Thursday, 26 July 2012

Life in Italy: my 8-month update

As I hunt for a new apartment here in Rome, I've been reflecting on how my first 8 months here have been. In sum: wonderful, but far more challenging than I had expected.

But first, to the apartment hunt.

I love the place I'm in now: Monti is a wonderful neighbourhood, my street is very quiet (for Rome); I can see the Colosseum from the end of my street, it's that historic.

But, it is also very expensive as I struggle to live on an Italian salary. I've discovered there is a serious mis-match between the cost of living in Rome, and the average salary. Just one of the country's many economic problems.

So, it's time to begin looking for a my third apartment in just 8 months in Rome.

Actually, I wasn't very confident when I arrived here last December that I would be able to financially last this long, so 8 months is something of a milestone for me.

I had no doubt when I left Canada that I could make it here in every other aspect. I knew I would be lonely, but that's something I've made peace with long ago.

I knew I would feel out of place and struggle with the language, but I also knew I could cope.

The one area where I knew I would struggle would be earning enough euros to survive in Italy.

Now that I have more and more work coming from the Italian news agency ANSA, I'm feeling a bit more secure. Not secure enough to ship all of my furniture from Canada and sell my beloved car - not yet, anyway. But secure enough to think I can make it until at least the one-year anniversary of my arrival here.

There are so many things I do not understand about the beautiful, and very complicated country.

But I feel I'm making progress!

I found a doctor, who is working out very well. And I've found a great hairdresser.

After more hassle than I expected, I obtained my codice fiscale, which is similar to a social security number. (You can get unofficial codice fiscale on line, but they're of no use for official purposes like opening a bank account, applying for work, and paying taxes.)

After much less hassle than I expected, I obtained my health card, the tessera sanitaria.

After little hassle but an enormous amount of paperwork, I opened a bank account with a tiny one-euro monthly service fee. I still haven't worked out how to really use this account, since it's mostly empty. But still.

I've been practising my Italian and even made some new Italian friends in Rome through Conversation Exchange, an online program that matches people by language skills. I have the English skills my new friends want; they help me with Italian.

Most importantly, I've obtained my official card to work as a journalist here, and with a lot of help I've found more and more contract work with the news agency. There's absolutely no job security, but it's a good start.

Daily life in Rome is more work than I realized. I'm constantly running errands, since there is no one-stop shop for everything, similar to the giant supermarkets in Canada. I can only find contact lens solution at the opticians. Vitamins from a drug store. Cleaning products from an alimentari.

The nearest grocery store doesn't have very good fruit and vegetables, so I go to the fruit and vegetable lady on Via Serpenti.

And since I carry my groceries home, I don't buy too much a time (and you can't anyway, since many items, including milk, don't contain many preservatives so they don't last long.)

I don't mean to complain; I'm just remarking on how different this life is.

But I think the biggest surprise for me is learning how much I can actually live without.

I don't miss my furniture and clothes and books and all the things now packed in storage. Of course, it has only been 8 months, so it's probably a bit early to say.

Still, I was always so certain that I needed my things around me; that they were essential. Maybe they're not.

I thought I couldn't live without screens on the windows. I hate bugs and it bothered me if there was even a hole in the screen back in my old apartment in Canada. Here, screens are rare and I've survived leaving the windows wide open.

I was certain I couldn't live without air-conditioning running all night. Turns out, I'm fine without it. It would be nice, but apparently, it's not essential.

I deeply miss my friends in Canada; they're certainly something that I cannot do without. But thanks to email and Skype, I can talk with them and stay in touch. Knowing that I have so much love and support behind me has been invaluable in this.

Allora. I'm off to look at a new apartment this afternoon with a friend of a friend who seems to be some kind of real estate broker. Gemma doesn't speak any English, so I'm not completely confident that I know where we're going, how many apartments she can show me in my price range. I'm not even entirely sure when we're meeting, or where.

This is my new normal -- and at least I know that it's bound to be interesting.


jan said...

What a wonderful post! You make me feel so proud to be your friend!
Brava, cara!

Palma said...

You have made an amazing adjustment! I hope you are there in December when we are there with J&P so we can finally meet!

Trekcapri said...

Hi Sandra, Happy 8 months Anniversary! It sounds like you have established the beginnings of some long lasting roots in your new Italy life. I liked your comments about not missing/needing your "things" as much as you thought you would. Sometimes I wish I could unload things but am also afraid to let go. And thank goodness for Skype so you can stay in touch with your good friends in Canada. I'm sure they miss you a lot too.

I'm so happy to hear that you are doing well and I am excited for what the future still holds for you in Italy. Hope you find a great new apartment.

Doug Phillips said...

Tremendously interesting, Sandra. Good luck with the apartment search.


Susie L said...

Sandra, I am enormously impressed with what you have accomplished, brava! It is really interesting to read about your everyday life and the trials and tribulations that go along with it.

Good luck with your apartment search, I hope you will tell us all about it.

Jane said...

Sandra, I loved this update and found such a glimpse into your new life. Really it seems as if things have gone remarkedly well even with the complications and occasional frustration. I am so glad you have found some work even though it is not enough. You will survive far past the one year mark. And, I fully understand the experience of learning how much the things we think of as essential turn out not to be. Good luck with your apt.hunting

sandrac said...

Thanks so much, Jan -- that's very sweet! Palma, I hope to see you here in December.

Thank you Doug -- it's proving more challenging than I expected. But interesting.

Hi Kathy, I have really been surprised at how little I even think of my things back in Canada -- furniture that I loved, some bits of art, even my own bed and linens. Mind you, I did bring a few of my most important treasures with me here to Rome -- so maybe that's all I really needed all this time.

Thank you Susie! Sometimes I get so obsessed with all the things I still need to do, that I forget to think about my accomplishments!

Hi Jane, things really have gone well - knock on wood. As you know so well, living in a foreign country isn't easy but it's really worth it.

karen said...

It sounds fabulous, including the hiccups along the way :) I'll be in Rome in October - would love to meet up and hear more if you have time.

sandrac said...

Hi Karen, that sounds fun! If you drop me an email, we can make a plan.

Anonymous said...

Sandra, you're doing just fine. But then, I never had any doubt about that. What you said is very true: you never realize what you can do without, until you actually have to live without it. I've lived in four countries now, and that's been my experience as well.

All best, Sandra. I look forward to reading your one-year anniversary posting.

Annie said...

I can't believe it's been 8 months already - time just seems to fly by. It sounds fascinating and I'm glad you've found writing work. Good luck with the apartment search!

sandrac said...

Thanks, Anon!

Annie, things are going well although the apartment search is a challenge. Especially since I really like the apartment I'm now in. Sigh.

Kathryn said...

Have you told your mom?

sandrac said...

Kathryn, I haven't yet -- I'm such a coward! I know she won't be pleased. I have told her about work I'm doing for the Italian news agency, so I'm sure she suspects that I'm settling in!

Anne said...

Sandra, what a wonderful post about your new life. I love your way of describing the differences in a way that does justice to living in another culture without sounding in the least whiny! And I am so impressed with how you are making your way and settling in, biting off manageable chunks...trusting that the leap that took you to Rome was right for you.

I hope you soon find a new apartment to call home and can't wait to hear about it!

Hugs and prayers coming your way :)

sandrac said...

Hello Anne, I appreciate the hugs, prayers, and your very kind words! It has been quite a time, these past 8 months -- and I'm sure you're feeling the same with your new life as well. Hope that is going smoothly!

Ciao Girl said...

Grazie for your heartfelt reflections Sandra! Your openness is refreshing.

Those darn ol' reality checks just can't be ignored! I'm sorry you must uproot from your apartment in Monti. Any luck in your search?

I'm still in aw of your life changing move to Roma. Sandra, you are living the dream that some of us will never realize... We're living vicariously through you... And as one of your most ardent followers, I must say you have accomplished so much... and in "only" eight months. Congratulations!
And "fingers crossed!

sandrac said...

Ciaogirl, the hunt for the apartment continues! And thank you so much for your support, it means a lot to know that I have friends pulling for me!

Anonymous said...

Lovely blog. We have similar stories:). Mine is at I was wondering, I don't know how to msg you on here, but I have a few questions to ask you. Let me know how I can msg you.

sandrac said...

Hi Cara,
I just had a look at your blog as well, and it looks wonderful!

Maybe the easiest way to get in touch is if you send me another message here, with your coordinates. I won't publish it but will instead email you back!