathy writes it well from her view point. But I think as she says she is essentially a city person and a media person, and at that point in her life she just wasnt ready to settle in rural Italy, there was so much else she needed/wanted to do, but still she and Jason with all their energy created a great and succesful buisness with their oil. And remember she loved her job in England.For others who are perhaps older more jaded, worn out with the rat race, the peace tranquility and pace of rural life is a balm, and  around Loro Piceno, not evey neighbour is a rural farmer, and it would be insulting to assume so, the Italians are sophisticated, Macerata is a large university city with the world famous opera, there is no need to sink into isolation and be bored, but it doesnt suit all.As Cathy discovered,.A

this article was written because they have something to sell.the story ('the neighbours stare, working on a farm is hard work") is neither news, nor advice, but plays up to cynical londoners without an exit strategy. and saying in essence "we hate the place, but we happily make money from it" is not flattering for italy or the author.   

In reply to by fellini

I read it as the story of a family that decided to get out of the rat race, made a successful life in Italy, but still missed the 'buzz' of London.  I certainly didn't see it as "we hate the place, but we happily make money from it" Indeed the last paragraph of the article;-"During our two years in Loro Piceno, we sang in choirs, played in local football teams, became fitter and stronger than ever in our lives, lugging 20kg crates of olives up our vertiginous slopes. We have gorgeous Italian friends who will last a lifetime and never be seen in the same clothes twice. But we have never been happier to be living in London " Hardly says that they hated it - rather that they found they preferred London 

I understand exactly where they are coming from, these small rural "paese" aren't for everyone, I f you like it then fine.Either way the experience I'm sure was great and they came out  doing ok , and by the sound of it have helped others with the co-op they formed. 

Thanks Alan for the article. Reminds me to pop out for the paper.I'm trying to put my prejudices against TV people (I'm an escaped Meeja type myself) to one side. BUT "Marchigiani women wear checked pinnies all day (and possibly night) "!!!  There's more than a touch of the Peter Mayle in their attitude to the funny locals.  And I don't think the young and the sophisticated women of Ascoli or Macerata or even Comunanza would recognise themselvesI don't quibble with their premise that rural Italian life isn't for everyone.  Not sure that warrants a book and an article in the Guardian though.  Plus a massive plug for their business.I almost feel my once-every-decade letter coming on to my paper of choice!

Annec, I think you have to allow for some caricature-style descriptions of locals in these kinds of features and books - they do paint a picture of a rural scene that is perhaps not quite accurate (but not totally inaccurate, either) but it is obviously intended to be humorous. I thought it was a well-written and affectionate piece. Actually, this choir-singing, football-playing couple integrated into the local community a lot more than many expats do, and have left a legacy of a successful business that has given new vigour and ideas to the local oil industry. And, as a 'meeja' person myself (until the end of today!), I'm afraid people don't generally write features/books/have their homes/lives splattered across the papers unless they have an ulterior motive - ie something to plug. That aside, it is at least a slightly different take on a subject that has been done absolutely to death - 'living the dream' abroad. Zzzzzz. 

Go for it Annec, and let us know if it's printed!If I put it accross as eloquently as you I would write a letter also!I agree entirely, and actually feel they have been most insulting to the people of any rural place. Certainly a couple driven by making money (not that there is anything wrong with wanting to do that, but theirs purely selfish.  

They seem to have come out of it pretty well, one assumes they still have the Italian property so can visit when they want and treat it as a holiday home.  Not everyone who makes the choice they did have the opportunity to get out of it so well...My brother lived in Australia for a while and decided he had given up the ratrace for good,will live by artistry (he was a pretty good artist) but he found the whole business of chasing commissions, meeting deadlines, not selling work he had produced far more time consuming and depressing than his previous life.  One phone call from a previous colleague with a tempting offer and he was on the plane like a flash!

 It seems to me that four years ago she read Under the Tuscan Sun and thought 'I could do better' so they made a  five year plan - go to rural Italy, set up a business come back and write about it,.  Cash in.  And it seems its all going to plan.  I have no sympathy - they decided to come to Italy knowing nothing about it, still less the language, they live vicariously in London becasue they require 'the presence of others' - But thats all you're going to get - Seas of anonymity.  I worked in tv in the Uk and the pleasure of not being involved in vacuous networking, hanging on the coat tails of some non-celebrity who could make or break your next show is more than palpable.   I have clients who have moved to Italy, and are shocked that here they are just the neighbour, but in the Uk they were somebody and that is the nub of it - probably no more so than in the media where you can have long conversations without any eye contact because everyones looking to see if someone more worth knowing has just walked through the door.   end of rant.  

Ram, I enjoyed your rant! However, I expect almost anyone could do better than Under the Tuscan Sun - it was the most appallingly badly written book I have read, perhaps ever, and also the most sloppily edited/proofread book. I wrote to the publisher to say as much. It was full of mistakes in both the English and the Italian. The publisher had the cheek to ask me to point out the errors - as if! I'm not going to do their job for them for free! As for the film, let's not even go there. I think you're being a bit harsh - I didn't get the impression that they came back to England because they were desperate to 'be' somebody. In fact, in a way they were better known in Italy because they stood out, everyone knew who they were (for good or bad) and they made a difference (however small) there. It's just that some people aren't cut out for rural life and there's nothing wrong with admitting that. At least they gave it a go - and a good go, at that. They obviously worked hard to learn the language and integrate, which is more than you can say for many many expats. The fact is, they've got quite an interesting story. We might all 'cash in' (otherwise known as finding a way to earn a living) if a) we had a good story and b) could write well.  

I thought their life in the countryside sounded  lovely but I can see her reasons for coming back to noisy London!! At least they had a go at country living and they decided it was'nt for them. She sounded quite positive about what they did accomplish and they can always look back on their happy and not so happy memories!

 'just moved here. We're restoring the grove down there on the San Lorenzo road." Total puzzlement. We told ourselves how nice it would feel when we weren't such a freak show.' quoteIf you think that she's exaggerating just walk into a bar on your own in the small village where we live.Small Town Italy is narrow-minded and insular and if you are a woman on your own a pretty dificult place to be 'yourself' in. Anyone who thinks differently is ( in my opinion)1. A man2. Incredibly unawareBut if you don't take it personally, if you persevere, if you take time to explain yourself and your plans and are prepared for the incredulity and astonishment that anyone from the UK with a good job and a nice home would want to live in Italy at all you'll find out whats underneath that 'hostile' stare. And you will end up with a lot of people who treat you as if you are mad and a lot of great new friends and some that just dont give a damn !If you want to the sort of life you live in a big city like London rural Italy is the last place in the world for you.    

Thanks for the post Alan.  It's always interesting to read of other people's experiences.  They obviously didn't think too hard before making the move.  They also wouldn't be happy living in a rural area in England so why do it in a foreign country?  I also think that in any rural area you have to make the first move to make friends - you cannot expect people to come to you when you are the 'outsider'.  I'm sure they are happy now and that's all that matters.  Better to have tried than never do anything and live in wonderment.

Small Town Italy is narrow-minded and insular and if you are a woman on your own a pretty dificult place to be 'yourself' in. Anyone who thinks differently is ( in my opinion)1. A man2. Incredibly unaware.I would reply thatSmall Town England (and anywhere else in the world) is narrow-minded and insular and if you are a woman (or a man - not wishing to be sexist as women can be narrow minded and insular too) on your own a pretty difficult place to be 'yourself' in. Anyone who thinks that this is universal is ( in my opinion)1 Someone who puts being "themself" above the need to be polite and respectful of local traditions and values.2. Incredibly unaware of people in general3. ImpatientWe didn't have to persevere much as we were very friendly from the outset and met every stare with a smile and a Buon Giorno. Somehow these narrow minded, insular little bigots responded well and we have been flooded with invitations to share a meal, have a chat and generally mix with them. It didn't take much effort and we have found their very natural suspicions about outsiders to be easy to allay and not at all a problem.

It ain't easy admitting you couldn't make the good life work - especially among the hordes of optimistic people who are about to move here or are still determined to make it work.  It's possible that Cathy & Jason didn't try hard enough to integrate (it sounds like they did try), but as the Doors say, people are strange when youre a stranger, faces look ugly when you're alone.  The staring is undeniably off-putting.  Myself and my partner came to Italy determined not to seek out English-speaking company, but now I feel it's a great support to be able to chat to someone from home as well as having close Italian friends.  Sometimes, the cultural differences can be isolating no matter how much you love Italy.I respect those who've gone and experienced that life, and then had the good sense to say, what was right for us then isn't right for us now.And why not be spontaneous and adventurous and throw yourself into a new life?  There's a time for everything, if you're inclined to do it.  In any case, there's no research or planning that can truly prepare you for the complex emotions you'll be faced with when you start living here.I suspect that our urge to criticise Cathy's attitudes is us trying to convince ourselves that our own cases are different, and that we can make it work here.

I actually think that the ability to feel happy in your own skin and to feel that you can be accepted for who you are is incredibly important !I Is it really a case of subduing you nature so that you can 'fit in'? How does that apply to gay couples ? What would they need to do to 'fit in' ?Sorry but you've missed my meaning sangy - and as you point out you are a couple ( not a gay couple I presume) so its hard to see how you can relate to the experience of a single person who trys to 'fit in'! You are making the mistake of assuming that your experience is the one that everyone will share and that's just never the case.Its great that you feel so accepted and welcomed and long may it continue for you.I'm trying not to be negative about Italy - there's so much to admire and enjoy there but also things to question and challenge too.

hi there abruzzo, i usually try to keep out of discussions on this theme but it was getting more interesting.i mean it wasn't just the usual winghing about marmite or something.I agree with what you are saying.Regarding the business of "fitting in" this interestingly is not just an issue for say brits/germans or other nationalities (although of course language is at some point an issue.I see,for example that people from elsewhere in Italy (forestieri o quelli di fuori etc) can curiously have just as hard a time if not even more so than foreigners.I recently accompanied some Venetian guests who had come here on their motorbikes who wanted to get them washed (!?) to the place who would do this the owner who knows me asked me to stay so i could explain things to the Germans !! he wasn't being funny he really thought they were foreigners.W e have some gay friends who have "fitted in" very well all they "had to do" was avoid any form of effusions in public which whilst for the most part being totally acceptable in Roma would not have been conceivable to people here.As has been said there are not a few people around here who have never received any significant higher education,have never actually been anywhere outside of their immediate environs,have never had any consistant exposure to other cultures,languages,foods,to city life and those of a certain age can still perfectly remember life under the feudal farming system of mezzadri which went on until as late as the eary 1960's.Reactions of doubt,suspicion,curiosity or even some animosity in that context are pretty well understandable.But as you and others have remarked it does not take "great efforts" to overcome these "reactions" people here tend to "judge" outsiders not so much by their national identity rather more by what they actually DO. so people who say hello to everyone they meet is a good start,cultivating a good rapport if possible with neighbours is also important, turn up at the numerous local funerals ,at least to those where you know the family involved, it's not necessary to participate IN the church it's sufficient to kiss the bereaved when they come out.cultivate positive relations with local shops and suppliers etc.Another very important thing is to tell people exactly who you are and why you are there because in the meantime they will have elaborated bizzare stories as to who you are or what you do or why you're where you are so tell people when there is an occasion exactly the truth as these things can get out of hand.it is not a good idea to go raving on about how wonderful things are elsewhere,the wonders of london or in my case was milano as people haven't been there and it can seem that our little realities are being highlighted for their backwardness.The bottom line is that rural comunities almost everywhere including parts of the USA,parts of wales,scotland,france are just as closed perhaps in that light our areas are or can be considerably more tolerant and welcoming.i even met an english person recently who lives here and has settled in well who fled from the scottish croft they had purchased due to the animosity of the local population....... 

I have felt more uncomfortable in rural Cornwall walking into a pub than I have ever felt in rural Marche. I guess people might have stared at the start, but  a smile and a hello break down barriers, and many older people have worked away from the village for a number of years to return for their retirement, so horizons are broadened. I have even been invited to join the village "facebook" group...the most ancient member!.As for tolerance, we have a number of friends who are same sex couples, and there really does not seem to be any problem, less so than the UK, as Sebastiano points out, overt affection in public might be frowned on , but as the Italians are much more tactile and affectionate in public than us cooler types this is probably unnoticed as well.A

Couldn't have put it better Seb. Given (particularly the older generation's) life experiences round our part of Marche - we must be the equivalent of Martians landing in London!  So their curiosity and overall welcoming attitude - rather than mobilistaion of death rays - is pretty miraculous. 

Some very interesting points in this thread but I have to say that the staggeringly unoriginal title should prepare you for the attempt to stoke up some sensation/shock horror.  Well done to them for chasing a dream and having the courage to decide it was not for them however I have several issues with the article.The last time I looked Rome was a city so why the move back to London? Nothing mentioned…I see that they are selling products from other producers presumably in the surrounding area of the “”backward” Loro Piceno. I wonder how these producers and the writer’s numerous Italian friends will react to their observations of the backwards people and Marche country life. Hopefully a local paper will translate and publish all their witty Notting Hill observations.The generalizations are also laughable. We missed the city therefore all humans are more creative in a crowded environment. I suppose no-one told Wordsworth et all that you had to live in a city to be creative. However the best indication of the vacuous nature of some folk and how they need to have something going on all the time to distract them from who they are is this quote:“There is a reason why humans have evolved systems, structures, rules, boundaries, jobs, bosses, hierarchies, weekends. If every moment of every day is yours alone to decide what to do with, who to be with, what to achieve, then every failure, every moment of discontent, every tear is your own stupid fault.”How sad that you need someone else to blame for your choices in life! I can’t think of a better way to live my life than being in control of every moment. With an attitude like this they were predestined to fail in the country away from Argos and Channel 4.The bottom line is that many people need constant distractions around them to block out any deeper thoughts. Better to be doing anything rather than thinking or being.

What I took exception to was you confining narrow mindedness to "Small Town Italy," have you never been to Yorkshire. I think you miss the point. If you try and join a community without respecting the way they live you will fail, if you want to assert your own identity its rather silly to so in defiance of local behaviour patterns from day 1. You said that you managed to overcome this, well done, but you seem to have allowed it to leave you with a great deal of bitterness because everyone didn't accept you immediately. Do you have the right to expect that anywhere and why should they welcome you with open arms until you have proven yourself a little. And, because I am married you feel I can't possibly comment as I can't appreciate your position, I wasn't born married though and felt the alienation of moving to London as a single man when 18 years old and then Yorkshire three years later. What I didn't do was assume everyone there was narrow minded and insular.Trying to fit in does not mean subdueing your nature at all, its a question of respect, surely and trying to see things from other peoples points of viewsBy the way, we live in a rural town of 2,000 people with its own gay bar, gay visitors and the only people the locals seem prejudiced against from the outset are those foreigners who come here, won't bother with the language and don't try to integrate. I find myself rather like that.

Let's not get too personal with all this - I can assure you that I am not at all bitter or why would I want to continue to spend my time and money in Abruzzo? I try to focus on the moment rather than dwelling things that might or might not have happened to me in Italy ! Life's too short.I suppose what I was trying to do was to defend the comments made by the author of this article as I have found from past experiences on this forum that it generates lots of controversy whenever Italy or Italians are criticised. Sometimes people almost take it as a personal insult and I find  their reasons for doing so extremly interesting. It's as if they feel under attack personally and I wonder why this is so?That is why I always join in with comments posted on these types of threads! 

I can't remember who made the point now (sorry) but it is different being here as a single woman to being here as a single man. When I was here on my own for a while, there were many things I felt uncomfortable doing by myself that I wouldn't have thought twice about in London. I am not a particularly shy or introverted person (as those who know me would agree!) but I had some very uncomfortable experiences. I had a group of men driving around trying to find where I lived as they had heard there was a single English woman living alone. What they'd have done when they found me I have no idea but it is not a nice feeling. I also got propositioned by married neighbours who thought I'd want them to come in (with their friend!) for "drinks". Somehow I can't see a group of Italian women searching the countryside looking for a single English man so it is an experience that a single foreign man living here would not have experienced. What was very interesting was after I remarried (here in Amandola), people's attitudes to me changed dramatically. Neighbours that had barely raised an eyebrow before were suddenly very friendly and the distinctly sleezy guy in the supermarket stopped being sleezy and was just pleasant. We found it quite amusing but we both noticed the difference.

I used to criticise this forum for being rather too happy clappy about Italy.  I agree with abruzzo that people's motives for reacting to criticism of Italy are as interesting as the criticisms themselves.For myself, I've just moved in the UK from country (20 years) to town.  I've got sick of being asked why - so my stock answer now is "The countryside is not all it's cracked up to be".  It has in part to do with ease of shopping/cinema/theatre trips, but also for a rather more cosmopolitan view of the world.  And my social life has improved - it's so much easier if at the last minute you can just invite your neighbours round because you've cooked too much - or get a group to go to the cinema without it needing a 3-day preparation period.We had a couple fo journo types who lived in our village for a while, and then got fed up and went back to London.  They  wrote similar articles about why they were relieved to get back to the Big Smoke, and we were all mortally offended!They weren't very nice people anyway....I've no problem with comments of all sorts about Italy and the Italians (big of me eh?).  And I've no truck with the "everything's perfect and if you suggest otherwise I'm going to cry" brigade.  But if I suspect another underlying agenda then that devalues what's said.  And in my experience TV people ALWAYS have another agendaSo thanks penny and abruzzo and others for interesting personal views.  Shall we put them together in book form??????

Penny your post made me chuckle as my experiences are so similar to yours!I lived on my own in Italy this year for 3 months - my partner was too busy to come out for more than few weeks- I was 'pursued' by several older men who seemed to assume I was avaiable just because my man wasn't with me and I did things like taking my car to the garage ON MY OWN !!!! its pretty much unheard of for an Italian woman to drive a car if she's with her partner let alone drive it to a garage so I guess by doing so I was signalling my willingness to be dated?I was going to sleep at our house overnight but some local men made me feel so uncomfortable that I decided not to take the risk while I was alone.When my partner is about it all goes back to normal.Funny that!!