When I decided to move to Florence, Italy in 2010 I had no idea how much it would impact not only my life, but also my personality.
I’m a completely different person now because of everything I’ve been through.
I’ve had to adapt, change and creatively find ways to survive here. I’ve had to do as the Italians do and as a Dutch woman, that basically means altering a great part of your deeply rooted identity.
And I’m as happy as I could possibly be.
Italy has taken away so many things from me, which has allowed me to get to the core of who I am and to flourish in my femininity. Had I stayed in Holland, I wouldn’t have dared to express myself the way I do now.
For example, I’ve lost certain physical boundaries. Here it’s totally normal to stand in someone’s personal space and to not get looked at strangely. It’s pretty normal to kiss someone on the cheeks when you say goodbye after a first meeting and patting each other on the arm is a common way to show affection – even to strangers. In Holland I’d freeze when someone got a little bit too close for comfort.
The same goes for showing appreciation vocally; saying ciao bella/bello to random people or to call people you met five minutes ago cara/caro (dear) is totally normal. I love how they go brava/brava to confirm that you’ve said something that’s true, which is basically a compliment for both the speaker and the listener. We’re all right and we all agree and we’re all awesome. Chi se ne frega? Who cares?
There’s a certain lightness in how they just say things. I remember when my language skills got better how I understood that Italians like repeating the same thing in many different ways and that that’s why they seem to talk so much. I always jokingly called this “word diarrhoea” because it’s an overflow of verbal expression that a Dutch person would summarize in a simple nee. I’ve lost this direct bluntness and have added some verbosity to my speech (and writing as you can see).
I also remember my ex-boyfriend making pretty serious statements about wanting to leave Italy because of how horrible it all was, me looking at him gravely and then him saying: “è tanto per dire,” it’s just for chit chat. Chit chat my ass. If you want to leave I need to leave too and that ain’t gonna happen mister! But I’ve learned to take things way more lightly now and it does make one a more relaxed and less serious person (like I was in Holland).
Another thing I’ve completely lost is the ability to be on time. I’m chronically late and that’s totally acceptable here as long as it stays within the five to ten minute range. In Holland it would’ve meant you disrespect the person you’re meeting with. Here it doesn’t really matter; in social settings that is. Work-related appointments usually do start on time, but I must admit I notice myself getting annoyed when someone is early or exactly on time. A habit that is absolutely normal and expected in Holland and here seen as a bit too precise; loosen’ up a little!
Time in general is also seen as a more elastic concept. If something takes longer, it takes longer. No one gets really upset, stressed or annoyed with the change of plans. It seems to be calculated into their daily schedule and so they don’t tend to hurry in general, they even walk slowly and take their time to finish their conversation with their friend before serving you your coffee. Trying to push them into going faster only leaves you feeling frustrated. I’ve learnt to let go of wanting things to go as efficiently as possible and to just go with the flow.
There’s a certain surrender to how things go. People don’t plan their social life three weeks in advance. Here you can call a friend the same night and ask him if he’s free. In Holland that would be impossible. Everyone’s already been booked for at least a fortnight because, lo and behold, you don’t spend your time in the best way possible! In Italy you do what feels right, which also turns you into way nicer company than someone who’s just ticking off his social to-do list by the way.
So Italy takes away the franticness, the fear of wasting time and wanting to plan everything ahead. It takes away your sense wanting to keep everything under control because, in tanto, you have no control.
Do as the Italians do. Let go a little bit and see what happens. Life becomes way more magical that way.
Cari saluti da Firenze,
P.S. Would you like to move to Italy, but could you use some help with the logistics, mindset and dealing with the insecurities that come up when taking the leap? Check out my programme Take the Leap to Florence and see if it’s the right match for you (also suitable for other places in Italy of course!). Book a free chat here to find out more and so we can get to know each other!