If you’ve read my column before, you’re no doubt accustomed to me gushing about Rome. I’m not just filling the page with what I think you want to read. I truly find life here cinematic. I make choices in my day based on whether they would segue well into an Antonioni, Rossellini or Fellini scene, rather than paths which might lead me to a) being able to pay my rent on time b) advancing my career, or c) giving my friends and family back home an answer to “but exactly how long are you planning on staying in Italy?”
You’re clearly of like mind – no one who is pragmatic or preoccupied with security comes to this city. And yet, inevitably, there comes a point in the stay of every straniero in Rome when they ask themselves: what am I doing here? For as much as la vita Romana is rich and envied by people all over the world, there are generally three factors that put your Roman life at risk.
a) The Corporate Climber
This is when you get that call from your mother tactfully commenting that Italy is all well and good but really, dear, you might want to think about creating a ‘real life’ soon. It’s those damn friends back home posting inane things on Facebook like ‘Just bought a house!’ ‘Just got promoted!’ ‘Just blew $___ on ___ because I live at home and sponge off my parents!’
Yes, we could ALL be earning more money in our home town or enriching our CV with a role that actually relates to our degree. Speaking to any young despondent Italian here leads you to believe we’re crazy for flocking to a country with high unemployment, rife nepotism, glass ceilings and low average wages… but as soon as you get on that plane home you expedite your path to a bourgeois suburban nightmare. Do you really
want to look back on your time in Rome as ‘that crazy stint I did in Italy when I was younger and didn’t have responsibilities’ or do you want it to be more than just a source of nostalgia that you ration out year after year from behind your white picket fence?
b) The Sempre Straniera
This is the ‘I’m never going to be fluent in Italian, find a real group of friends I relate to, meet the love of my life or have a serious relationship with an Italian’ debate. We’ve all been there to some extent. That’s when you know you’ve crossed the line from day-tripper to ex pat. Linguistic and social anxiety are part of the initiation. Many female foreigners here adopt this mentality after their first ragazzo italiano who forgets to
mention he has a girlfriend. While being the only one not laughing at the joke at that aperitivo because you haven’t yet mastered the subjunctive tense is a social suffering enjoyed by both genders. It’s normal to romanticise the life you had in your own country, the friends you grew up with, the dysfunctional relationship that suddenly seems so deep and meaningful from over here in Roma. But don’t be fooled by false nostalgia. This city is thriving with fascinating individuals from all over the world and you need only look at our Romeing event calendar to confirm that there is an aperitivo, exhibition, market, concert or event every night of the week. Every ex pat I know who appears to be ‘living happily ever
after’ here admits to having experienced a real low just before finding a group or a partner with whom they could be themselves.
c) The System Sucks Sourpuss
And then there is the ‘If only I could get a job, apartment, visa’ phase. You adore Rome, you were all set to create a life here and assimilate culturally, however, you’re tired of checking Porta Portese, tired of sweating like a drug mule every time you pass through customs having overstayed your visa, tired of meeting freaks for an apartment that was advertised as ‘molto luminoso’ but is an hour from the centre and in a zona that is the antithesis of your cobblestone dolce vita fantasy.
Italy is all well and good but really, dear, you might want to think about creating a ‘real life’ soon
I’ve lived as an ex pat in a few countries and I too am guilty of the whole “it’s time for me to move on”mentality, whether the motive be a), b) or c). But I also believe this is the biggest mistake an ex pat can make. The easy option is writing Rome off as a ‘holiday from your real life’, but if you approach la vita here with patience, an open mind and the guts to put yourself out of your comfort zone, this city gives back like
no other. So many foreigners think they have been courageous enough simply by deciding to move here and subsequently become lazy by only surrounding themselves with English speakers or going to the same locali every weekend. Throw yourself into this city and I guarantee that instead of looking for greener grass you will finally feel at home.