This week on Blogging Around the World, we are back in ‘Bella Italia’ to be specific Florence and a sassy American gal called Misty and the struggles she describes on her blog Surviving in Italy.
Now there is plenty of blog action happening out of Florence but you aren’t going to find anything quite like Surviving in Italy, with it’s mixture of humor, satire, keen observation and capybara obsession. Above all Misty gives you a pretty realistic portrayal of the life and randomness of Italy and the culture clashes you will come up against if you move to this complicated and beautiful country.
I have begun blogging together with Misty and other like-minded expats in a group freshly baptized C.O.S.I (Crazy Observations by Stranieri in Italy.) I did this interview before the fun began and I think it’s a great way of getting to know this prominent expat blogger.
So let’s talk with the girl behind Surviving in Italy.
Do you consider yourself an expat and if so did you make a conscious decision to live the expat life and how did you end up living in Florence?
Hmm, that’s a difficult question. I have always wanted to leave the US and live abroad. I love San Fran and New York but most of the other places are just too “plastic” feeling for me. Everything is a chain, the food is horrible, bad quality, high crime, etc. I love aspects of the US, the ambition, the drive, the career possibilities, but other aspects are suffocating. I moved to Italy in 2009 for an art program in Florence, met a guy, started writing and designing and stayed.
How would you describe Florence to someone who has never visited? Are the people welcoming to foreigners?
Florence is magic. People fall in love with the feeling, the mood, it’s a very romantic city in a way. It’s very walkable, calm, and obviously beautiful. There are a lot of transplants in Florence so it’s hard to say if people are welcoming. The Italians from Florence? No, not at all. Florentines are not mean but they are known for being very closed, reserved, and they often keep to themselves and their tight friend groups. There are always exceptions though, and the non Florentine Italians can be more open.
Name five things I should see and do in Florence?
I’m not much for tourist stuff. Honestly, a perfect day in Florence is a panini from Due Fratellini, a glass of wine, long walks through the back alleys to avoid tourists, and in the evening a bottle of wine on the steps or on the benches in Santa Croce. That’s heaven for me.
What should I taste and eat in Florence?
There is a restaurant outside of the center called Giugello. It’s very authentic, delicious, and only like a 10 minute cab ride from the city center.
If I was coming to Florence to do this interview where would we meet and what would we be drinking?
I love grabbing a drink at Finnegins on San Gallo because they have a great outside patio and it’s not right in the tourist area. I also really like antipasto and wine at Dante’s. It’s IN Piazza Duomo which is incredibly central and where most of the tourists are, however, for some reason this place is mostly frequented by Italians. Sant’Ambrosia is also really nice for a cocktail outside.
You are originally from the States and are now living full-time in Italy, is there a terrible culture shock or do the two places have something in common?
Italy and the US couldn’t possibly be more different. I found more similarities in Thailand than in Italy. I’m in a perpetual state of culture shock, in Italy and then when I return to the US. It’s confusing. Do I bag my own groceries? Are you going to bag my groceries? Do I buy vagina soap? No? WHERE AM I!?
Do you ever suffer from homesickness and how do you cope with it?
Of course. It’s not that I miss the US exactly, but I miss my mothertongue, I miss my friends and family. Italy would be ideal if I could import some of my long time friends or my sister. SISTER, MOVE TO ITALY.
What’s been the most rewarding or high point and then the most frustrating or low part of your time in Florence?
This question could basically be my book. Attending a creative institution in Florence was AMAZING. I would send my own kids to do it, it was such a brilliant time and I grew a lot as a person. The lowest points have always been dealing with my husband’s friends and family. They were not welcoming. It is a very cliché story of “Italian boy meets American girl and the parents go INSANE”
Did you have much of a problem with learning the language, what advice do you have for English speaking expats?
I write full time in English. It still makes speaking Italian fluently very difficult. People say, “Well you just have to speak!” but my response is usually, “When?” After 12 hours of writing in English, one hour of maybe speaking Italian with my husband just isn’t enough. My Italian isn’t horrible, but I still can’t speak it like an intelligent creature. I couldn’t talk about the stratification of American society, for example.
Do you think the world is becoming a smaller place? Why or why not?
The internet is making the world a tiny place.
What do you think about the expat life? Why do you think so many people choose to be expats?
It’s different for everyone. Some people simply love Italy, others were running from something, some are searching for something. For a lot of people it comes down to love. You call in love and getting an Italian away from their family can be nearly impossible so it’s easier for many to stay. It’s a struggle on some days and lovely on others. It’s difficult to explain because Italy is so beautiful but day-to-day life isn’t very easy. Theres no money, business movement is nearly impossible, the family is overbearing most of the time. It can be stressful and exhausting. It’s certainly not like you see in the movies.
What led you to the world of blogging?
Honestly? I was having a really difficult period and I needed to write it down. I’ve always written things down but I also hoped that I could find other people who might relate. It worked. Most expats can relate to some degree with struggles under the Italian sun.
How would you describe your blog, tell us about it …
I’m so bad at this. Uhm, let’s see, I wanted to blog honestly. I wasn’t aiming for a mood, I didn’t want a travel blog or a lifestyle blog necessarily. I didn’t want to make people jealous with my amazing and luxurious Italian life, I just wanted to describe my experience, what I see, how I feel. I wanted a platform to talk about social issues, things that people misunderstand, and of course the good things. I met my husband in Italy which is a great thing because he’s fantastic (even if he’s insanely irritating a lot of the time). People usually come to my blog for a laugh, or because they can relate, or probably to think “Oh thank god I’m not her.” Some probably come for the Capybara pictures.
You’ve had some of your posts go ‘viral’ how did that happen and how did you find that experience?
I have had some viral stuff. Most often (but not always) things go viral when you piss off the Italians. They only tend to share things that irritate them so if you REALLY piss them off you’ll see your stats jump for a month or so. I’ve never tried to intentionally irritate anyone. Oddly, the post that received the most attention was a post that humorously listed things I’d learned about Italy that month basically from articles online or friends. That really got to them (25 Things I’ve Learned About Italy) but it’s also because Italian humor is very, very different from ours and they didn’t really understand that while I was posting stats my responses were very tongueincheek. My Italian friends who have spent time outside of Italy found it amusing. The other viral stuff was humor like “The ten Reasons I’m Surprised That Someone Married Me” or the “How To Surviving Being An Expat.”
You have also had some negative comments, tell us about this, how did you handle them?
All bloggers with a decent audience get nasty comments. At first they’d bum me out but then I just started being funny about it. If someone writes something just TRYING to be mean, I often make their comment a blog post and respond to it. If people are just being trolls I change their comments to say funny things. One person wrote, “I should shoot you with your own guns stupid americans!,” and I changed it to “I wish I could live in your pocket.” She responded back with, “LIAR OF DEMOCRACY!” And I changed it to, “Long live the USA!” She was pissed.
You have also won an award for one of your posts, tell us about that? Do you think awards help boost blog readership?
I did! I won the “Best Blog Post” Award from Italy Magazine. It was for my post How To Survive Being An Expat. It does boost readership but more importantly it’s cool to write, “Award winning blog” in my bio. WINNING!
What kind of blogger are you, is it all about getting a zillion visitors or subscribers, selling your books or is it therapy?
Literally it’s therapy. I started writing after my college psychologist recommended it. I tend to obsess over things and writing helps me to put my thoughts to rest. If you’re OCD at all, it really helps! It also helps with depression. I like that blogging can also help other people through hard times. I get a lot of emails and comments every day from people telling me that they are struggling and I made them feel better, made them laugh, or made it easier for them to be abroad. In fact, in my other blog I talked about depression and suicidal thoughts and I had a lot of emails and comments from people saying that they actually googled “suicide” because they wanted to die, they found me, and felt better. How many careers can you say, “I made someone rethink the value of their life?” It’s awesome.
You have quite a good following on your blog, any advice for the rest of us?
I’d recommend reading a lot of blogs and making friends, updating every other day or as much as possible, and being honest. I find that people even enjoy my posts that seem like they were written by a drunk animal as long as they were written honestly.
Books can take us places without leaving home, do you have a favourite travel book which you think best describes a particular place or the art of travel in a particular way for those who are unable to travel.
A dear friend of mine, Lee Foust, has written a wonderful book about travel, place, etc. It’s called Sojourner and it’s available on Amazon. I’m also a HUGE fan of David Sedaris and his essays on living abroad.
What would be your dream trip?
Right now I’m obsessing over the idea of tree house hotels. There are a few in Europe and Hawaii. I REALLY want to go and stay in one and just spend a week with my husband (and probably my hysterical poodle) in the trees. We don’t get a chance to be around nature enough. It’s probably good for me.
What are the five things you would never leave home without …
My wallet, sunglasses, dog (who has separation anxiety and goes EVERYWHERE with me, sadly), my notebook and my iphone. I take a ridiculous amount of photos with my iphone, and my notebook is important for writing down random ideas during the day.
So what’s coming up on Surviving in Italy that we can look forward to …
I just started a project where I’m doing group posts with other wellknown Italy expats. It’s really fun and the first one goes out this friday (you should get on board). We pick a FAQ or a theme and then all respond to it. I’m also creating a photo book with humorous notes about the place. That will be on sale this summer. I’ll also be posting some longer content about how I got my husband a Greencard for the US and other bureaucratic stuff because I’ve been getting flooded with questions lately about it.
Have you discovered any other wonderful travel/expat blogs that we should be reading?
There are a lot of expat blogs that I follow. I really like your blog Unwilling Expat, Married To Italy, Rick’s Rome, Girl In Florence, Expat Eye On Latvia (she’s hilarious), and many, many others. I could list like 50 that I adore.
Thanks ever so much for the conversation!
Apart from being a fab bloggess Misty is also talented visual artist, business woman, model and columnist, be sure to keep an eye out for her upcoming book.
She is currently in the States and has been quite talkative lately recently doing a couple of great interviews one here on Girl in Florence and this one on US based blog Thoughts from Paris be sure to take a listen.