Moving to Italy, Learning Italian, and Falling in Love
I haven’t kept my love of Italy a secret, but here’s the back-story. My fascination with Italy and all things Italian started young. My youthful fantasy involved falling in love with Italy while travelling down the canals of Venice, taking a photo of the Leaning Tower of Pisa, visiting the iconic Colosseum and having a torrid love affair with a hunky Italian bachelor. I would eat mounds of pizza, pasta and gelato, drown in espressos, Aperol Spritz and Chianti.
I am yet to meet someone who has lived overseas and has not found it life-changing. It’s difficult to measure how much you have changed, but you can measure the impact by how you value memories and how much you talk and think about a place once you leave.
In the memoir and now movie, Eat Pray Love, Julia Roberts goes to Italy to find herself after her marriage ends. That scene where she sits in the ordinary ceramic bath, in the gloomy New York City bathroom, drinking wine and reading the Italian dictionary…I, too, had such a moment. Before I even had plans to visit Italy, I had the Italian dictionary, started learning a few key phrases and already created my own Eat Pray Love story.
My first touchdown in Italia was on a cheerier note than Julia’s character. It was summer 2013 and, as the flight crew prepared the cabin for landing, I couldn’t help but gasp as I looked out of the window. Italy was much more beautiful than I imagined. It was very different from Barcelona, London, Los Angeles and Sydney.
I was on a plane with my employer and, despite my desire to impress and my dislike of wine, all I could say was: “I cannot wait to have a glass of red wine.” Maybe Italy was going to teach me, after all these years of dreaming, to savour fine red wine.
For the first few days months I walked around on cloud nine. I floated from tabbacceria (or corner shop) to bar, to shoe shop, to gelateria. I must have repeated this process every day, for two months, without tiring of it. In fact, I almost forgot about the rest of the world. They say Italians have little desire to travel abroad and are all about Italy, Italy, Italy. This seems to be true.
The language of romance, spoken with hands, a scowl and emphasis on sounds I still don’t grasp like the natives, was music to my ears.
The people, the food, the fashion, the architecture, the culture all kept me entertained, mesmerized and enchanted. Experiences that hadn’t been top of my list before, such as visiting museums, art galleries and churches suddenly appealed. Things I had enjoyed before – pasta, pasta and pasta, became even more appealing.
Although I worked, a day living and breathing in Italy didn’t feel like work. Every interaction, observation and experience of Italian life and Italian people kept me keen for more.
One rainy October afternoon I was shopping for a Halloween costume, and took the outfit down from the rack to inspect further. The shop attendant launched into a tirade of quick, blunt Italian. I had basic-intermediate knowledge of the language and, while I understood 80% of what she said, I didn’t have the ability to respond as articulately as I would have liked. She was not stopping, she was passionate.
Her hand gestures, like most Italians’, really helped. I got the gist – she was aggrieved that I had broken the rules of her shop. Consequently, embarrassed by her outburst, confused as to the problem and frustrated by my language ability, I left. Not even a grumpy Italian shop owner could take the smile off my face. I vowed that instead of dreaming about learning Italian, I would learn the language.
The perfectionist in me studied till 4 AM that morning. Do or die, I WAS going to learn Italian, and FAST. This was a difficult academic endeavor – more challenging even than Year 13 Calculus. I hadn’t studied foreign languages at school, and I struggled. I had a beautiful Italian teacher. To this day, she remains the most influential Italian women I have met. She was extraordinarily patient.
After months of professing that I was saying ‘cha’ not ‘ca’ and managing to park my New Zealand accent, I started to progress.
After months of professing that I was saying ‘cha’ not ‘ca’ and managing to park my New Zealand accent, I started to progress. The language of romance, spoken with hands, a scowl and emphasis on sounds I still don’t grasp like the natives, was music to my ears. The months I spent getting minimal hours of sleep as my Italian homework would take me four hours, not one, were well worth it. Not only could I enjoy, eat and breathe all things Italian, I could communicate in Italian. Before long, I was dreaming in Italian.
Thank goodness I learnt Italian, because not needing or wanting an Italian love (yet!) I did happen to meet an Italian stallion. Being the vigorously independent chick I am, I was not looking. I had already fallen in love with Italy, the country. But you know what they say, when you don’t look, you find. As soon as our paths crossed, in a gym (yes, the Italian guy-tan-laundry thing is a real thing), I was secretly smitten.
Very forth-coming he was, like the typical Italian guy, border-line pushy. With my usual guard in place, I dismissed my feelings and considered myself lucky to have a new workout buddy – a good-looking one at that. I have always been a secret squirrel when it comes to relationships and get more of a kick out of secret, intimate, low-key relationships than those that play out for all to see and talk about. One of many reasons I could never live in Kim Kardashian’s shoes.
The experience of being able to cook, eat with and be around Italians who nap after eating, talk loudly over each other and dress every day as if they are going out on a first date, was some experience. I was on the inside looking out.
Two of my big “young lusts” boasted Italian heritage, and so the pattern continued. Life played out and we became an item. At first he was clingy, in my face and just moving way too fast. The reality is, he is Italian and throws himself headlong into everything he does. My new-found Italian language skills helped me to talk with him and, equally important, his family. His Momma and Pappa could say okay, that was it.
The experience of being able to cook, eat with and be around Italians who nap after eating, talk loudly over each other and dress every day as if they are going out on a first date, was some experience. I was on the inside looking out. I guess a story about a girl in Italy wouldn’t be complete without a love story, right?
My Italian experience didn’t convert my palate to appreciating red wine but it taught me so much more – cementing, forever, my relationship with Italy.
I decided to follow my heart and travel the world. I don’t know what the future holds.
The Italian stallion who appears in this story is still in my life – he doesn’t have Facebook (so he may not see this) and, true to style, is more interested in real life than the Internet. While he did what not many Italians do, leaving Italy to practice law in New York, I decided not to go with him. “Come and live with me, we can live a great life” didn’t sit right, not at 21, and not when I felt like I didn’t know most of the world.
I decided to follow my heart and travel the world. I don’t know what the future holds. Maybe he will reappear, maybe the story will continue, maybe it won’t. Regardless, we met, we fell in love and he played a role in the dream I dreamt for years.
Moving to Italy, Learning Italian, and Falling in Love
- 10 Things You Want to do Before Traveling to Italy
- Travel Itinerary: A Taste of Italy in 12 Days
- How a Visit to Pompeii Transformed My Travel Philosophy for Life
- A Ferrante Guide to Naples
- How One Night in Milan Proved that Solo Travel is Awesome
- Conquering Travel Fears, One Gelato at a Time
- Choosing to Do One Thing Everyday That Scares Me in Italy
Have you traveled to Italy? What were your impressions? Email us at [email protected] for information about sharing your experience and advice with the Pink Pangea community. We can’t wait to hear from you.
Moving to Italy, Learning Italian, and Falling in Love photo credits: Clare Jensen