Blogging and social media. They are the new forms of “journalism” in this globally connected digital age. But unlike traditional journalism, this new style is designed to be bi-directional. It’s a conversation instead of a speech. The writer and the reader feed off each other, and the result is a greater depth of knowledge for both parties.
That’s why I enjoy writing about Italy so much. Every time my enthusiasm plateaus, somebody sends me an email with photos from their trip, or posts a big “Grazie!” on my Facebook Page for answering a difficult question that somehow made their vacation more memorable, or their expat transition a little more smooth. Really, it’s the best reward for a writer/blogger (which is a good thing, since there isn’t much financial reward).
So today on my podcast I’m answering some of the most common questions about Italy sent to me via email, voicemail, Twitter, or the search engines. I didn’t identify any of the questioners by name, but instead I lumped the inquiries into general topics that come up frequently.
Common Questions about Italy
Obviously, this could a very long blog post and podcast, but I cut myself off after just seven questions that touch on diverse areas of life in Italy, the expat experience, and tourism information. Perhaps in another episode I’ll take on another round. But for now, here they are the general areas of discussion addressed on this podcast episode, and the corresponding resources on my website to help you understand these topics.
Question 1: How to be an expat. I still get lots of “how to” questions about the practical steps for residing in Italy. At a certain point, I just couldn’t keep up with all the individual inquires anymore, so I composed a free downloadable guide to walk people through the process, complete with sarcastic jabs at the notorious Italian Bureaucracy. It’s all here:
Q2: Dating in Italy. This is now my most popular search engine keyword for some silly reason, and most of the results point to this article on my blog:
In the podcast, I’ve also recruited the advice of the female perspective from my previous guest, Cinzia Giorgio, who is the author of the book, “The Erotic History of Italy.”
Q3: Buying and Restoring a Tuscan Villa. It takes about a week and a half of living in Italy to recognize that this is a colossal, life-altering mistake for 99% of the people who entertain this all-too-common fantasy. Why is it that every mid-level manager from Milwaukee wants to sell all his possessions, pick up a hammer, move to Tuscany, and become a carpenter? Listen, unless you already possess mad skills with a circular saw (not to mention the Italian language), keep the dream alive by renting, and leave headaches to the people who know how to deal with them.
Q4: The “Next Tuscany.” It’s a common thread to hear people claim that they “want to get off the beaten path and discover the ‘real’ Italy, away from those other annoying tourists.” Then often, these same folks are shocked when the “real Italy” doesn’t speak English, shuts down for the four hour afternoon pausa every day, and has never heard of a dish called Lobster Fra Diavolo.
Well my friends, I’ve been off the beaten path in Italy, and I can tell you that sometimes it’s truly resplendent:
And sometimes it’s as frustrating as can be:
But in any case, you’d better learn to speak the language if you really want to enjoy it:
Q5: How do I know if I’ve been cursed with the Malocchio? This is another popular search engine term that finds its way to my blog. I personally don’t put any faith in any of these beliefs, but I still always find it interesting to explore the intersection of superstition and religion in Italy. Throw in a dash of mythology and a pinch of astrology for good measure, and you’ve got a curious blend of supernatural beliefs that is ripe for conversation.
Q6: How Do I Dress Like an Italian? For some reason, many people are keen to “blend in” with the locals while on vacation in Italy, and they seem to think that the correct fashion advice will accomplish this in short order.
What they fail to understand, as I did, is that it’s not only the clothes. There’s a whole aura that’s impossible for any foreigner to copy. Still, it helps to at least keep a few “don’ts” in mind to avoid looking totally clueless.
Q7: Restaurant Advice. Unfortunately, it IS possible to pay a lot of money for a bad meal in Italy’s tourist cities. Marketing can be a powerful force and so too often we are drawn into restaurants against our better judgement.
People have actually asked me where to get the best Chicken Alfredo in Rome. (Sigh) The truth is, this dish doesn’t exist. There is a restaurant called Alfredo’s in Rome and they do sell a signature pasta dish by the same name. However, very few Italians have ever heard of it, and in fact it bears a striking resemblance to the simple pasta al burro that one gives to finicky children who won’t eat anything tastier.
If want some solid restaurant advice, listen to my friend and fellow blogger Eleonora Baldwin. She wrote about some of Rome’s better eateries in my restaurant guide, and her blog provides one of the best resources on Roman/Italian cuisine in the English language.
And if you want to know about finding authentic Italian food outside of Italy, listen to what my friend Paolo had to say about the topic in a recent interview on my podcast.
OK, amici, that’s all for now. I’ll be back soon with another guest to dive deeper into this ever-fascinating, rich and complex culture that is Italia. Ciao!!
Click the link to check out other episodes and see my list of the best podcasts about Italy.