At the moment, as I’m going through a heavy bureaucratic period in my life, I’ve been thinking about how much Italy has changed me.
I had major surgery in Naples back in December and I’m now dealing with the aftermath of doctor visits and further tests. That part is straightforward, but along with that comes the bureaucratic mayhem of getting referrals and prescriptions, filling out forms, and navigating the labyrinthine system of requesting hospital records. These bureaucratic things often require multiple visits to the offices because the steps are so complicated that no one knows the exact procedure and I keep having to go back to different places because someone, somewhere in a back office, didn’t do what they were supposed to do. And until that anonymous person does what they’re supposed to do, I can’t go on to the next step.
So I’ve been dealing with this, going back and forth to Naples and to various offices on the island, making phone calls, and asking friends and family for ideas on how to get it done. I still haven’t achieved what I’m supposed to do, but I keep going.
This morning I hit another road block. But instead of getting upset, I went to the bar and had a coffee, running into a friend along the way. I then walked back home in the sunshine and took a moment to sit on a bench and watch the sea.
I’ve often thought that if all of this health stuff had happened during a different period of my life in the past, say when I lived in Rome 10 years ago, I would have freaked out, broken down and questioned all of my life choices that brought me to this point.
But now, I don’t feel like freaking out. It’s wasted energy and I’d rather take a moment to focus on all the good things in life – like a sunny day, a tiny cup of coffee with a friend at the bar, and the very big reality that I survived the surgery and I’m feeling a lot better and stronger. It’s this new philosophy that makes me I realise how much Italy has changed me, so I thought I’d try to reflect on 10 different examples.
10 ways Italy has changed me
1. I’m much more patient and much more zen. It takes a long time to accomplish things, especially anything bureaucratic. Very little can be done over the telephone or online. Often times you have to show up in person to get any information or get something done. This requires long amounts of time waiting. In the past, this would make me an anxious and nervous wreck, but here you can’t resolve things with anxiety and impatience.
2. Nothing in Italy is black and white and while I just said above that I’ve become more patient, I’ve also become more aggressive and assertive. Especially since I had surgery in December and now have to deal with the bureaucratic and chaotic aftermath. This has been a difficult learning curve, because normally if a doctor I need to see is in her office with the door open and talking to her colleagues, I will wait outside until she finishes talking. Except here, the doctor will never finish talking and I might just sit there and wait and wait and wait until I realise that the doctor has left for lunch. So now, I knock on doors and I interrupt conversations. I walk down corridors and ask every person I see the same question until I can find someone who can give me the answer I need. And if someone tells me to wait, I don’t sit down on a chair down the hallway, but stand in front of the door and keep watch.
3. I talk to strangers and have spontaneous conversations. One of my new year’s resolutions back in 2006 when I was living in New York City was to talk to more strangers. It didn’t really work because 1) I was shy and 2) New York is a big city and most people go about living their lives on the street anonymously. But here, it’s different. I’m not as shy, I have spontaneous conversations with people on the street, in the supermarket, even with people on the sidewalk while I’m sitting in the car at a red light. Personal space is different here in Naples, you don’t have to be afraid of bothering someone.
4. I eat dinner later. In London, I’d eat dinner around 8 oclock and if I met up with friends after work, we’d have dinner a bit earlier. But here, if I eat at home it’s around 9 and if I go out with friends, it’s easily around 10 pm or 1030, especially in the summer time. Now when I go back home to the States, I find it so funny to have dinner at 5 pm. But at the same time, I appreciate it too, because you can still go out and do things after dinner.
5. I use my middle name. Back in the US and UK, middle names were treated as something ornamental, you can omit it or have it show up as an initial, but here I have to use my full name on everything that involves official business. And in Italy with all of its bureaucracy, everything you do is official business. You are not who you say you are if you leave out your middle name. I quite like using my middle name (which is Carla, by the way), it feels like a more rounded and fuller me. Not exactly a new identity because I’ve always had this name, but now I’ve gotten a chance to show a side of me that I never really paid attention to before.
6. I’m content with less and my money priorities have changed. I don’t spend money to be more comfortable or to make my life more efficient. This has a lot to do with having less disposable income, but also it doesn’t seem necessary to spend as much and honestly, I don’t feel like things are lacking in my life.
7. I don’t like ice in my drinks or water that’s too cold. I used to looooooovvvve ice. When I was little, at our house in Italy, we had a fridge with an ice machine. I loved glasses full of crushed ice that I could chew on, but all my aunts, uncles and cousins would go crazy when they saw me eating all that ice. They said I would get sick from all of that cold and that I would get a fever. Now I’m afraid that I’ve been converted to the power of no ice. It’s not that it makes me sick, but if I have a glass packed with ice and water, it’s too cold and hurts my teeth and stomach. This aversion to ice may also be a sign that one day I will believe in the famous colpa d’aria and avoid cold air. Although gelato and granita are wonderful and have no negative side effects.
8. I can handle uncertainty. Someone says something will get done or that they’ll call you with more info, but they don’t tell you when. I’m okay with that now, I know it will eventually happen and I can always follow up on it if I don’t hear back from the person. I’m confident that things will happen even if I don’t know when.
9. I’m a much better driver. I got my Italian driver’s license last year and learned to drive stick. I was terrified to drive in the beginning, but I soon became more confident and now I can navigate these tiny roads and drive along with cars that follow none of the rules (although I still do – using my blinker and refusing to pass a car on a curve). I can parallel park, back into a narrow parking spot, park on a sidewalk, and drive backwards up a steep driveway and into the street. Who have I become?
10. I can speak Italian and live life in another language. I’ve lived in Italy before and have been studying Italian for decades, but my Italian since moving to Ischia has greatly improved. One of my new year’s resolutions this year was to write more in Italian and I’ve started a journal in Italian which I’m having a lot of fun with. It’s great to write and not care about making mistakes because no one is going to read it. This way I can be more spontaneous with the language, take the time to look up new vocabulary and review some grammar structures. Maybe one day I can write blog posts in Italian???
So there you have it! Are there any ways in which Italy has changed you, too?