Five Random Italian Words

I’ve been compiling a list of my fave Italian words on my phone for a while with a half-baked idea for a post, and I am grateful to this months Dolce Vita Bloggers theme of ‘five Italian words’, which has jogged my memory and allowed me to finally sit down and write about the Italian language. So hats off to Kelly from italianatheart.com, Jasmine from questadolcevita.com and Kristie of mammaprada.com  for starting a fascinating conversation.

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This is my sixteenth year living in Italy and at last I am feeling at ease with the language.
Italian has always been a challenge for me, I loved studying it as a hobby but when you jump into full immersion living in a foreign country without an expat safety net, your understanding really takes off, while the challenges with learning a second language can be frustrating.
I’m still confused by Italian grammar, I always joke with my students that I am stuck in the basic present, past and future tenses, with an inability to express my opinions in the conditional or study the past in the complex historical past tense academics tend to use.
Italian newspapers are a wonderful exercise in Italian language learning. Italian journalists have little in common with Anglo-Saxon ones, there is no emphasis on quick, clear and easy to understand language, reading a newspaper here in Italy is a journey into the Italian Baroque, filled with flowery intellectual prose, all quite beautiful but guaranteed to give you a headache.

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Click here if you want to read the other #dolcevitabloggers posts.

I’m constantly being reminded by condescending Italians of my quaint, adorable Australian accent. While there is no class system in Italy, I think there is most certainly an intellectual snobbery which defines itself as being superior because of the ability to speak, act and sometimes even dress ‘properly’.
I really haven’t studied Italian since moving here full-time. The basic grammar I have has been gained through my university studies and a few short courses during my long-lost twenties. So I have gathered this accumulation of mostly conversational Italian through years of living, working, socializing and interacting with Italians. I often challenge myself by reading a newspaper or a book and this year I am attempting to translate my blog posts into Italian but it still is a long and laboured process, which I am enjoying.

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I love words so when I hear something I write it down. I have loads of random lists on tiny pieces of paper, lists both in English and Italian.

The Italian words are heavier, more exotic like the pebbles on rocky Italian beaches, I always pick them up, feel their strange texture, hold them up to the light, listen to their musicality and admire them.

I’m going to share the first five words on my very long list of strange yet beautiful Italian words which have been created to describe quirky or ugly elements of Italian culture, words which only exist in Italian. Wonderfully onomatopoeic sounding words, who roll off the tongue, make me belly laugh out loud and leave me speechless with their aptness. The Italian language is filled with expressive words which reflect the flamboyant and poetical nature of Italy.

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FUNNULLONE (fan | nul | ló | ne) : the English translation of this word simply doesn’t do it justice. A slacker, bum or lay about is so much weaker than a fa (from fare or do) nulla (niente or nothing) literally someone who does nothing. Commonly used to describe and complain about government office workers in Italy.

FIGURACCIA (fi-gu-ràc-cia): Italians always talk about making a good impression or a ‘bella figura,’ either by presenting themselves well in front of new acquaintances, professionally or before the general community. A figuraccia is when you make the worst possible impression, totally bombing at a job interview or burning all bridges for a promotion, you have totally ruined your reputation forever which is probably the worst thing ever for an Italian.

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MAMMONE (mam | mó | ne) : literally a mammone refers to a large mothers breast, a wonderful image which describes the typical Italian mummy’s boy. A word of advice, if you ever meet a mammone, don’t ever get involved with him, it always gets too Oedipal.

IMBROGLIONE (im-bro-glió-ne): the English translation into ‘trickster’ waters down the meaning of this term. An imbroglione can be a nasty corrupt politician, a sly con man or an oversexed Don Juan, someone who lies and deceives for their own personal benefit, but its more than that, they are absorbed by their own deceit and are one hundred percent consumed by their own lies.

GATTOPARDISMO (gat-to-par-dì-smo): a simple gattopardo is an ocelet or wild cat but after the publication of the Sicilian historical novel of the same title by Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa in the 1960’s, Italian journalists invented the word gattopardismo to describe a nasty trait of the historical Italian political, aristocratic and business class. It refers to the period of Italy’s unification where basically the royalists and the upcoming middle class took advantage of political change to grab onto the power and wealth left behind after the formation of the new Italian republic. Today it refers to a certain social, political and economic class who will do anything to hold onto their power or wealth and is a synonym for the corruption and nepotism which mars Italy today.

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The Italian language is beautiful, even when describing the lesser attractive elements of human nature and above all it always has an honest and down to earth approach to interpreting the world. Honestly, it is this what makes me fall more in love with Italian every day.

To read all the other posts about Italian words for May 2018 click here.

Past #DolceVitaBlogger Link-Ups:
​#DolceVitaBloggers Linkup – #5 April 2018 – The Perfect Day in Italy
​#DolceVitaBloggers Linkup – #4 March 2018 – International Women’s Day
​#DolceVitaBloggers Linkup – #3 February 2018 – A Love Letter to Italy
#DolceVitaBloggers Linkup – #2 January 2018 – Favourite Italian City
​#DolceVitaBloggers Linkup – #1 December 2017 – ‘The Italian Connection

Sicilian Mountain Lessons

I’ve always been challenged by the mountainous landscape in Sicily.

The boundless slopes disorient me, I have problems finding my bearings and the horizon is blocked out by them.

When I go hiking down steep hillsides I am constantly holding on for dear life, grappling white knuckled onto the flimsiest blade of grass. I’ve lost count of the times I’ve sprained my ankles or fallen ‘head over arse’ for a lack of balance.

My part of Australia (Perth) is very flat with a small range in the distance affectionately and condescendingly called the ‘Darling’ range (actually it’s named after someone rather important). So I am used to seeing more sky than land on the horizon, at times I feel a little stifled by all of these Sicilian peaks surrounding me.

The Darling little Darling Ranges outside of Perth Western Australia. ©Rochelle Del Borrello 2016
The Darling little Darling Ranges outside of Perth Western Australia. ©Rochelle Del Borrello 2016

I’ve been here for more than a decade but I don’t think I will able to accept them. Locals barely notice their mountains, never see the danger of a steep drop, happily detour around landslides in winter, curiously enough Mt Etna is hardly mentioned in even the greatest Sicilian literature even if a novel is set in the foothills of the Volcano near Catania, it’s simply ‘Mongibello’, a minor character in a sea of personalities.

 

Mongibello ©Rochelle Del Borrello 2016
Mongibello ©Rochelle Del Borrello

I agree with D.H Lawrence when he described Sicily’s landscape in his 1920’s travelogue Sea and Sardinia as a ‘peaky confinement,’ preferring the open landscape of the island of Sardinia. The mountains here are repressive and Lawrence is right to complain about the sense of suffocation. I too need ‘room for my spirit: and you can have all the toppling crags of romance.’ Take the mountains and give me some space!

Nebrodi Mountains ©Rochelle Del Borrello 2016
Nebrodi Mountains ©Rochelle Del Borrello 2016

I’m convinced the landscape is evolving before my very eyes, every time I look up I see something different. Entire houses leap out at me, old country mansions suddenly show themselves and I’m constantly asking my husband: ‘Hey has that always been there?’

There is no way of appropriately describing or photographing the summits they are so immense and vary from day-to-day. The sunlight of every different season gives them endless idiosyncrasies.

Looking out at the Aeolian Islands in Messina Province ©Rochelle Del Borrello 2016
Looking out at the Aeolian Islands in Messina Province ©Rochelle Del Borrello 2016

I really should be used to the ranges but I am still afraid of them and the one car width wide mountain roads, carved out of ribcage on their sides, with only a flimsy guard rail (sometimes not even that) separating you from a certain death plummeting down the rest of the precipice if you were you to swerve or be hit by an upcoming car.

My Sicilian man still asks me:

‘Why are you still so afraid and uncertain?’

‘What happens if you meet another car?’ I ask.

He nonchalantly answers: ‘Someone backs up and lets the other pass.’

Oh great that means reversing down a mountain road and plummeting to my death backwards, at least I won’t see death arriving.

Mountains outside of Milazzo (Messina) ©Rochelle Del Borrello 2016
Mountains outside of Milazzo (Messina) ©Rochelle Del Borrello 2016

An old friend of my husband did exactly that, well not backwards or to his death. But he swerved to avoid a truck along a curvy highland road near to where he lives, his car leapt over the railing and the driver door flung open (of course he wasn’t wearing a seatbelt as thick-headed Sicilians don’t do safety devices.)He was thrown out of his four-wheel drive car falling through the branches of some chestnut trees and finally landing in the arms of some small hazelnut boughs while his car continued to roll down to the base of an abandoned gully way, way, way below the road. Thank goodness he was stoic and tenacious enough to simply dust himself off and climb back up to the road as his cell phone was left resting with what was left of his car. With blood pouring down his face from a 30 stitches wide gash on his scalp he walked home and called an ambulance.The bits and pieces of his car were recovered and sold for spare parts ten days later.

And my fear of mountains was reinforced.

Gin Gin, Western Australia, so flat with no danger of falling, here speed is the killer.©Rochelle Del Borrello 2016
Gin Gin, Western Australia, so flat with no danger of falling, here speed is the killer.©Rochelle Del Borrello 2016

As if this wasn’t enough, my phobia of mountains was doubled this year thanks to another accident which hit closer to home. My sister-in-law took a tumble with her car this January while moving to the side to letting another vehicle go by, she was thrown out of the driver’s door while her car cartwheeled further down the mountain. She was conscious and managed to call for help, when I got to the scene I saw all of my worse nightmares. After being airlifted to Messina and a month in hospital and another month convalescing at home she has made a good recovery. Now I refuse to drive on these mountain roads and am constantly gasping when my husband gets a little too close to the edge.

Thanks Sicily for the lesson.

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The complexity of Italy’s cheating heart

 

I often exchange stories with other expats about the Italians who have lied and cheated us with an ease and nonchalance which is both infuriating and puzzling. Not to say other countries don’t have problems with corruption as the world is rife, but in most Anglo-Saxon countries a politician or public servant or any other important figure caught out doing dodgy deals is publicly shamed and practically disappears from circulation.

In Italy fraud is a sin easily pardoned, I’d go to the extent to say Italians expect their politicians to be sly. In the country where Machiavelli’s Renaissance masterwork of politicking The Prince has become a classic the idea of furbizia (which translates to a mixture of: cunning, shrewdness, astuteness and slyness) which has become a solid part of the Italian character, it’s not very attractive and as usual this trait becomes more pronounced in the South. At the risk of offending many Italian’s these crazy foreigners are carefully trying to understand why we are persistently being cheated by the country we love.

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Really bad Karma

Organized crime rooted in Mafia-style practices such as bribery, extortion, murder, public contracts, vote-buying represents only a fraction of Sicily’s corruption which includes particular areas, such as building construction, restoration and money laundering. Certain practices, though deplorable, are not necessarily illegal in Italy, where conflict of interest laws are lax and things like nepotism and cronyism are a normal part of professional life. It is still possible, for example, to obtain a high grade at the University through an offer of money or even, in the case of a pretty studentessa, sex.

Corruption in Italy takes many forms from providing public contracts to politicians’ friends, bribery and illegal kickbacks. Funds for a construction project such as building or expanding a hotel, an education program, a skills development program, or agricultural subsidy are mismanaged and terribly corrupt. It took thirty-five years to complete the Palermo-Messina autostrada and some fifteen million Euros mysteriously disappeared during the restoration of Palermo’s Teatro Massimo opera house.

Widespread corruption is endemic especially where public funding is involved. The situations created by the project managers are real tragedies in a land of poverty and high unemployment, where there are vast differences between rich and poor and where even a simple job is considered a privilege. Rich project designers are paid millions to produce little or nothing, while others work humble jobs just to make ends meet. Most disturbing about these opportunists is their complete lack of any sense of responsibility or guilt.

Despite these incredible hypocrisies Sicilian’s often ignore project scandals and other forms of corruption because these things are part of their daily lives. Pay offs and even sexual harassment are considered perfectly normal in Italy. It is part of the usual system of self decay that has been going on for many centuries in Sicily. If it wasn’t a distinct reality it would be the perfect fodder for a biting satire.

Sicilian’s admire the quality of ‘furbizia’ or shrewdness, the ability of out smarting someone or maneuvering themselves around an unfair law or authority. This probably is another survival quality left behind from their history of being a so called colonized or conquered people. This ugly personality trait results in a lot of white collar crime which is detrimental to the country as a whole. A Sicilian who is being too ‘furbo’ is ultimately shooting himself in the foot. Not to mention exposing himself to a whole lot of bad Karma!

Trying to explain the intricacies of Italy to someone who doesn’t live here is like painting a caricature, you can barely scratch the surface and it can never do justice to the complex character of Italy, it’s not that Italy is filled with darkness, violence and injustices it’s more that this country is made up of many different faces which coexist with the darker elements. There is wonderful generosity and kindness in Italy too, I know it is a contradiction but Italy is schizophrenic and amusingly diverse.

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Duplicity of character

I was recently reading an anthology titled Cento Sicilie (One hundred Sicily’s) dedicated to the many writers who have attempted to depict the island, in the introduction Sicilian writer Gesualdo Bufalino attempts to explain the reason behind the islands complexities:

‘Atlases say Sicily is an island and this must be true as atlases are trustworthy books. However one must have a shadow of doubt, when you reflect on the definition of an island, usually comprehends a compact concentration of race and customs, while here everything is dispersed, mixed, changing like in the most complex of continents. It is true there are many Sicily’s, we will never finish counting them. There is the green Sicily of the Carob trees, the white of the salt harvests, the yellow of sulphur, the blonde colour of the honey and the purple lava. There is the foolish Sicily, so relaxed as to seem stupid; a shrewd or sly Sicily dedicated to the most useful practice of fraud and violence. There is a lazy Sicily, a frenetic one who is consumed by the worries of materialistic inheritance, one who performs life-like a carnivalesque screenplay, and one who ultimately looks out onto a ‘windswept ridge’ into the beginning of a blinding madness…

Why are there so many different Sicily’s? Because Sicily’s destiny is to be a link through different centuries between the grand culture of the West and the temptations of the desert and the sun, caught between reason and mysticism, in the contrasts of logic and the heat waves of passion. Sicily suffers from an excess of identity, who knows if this is good or bad. Of course for whoever is born here the happiness of feeling like you are sitting on the center of the world doesn’t last long, it is quickly taken over by the suffering of not knowing how to disentangle the thousand complexities and interweaving blood lines to find a one true destiny.’

Symbol of Sicily

The frustration of fraud

So now you are as confused as I am we can begin to admit how totally utterly overwhelming Italy is. Welcome to the life of a foreigner in Italy who daily confronts the labyrinth of double-dealing. All Italians are victims of their culture of duplicity, they complain about the impossibility of getting a job on merit alone, the necessity of seeking out a political recommendation, the convoluted public service, a banking system which is persistently trying to rip them off, rampant tax evasion, an abyss of constant political upheaval and corruption which affects everything from health care, law enforcement to education.

Lining up at the local post office everyone complains about the inefficiency and liberally share their stories of scams or rip offs they have suffered. Local GP waiting rooms are a source of collective therapy and gossip for people who are frustrated by delays and hand balling of medical treatment from one specialist to the next. It is one big mess which seems to overwhelm all who live in this country. Despite all this everyone gets along with the business of living life. After all what doesn’t kill us makes us stronger, less naïve, more ‘furbi’ (shrewd) and not so likely to fall victim to the next fraud.

One particularly grating thing about being a foreigner living in Sicily is how a Sicilian hears an English/American or Australian accent and automatically rubs his hands, thinking about ways to rip you off. You can be living here for decades and still be treated like a cretin, charged double at the shops, ignored at the post office and spoken to as if you are simpleton. Sometimes when I am feeling overwhelmed by this resistance to foreigners I delegate phone calls and some errands to my husband or do as a Sicilian does, complain loudly with copious amounts of Sicilian swear words and tell them where to go.

Rustic Sicily

Italy’s Dark Heart

In 2003 English journalist Tobias Jones published The Dark Heart of Italy in which he described the diabolic character of Italy’s complexities focusing on the post world war two history right up to the Berlusconi dominated years. After the books publication Jones was hounded by the Italian press for being a preachy Englishman who didn’t know what he was talking about. I recently read the book and apart from a little Berlusconi bashing, Jones experiences and observations about Italy are insightful even if they are at times a little superficial. It is generally a good, truthful book and expresses the frustration many foreigners feel while adjusting to living life in Italy. It’s the kind of book one would write to vent a little.

I totally agree when he says things like: ‘What really, really pisses me off is the fact that talented people in Italy very rarely raise to the top.’ And knowingly nod my head at seemingly shocking statements like: ‘Every week I’m assailed by a new example of nepotism. My favorite is the fact that, at the RAI (Italian T.V stations), employment can literally inherited.’

Tobias Jones comes to the same conclusion most long-term expats and locals do, which is despite the ugliness you fall in love with the beauty and simplicity of day-to-day life in Italy which helps you to live through all the sordidness. Ending his book with the same note of acceptance most lovers of Italy come to: ‘And for all the complications, Italian life can sometimes seem incredibly simple. Sometimes I don’t even hear the noise of my gnashing molars.’

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5 easy steps to becoming a good tourist in Italy

COSI good tourist

 

1) Don’t complain too much

So it really doesn’t matter if you can’t track down your favorite candy bar or if they do things differently here. Italy is an old country so things are kinda slow, it will be dusty and a little dirty but that’s to be expected.

Nothing is going to be like home so go with it, embrace the difference, stop swiping your smartphone and savor life the Italian way. You will be stepping into another magical world embrace the change. Try to eat, live and drink like the locals, even if you don’t usually drink wine or eat pasta, forget all your diets, leave the beer behind for a bit and be like an Italian. Try each regional and local speciality from fresh pastas, cheeses, cold cuts, breads, drinks and desserts. Just live in the moment and stop being uptight, don’t program every moment just allow yourself to explore and discover Italy, walk around, observe and be open, this country is filled with surprises which will astound you.

2) Dress appropriately

If you don’t want to feel out of place or get stared at. Italians are impeccable dressers and so hot pants, wife beaters and skin tight jeans aren’t going to cut it. Dress neatly, do your hair and try to look smart. I know it will be hot in the summer too don’t strip off your clothes, it is not suitable. If you intend to visit important attractions and churches, bring a scarf to cover bare arms or legs, it is only respectful. Your dress will also identify you as a tourist and could make you a target for pick pockets, shifty souvenir vendors and horny Italian men who can be a little aggressive. What can I say? Italians are superficial, they can read a lot about a person by their dress, so make an effort and you will fit in better and feel a little more fashionable, it is worth the effort.

3) If you are coming to Sicily, don’t make jokes about the Mafia

 No country wants to be identified or recall the worst part of their recent history. Look beyond the stereotypes do not try to reinforce them. Sicily isn’t about organized crime it is about ancient history and art. La Sicilia is made up of nine diverse provinces each with its own distinct traditions and cuisine to explore: Agrigento, Caltanissetta, Catania, Enna, Messina, Palermo, Ragusa, Siracusa and Trapani. Explore all of Sicily, it’s the largest island in the Mediterranean and you won’t do it in a couple of days 😉

4) To avoid being ripped off by money exchange rates

Or without the pain of having to track down an American Express office for travelers cheques, try taking money out from an ATM, you will be charged only for using another banks ATM but it is handy. Talk to your bank about it. It is always a good idea to take some cash as some places don’t accept credit cards.

5) Don’t say ‘Ciao’ to everyone

You say ‘Buongiorno’ (in the morning) / ‘Buonasera’ (in the afternoon) and ‘Grazie’ all the time. Be polite rather then friendly, Italians will appreciate the effort. It would be nice if you try to learn a little Italian, just the basics even if you study a phrase book or download a couple of podcasts to listen to on the way to work a few weeks before you leave. It is amazing how friendly Italians can be when they see you are trying to experience their culture and country by attempting to speak in their language. I think Italians get a bad wrap for being arrogant to tourists but often they have seen so many tourists come through who simply don’t say ‘grazie’, try it and you will notice. Having a basic vocabulary will help you navigate Italy better and understand more of what is going on around you too.

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North verses South in Italy: from stereotypes to rampant individualism

 

North Verses South Italy

 

Yes, there is a difference between Northern and Southern Italy; in fact it took a major political and social movement to merge the different states of the Italian peninsula in the nineteenth century. The process began with the congress of Vienna at the end of Napoleon’s reign in 1815 and continued with various revolutions and internal conflicts to finally proclaim Rome as the capital of the Kingdom on Italy in 1871.

The reason the ‘Risorgimento’ period took so long to put Italy together is simply because each Italian region is really so unique, even today there is a strong cultural individualism which makes it difficult to group Italians together. It may be a pithy example but just look how each region has its own different cuisine each town has its own type of pasta, wine, cheeses, festivals, traditions and even dialect.

Italian dialects are not simply variations in accents they are different languages, so its normal there is going to be some cultural conflicts there.

A personal example of mine are my own parents, my Dad was born on the Adriatic coastal town of Vasto in the Abruzzo region of central Italy and his dialect is heavy with Croatian and Greek influences. While my mother, born in Sicily and speaks a dialect peppered with diverse influences from Arabic, Turkish, Norman and German (Sicily boasts thirteen distinct foreign dominations in their history each of which has left its mark on the Sicilian language). So if my folks speak their dialects they won’t understand one another, even if standardised Florentine Italian is taught in the schools, dialects are strong in the homes and Italian is spoken with deep regional accents.

Unification of Italy infographic
Taken from Wikipedia

Italians are staunchly parochial, the phenomenon of campanilismo is an important aspect of life in Italy it creates a sense of identity, pride and belonging to the place of your birth with a pinch of local rivalry which is stronger than any sense of national identity.

The geographical isolation between one town and the other thanks to the Italian Alps doesn’t exactly help with unifying the various sub cultures and actually magnifies the Italians sense of distance from their compatriots. I am constantly bemused when Sicilians compare cities from different parts of the same province as if they are talking about two different countries.

Then we come to all the stereotypes like these I have overheard in conversations through my years living in Italy:

Northerners are cold and calculating.
Southerners are lazy and corrupt.
Northerners are efficient and money hungry.
Southerners are inefficient and poor.
In reality these problems exist in both the North and South and such generalisations are nonsense.

Matteo Salvini the ultra-conservative and current leader of the Lega Nord political party is a creation of the Umberto Bossi separatist movement of the 1980’s/90’s which attempted to cut Italy into two pieces. According to the Lega the South has sponged off the North’s industry and would be better off without them. On the flip side Raffaele Lombardo’s independent Sicily movement was seeking the succession of Sicily from Italy after centuries of underdevelopment on the island. Neither have succeeded in their bids, Salvini recently trawling Sicily for votes in the next upcoming election and Lombardo is being dragged through the courts on corruption charges.

Italy is such a rich place which has been inhabited by human beings since Palaeolithic times, each generation layering itself upon the one before, creating endless complexities which link Italian together and create a rampant form of individualism associated with closely linked communities and families.

The North verses South debate is a result of this complex tapestry.

 

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Leading an authentic life in Sicily

Authenticity Quality of being genuine to

My friends and family think I am totally insane to be living my life in Italy, they are waiting for me to come to my senses and move back to Australia, like I’ve been playing around for the past decade of my life.

The truth is it’s been more than chasing a dream, I’m not bathing myself under ‘the Tuscan sun’ or running a bed and breakfast in Puglia.

Brolo c:da castello

I live in small town Sicily which at times is trying for my patience, challenging for my sense of space and privacy and above all it comes with an entire spectrum of misunderstandings and culture shock with whoever is around me. So why do I do it to myself?

Because Italy talks to me, it whispers sweet nothings into my ear, makes me laugh as loud as I ever have, it allows me the time to write, smell the pasta sauce on the stove and taste life.

Italy has infuriated me as much as it has made me fall evermore in love with it.

Moving to Italy has changed me, it has made me let go of many unimportant things, life here is more authentic, a simple less cluttered life which speaks to me louder and clearer than anything else.

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Blogging around the world with Karolyn from Distant Drumlin

I have been dipping into Distant Drumlin a blog by Karolyn Cooper for quite a while now as there is a fascinating journey behind it and Karolyn has led me into the world of many other excellent international expat experiences and bloggers.

The creator of Distant Drumlin returned to the UK after living in India and China for an extensive time a return journey which has open her eyes to many finer details of life back in her home. Today she splits her time between her city home in Marylebone, central London and her country home in County Down, Northern Ireland.

It was great to shoot a few question over about her experiences as an expat and blogger.

Karolyn's blog Camden Town

You have returned to the UK after living in India and China. How long where you living overseas? And how have you found this ‘reverse expat’ experience, was it difficult to get back into the swing of life in the UK?

My husband had a role in a large company managing software developers in China and India. I quit my job in London and joined him. We spent most of the last ten years overseas, first in Dalian (Liaoning Province, in the cold north­east of China), then Shanghai (warmer), then Bangalore (finally, blue skies and tropical sunshine in south India) . At the end of 2013 we came back to the UK. We’re happy to be back home.

Name five things we should see and do in India and China based on your experiences there?

See the fireworks at Diwali in India, and then see how they compare to the New Year fireworks in China. Do some yoga in India, compare with tai chi in China, see which makes your leg muscles ache more. Learn how to use chopsticks properly: it’s easy!

What should I defiantly taste/eat in India and China?

In India, you must taste the mangoes, bananas and cardamom. I thought I knew those flavours, but they were so much more intense in India.

In China, try everything unless it’s still alive (drunken prawns) or cruel (shark fin soup). You never know, you might love the jellyfish and Shanghai dumplings (I did) or the sea urchins and sea cucumbers (I really did not).

Now getting back to your present situation, if I was coming to you to do this interview where would we meet and what would we be drinking?

Well that depends on whether you catch me in the city or the country. There’s nowhere finer in Northern Ireland than my own garden with a view of the County Down countryside and the Mourne Mountains, so I will make us a pot of tea. If we’re in London, let’s drink espressos at one of the trendy Marylebone cafes.

Do you ever miss your expat experience?

Only in mango season.

Did you have much of a problem with learning the language, what advice do you have for English speaking expats?

In India I didn’t learn anything, except to distinguish which of the local languages I was failing to understand. I am equally clueless in Tamil, Telugu, Kannada and Hindi.

We were much better in China. My husband and I both took lessons in Chinese. Our first teacher gave us a good grounding in Pinyin. That allowed us to learn some basic vocabulary. Then we learned how to look up Chinese characters in a dictionary, using the radical and the number of strokes. Those skills demystify Chinese…slightly. It’s still a hard language for English­speakers to learn. I learned Chinese vocabulary best when it came as part of a whole phrase that I could repeat, parroting the correct tones….so I am a fan of DVDs and podcasts. And the words that stuck best came with some emotion. Play a sport, and you soon learn to count the score, ask for the right golf club, and call shots in or out, just because you really don’t want to lose the game.

What do you appreciate the most about the UK now that you’ve been away from it? And what do you dislike about the UK and would change in an instant?

After eight months back home, I still appreciate clean water and reliable electricity. What would I change in an instant? Dark, grey, damp days.

Karolyn's blog street sign

What kind of blogger are you is it all about having a zillion followers or is it therapy?

I only had a zillion followers on one day, when a London college publicised the blog to the zillions of students who attend the college. The excitement wore off when none of them came back for the next post, so now I’m back to blogging as therapy.

How would you describe your blog, tell us about it …

It started as an expat blog, as a way to keep in touch with family and friends when I moved to India. I was enjoying it too much to stop when the expat posting ended. Most of my posts are photo–heavy, light on text.

You always have the best shots on your blog, so tell us what camera do you use and perhaps a little advice on how to get a decent photo.

I love taking photos for the blog, because there’s no pressure. You’ve never seen my photos of the pheasants who live on our farm, because the birds flee from me every time. I only post photos on the blog when I’m proud of them….I don’t announce them in advance.

Sometimes the iPhone is good enough, but I also have a Panasonic Lumix G3 and a Nikon D90. The Lumix is the best for blogging because it’s so small, and easy to carry around. I often wish I had taken more time over my photos. If someone­ my driver in India, my family or friends – is waiting for me, I rush to take a few photos and move on. When I’m in London, I fear that people will think I’m odd if I stop in the street for too long with a camera. But I’ve learned the hard way that it’s always worth taking another minute to get a better shot. Unless you’re looking for pheasants, in which case it’s too late.

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.

I’m in the middle of reading “The Old Ways” by Robert MacFarlane – a wonderful book about walking.

For China, Peter Hessler’s “River Town” was my favourite.
For India, Katherine Boo’s “Behind the Beautiful Forevers” is impressive, but will make you cry in its depiction of life in the slums of Mumbai.
And the best recent book about London, with the longest title, is Craig Taylor’s “Londoners: The Days and Nights of London Now ­ as Told by Those Who Love it, Hate it, Live it, Left it and Long for it” .

Have you discovered any other wonderful travel/expat blogs that we should be reading?

Kim is an American woman living in Fiji with her family, blogging about the animals, plants, people and culture of Fiji. The blog is called Flora and Fauna Weekly Report. The content is so much more interesting than the title! Weekly posts keep the whole thing fresh, and Kim’s photographs bring it all to life.

Karolyn on yoga mat in India

Cheers to Karolyn for taking a moment to answer some questions and the lovely images.

Be sure to pop over and see her at Distant Drumlin for some fine images and reflections on life in the UK.

If you want to see more of Karolyn check her out on Twitter and Flickr .

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Sicilian Tomatoes, Benedica

Sicilian Tomatoes

The fertility of Sicily’s volcanic soil is well-known and thanks to the Sicilian habit of having a vegetable garden I’ve never been without fresh fruits and vegetables to prepare throughout the year, from eggplants, capsicums, chili peppers, basil and tomatoes in the summer to peas, potatoes, pumpkins and broad beans in the winter. There is always something fresh to sample in the Southern kitchen.

This year the seasons were quite late and the heat lasted well into October so we had a late yet bumper harvest of tomatoes, which has been both a blessing and a curse. It means we are still collecting fresh tomatoes for a salads and enjoying fresh pasta sauce, now in early November but to be honest we are a little tired of these darn tomatoes.

We made enough tomato preserve and bottled sauce to last two years, from peeled whole tomatoes, sun-dried tomatoes, we even roasted them as a side to barbecued meat and filled every-single glass bottle, jar and container we had in the house the last lot went into plastic water bottles and frozen in the freezer as we had no where else to put it.

Like most people of Italian descent I grew up peeling, boiling and bottled tomato sauce every summer and everyone has their own time-tested method and recipe.

In my part of Sicily it’s simple just wash, cut and clean the tomatoes, boil them up in suggestive cauldrons,

Sicilian cauldron

pass them through giant juicing machines which separates the pulp from the skin,

Tomato juicer

the clean bottles are filled and boiled to preserve the flavor of the summer.

Tomato sauce

There is nothing like the colour and taste of Sicilian tomatoes…

Fresh Tomato sauce

Bless them … Benedica!

 

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Blogging around the world with Tiana Kai in Florence

There is no doubt that expat blogs from Florence are probably the most popular around, there are literally hundreds of them, but there are few which are able to make themselves stand out and original like Tiana Kai in Florence. Tiana combines her love of travel with her curiosity and knack with photography to explore Tuscany, Italy and Europe at large.

I was surprised when she managed to find a moment in her busy schedule to answer my questions and I am happy to share our conversation with you all.

Ponte Vecchio and Valentina
Tiana’s faithful bike Valentina enjoying the a Florentine icon, the Ponte Vecchio.

 

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 Perhaps you can describe exactly where are you living in the city?

Well, I’m definitely not a local, so expat, immigrant, visitor all work! I have been living in Florence for two years now. I rekindled with my ex (a Florentine) whom I dated back in the US from 2001-2003. We got back in touch and next thing I knew he bought me a ticket to visit him for two weeks. The rest is history! 

How would you describe Italy to someone who has never visited? Are the people welcoming to foreigners?

Oh wow, what’s not to say? The coast, the mountains, the land, passion, food, wine, vineyards…I can go on and on. Every corner is picturesque and every passerby is a moving piece of art. I think Italians are very welcoming. I travel a lot around Italy and the people I meet are so incredible, open, fun and curious. Sure, Americans are easier to get to know, but so are Italians if you are willing to open yourself up. 

Name five things I should see and do in Florence?

Climb the Giotto tower to see the incredible view of the city and an up close shot of the Duomo.

Walk up to my favorite viewpoints: San Miniato al Monte Church and Piazzale Michelangelo. The best time is right before sunset—linger around for a few hours while the pink hues seep in. 

Tour the many gardens! My favorite is the small rose garden inside Boboli Gardens and the Rose Garden to the west of Piazzale Michelangelo. There are so many that I still have a few on my list to see.

Visit a fashion museum besides the Uffizi, I prefer Ferragamo’s museum to Gucci’s. 

Eat like crazy! Grab a panino at All’Antico Vinaio, snack on a lampredotto sandwich on the streets, rip your teeth into a bistecca fiorentina and have wine at Il Santino. 

What should I taste or eat in Florence?

As mentioned above you definitely need to eat a bistecca fiorentina. Juicy, raw and flavorful. Finish dinner with a light dessert like Vin Santo (dessert wine) and cantucci (tiny biscotti) dunking the cookies into the wine for an excellent finish to the evening. 

Gelato, yay! There are a handful of artisan gelaterias who always have a changing menu depending on the season, so you’ll sure find unique and unforgettable flavors. 

If I was coming to you to do this interview where would we meet and what would we be drinking?

I would meet you at Il Santino. I have tried many bars around town, but this place feels like home to me. It’s small, the owners are cool and the quality of the food is unsurpassable.

You are originally from the States and are now living full time in Italy, is there a terrible culture shock or do you find your culture has something in common with your current adopted home?

I find a lot of things similar to life in Miami since Miami is not really “America”. That being said, Italians are still different from Latin Americans, so there was a bit getting used to. Getting things done, paying pills, stores closing for lunch where the main issues I noticed. I used to kiss everyone once when I said hi and bye, now I kiss twice when I say hi…not always goodbye. There are many tiny details that I have shifted in my life now that I live in Italy.

Do you ever suffer from homesickness and how do you cope with it?

As close as I am to my family I always enjoyed being away and doing my own thing. The main things I miss are close friends from the States (thank God for Skype and Facebook) and my two little brothers. I have two older brothers too, but my heart just melt for the youngsters—they’re practically my babies. 

Being married to someone I’ve known since I was 20 helps since I feel like I can talk to him about whatever’s on my mind and no one knows me better than he does. Having close girlfriends never hurts either when you need someone to listen to you and who knows what you’re going through (expat-wise or not). 

What’s been the most rewarding/high point and then the most frustrating/low part of your time in Florence?

High points have been settling in and feeling like myself here—routines can help! I’ve been busy getting to know people and traveling, so that’s kept me happy and busy. 

Low points were more in the beginning when I didn’t know which new “friend” to trust and spend my time with, and the let’s not forget the legal paperwork which is always a dream!

What do you think about the expat life? Why do you think so many people choose to be expats?

Some people may think that life is better somewhere else, that they need a change. Others see it as an adventure to share with their partner or on their own, living a life dream and good for them! I think everyone should live abroad at least once in their lives to see how other people live and gain other life experiences. 

Growing up in Miami I always met people from other countries and thought it was so amazing that they packed up and took a chance in a different country. 

Did you have much of a problem with learning the language, what advice do you have for English speaking expats? 

Ha, I’m bad at practicing! My husband and I speak English since he’s amazing at English and we met speaking English. I speak Italian to locals, but I find it incredibly odd to speak Italian to an American. 

What led you to the world of blogging?

I had a blog in Miami a year or so before I moved here focusing on my business and Miami happenings. Once I moved here I noticed an intense social media presence from other expats and travelers, so I wanted to share my story with them and most importantly with my family and friends back home. 

How would you describe your blog, tell us about it …

My blog is a place where you can find tips about Italy and my personal experiences with many many photos! When someone is coming to Florence I want to provide them with the best of what they can do and EAT, so that they have an incredible time here. Since I’m more than just someone living in Florence I like to focus on other travels and expat life in general, so you’ll find a few things that may connect to you on a personal level. 

Have you ever had negative experiences with blogging? Tell us about it, how did you handle it?

Maybe a few pompous comments, but I always think that they must not be very nice to anyone not just me. 

What kind of blogger are you, is it about getting a zillion visitors/subscribers, selling your books or is it all therapy?

I let blogging take me where it takes me. I don’t want a blog filled with advertising and I don’t want to over sell myself, so it’s more about my stories and photography. Many use it as a business and for now I use it as a great tool for work, travel, keeping in touch and sharing my tips and experience with whomever is reading. Who knows what future plans I may have for my blog down the road.

You have quite a good following on your blog, any advice for the rest of us?

Connect with others and be yourself! 

You always have the best shots on your blog, so tell us what camera do you use and perhaps a little advice on how to get a decent photo.

I have a Canon Rebel that doesn’t always see the light of day because of the size, so you’ll find me with my Canon Powershot and iPad mini. The mini takes pretty great shots, less pixelated (and lighter!) than the iPad 2. 

Complete this phrase: I travel because …

life without it is bleeh.

What are the five things you would never leave home without …

Camera, iPad mini, Tod aviators, comfy loafers/walking shoes, my grandpa’s gold bracelet.

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.

Born to Run made me want to explore more of the southwest of the States/Mexico. That book was incredible and if I didn’t give it to a friend I would read it several times over. The landscape in the book really spoke to me, I wouldn’t mind spending a few nights there in the middle of nothing with my husband, dog and camera. I grew up traveling a lot and no matter how fancy shmancy the hotel, my family always was extremely active, so I really love doing something sporty and getting dirty! 

So what’s coming up on Living in Florence that we can look forward to …. Have you discovered any other wonderful travel/expat or writing blogs that we should be reading?

I’m focusing on some side projects that let me be creative and challenge me a bit. As for blogs that I read, I actually read more about marketing and technology, but I find that I’m always cracking up when I read Married To Italy!

Tiana Kai in Florence
Tiana Kai in Florence

Tiana was born in Hawaii, raised in Miami and now lives and works as digital marketing consultant in Florence. TianaKai.com shares travel tips all over Italy and abroad plus expat experiences that are sure to make you laugh. Her main passions besides travel are photography (check out instagram.com/tianapix), her yellow labrador Macintosh and her husband who cooks some mean ribs. 

If you want to see more of Tiana check out her social media links: Instagram, Twitter, Facebook and Pinterest and her really fun photographic project NOT MY NONNI which offers some candid images of elegant elderly people in Italy also on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook.

It was fabulous to have Tiana Kai from Living in Florence to visit on Unwilling Expat and I look forward to her insights on life from one of my favorite parts of Italy.

In bocco al lupo (good luck and happy blogging to you!)

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Sicilian dolce far niente or how to pretend not to work in Southern Italy

Sicilian Decay

 

Sicilian’s have a bad reputation when it comes to employment, so if you are the competitive type a move to Sicily is not going to better your career. One popular joke describes the typical islander work environment as one Sicilian doing all the work and five others looking on at him. It’s probably truer to say one Sicilian being paid and the others pretending not to do anything but secretly working and getting paid ‘under the table’ as no one can afford the taxes.

There is something about the South, all over the world which inspires a laid back attitude to life coupled with decadence, idleness and corruption. It could be the heat, the poverty or history?

Sicily has always been the most downtrodden, taxed, molested, dominated and trampled part of Italy. If you read anything about the islands history you will be surprised by an endless diatribe of conquests, violent wars, pestilence and persistent subterfuge to most major world powers from the middle ages to modern times. No wonder Sicilian’s are so hedonistic as in their past everything has literally been taken away from them.

Unemployment is a concern throughout the peninsular, many Italians are forced to invent their own jobs. Over the past decade for example there has been a succession of young Italian creatives who have set up online businesses to export their own creativity and creations overseas. Unfortunately thanks to the current economic crisis Italy is experiencing a massive ‘brain drain’ as many brilliant Italian entrepreneurs and students are leaving to work overseas, as many industries are closing down in Italy and moving offshore, tax levels are on the hike and the economy is going in the wrong direction.

My own experience in the Sicilian work environment is almost as long and convoluted as the Sicilian penal code. As a foreigner you will be starting off with a distinct disadvantage and I discovered as an ‘extracomunitaria’, or as someone born out of Europe my academic qualifications and even drivers license are not recognized in Italy.

I cannot tell you how many dead ends I came across while trying to have my degree recognized so I could teach in Sicilian schools or at least continue my studies. Someone told me I’d have to redo my entire degree. One politician said he’d validate everything with his big magic authoritative stamp and even promised me a job as a ‘mother tongue english specialist,’ I’m still waiting on the phone call!

I have long since given up on the academic side of work and as for my drivers license is concerned I will continue renew my ‘International’ one until I find the time to swallow my pride to sit the written and practical tests together with skintight-jeans-wearing, eye-shadow-smeared high school children.

Since coming to Sicily I’ve become a master of odd jobs and doing-all-kinds-of-shite-to make-ends-meet (this title is so on my resume) from: secretary in my husband’s architectural office, translator, interpreter to tutor of unmotivated ‘liceo linguistico’ (language based high schools) who are a special breed of young adults forced to study the likes of Shakespeare, D.H Lawrence and James Joyce in implausible Literature programs when they are unable to string a simple sentence together in English. It is difficult enough to explain the significance Hamlet’s ‘to be or not to be’ monologue to a bored American/English/Canadian or Australian student, but you can imagine the hours of fun doing it all in Italian to a student who is studying English only to make his parents happy, it’s really a barrel of monkeys with much screeching and gesticulating, mostly on my part.

Nowadays my English students have almost disappeared, my work boils down to tricking people into occasionally publishing my articles. I did a little work in the tourist industry over the summer but I prefer to define myself as a writer, blogger and mother. Not the most glamorous situation and pitifully pathetic when it comes to being paid but terribly satisfying on an emotional level.

There is always plenty of work in Sicily but Sicilians have a problem with the payment side of things, so unless I want to get all aggressive like Tom Cruise in Jerry Maguire, yelling ‘show me the money’ down the phone, I tend to avoid confrontations or occasions which will potentially leave me empty pocketed.

Most of my work in Sicily has been either underpaid or not paid at all. That’s not to say there aren’t work opportunities in Italy, there is a huge tourist industry and in the major cities foreigners will find work opportunities in I.T, fashion, language teaching and childcare areas. You’re not going to become a millionaire but you will find a way of making a living to stay in one of the most fascinating countries on the planet, even if this may involve lowering your standards or getting a second job as a waitress or shop assistant to make ends meet.

In small town Sicily, where things are usually much more slow-paced and the time in between work is getting longer, there is nothing to do other than adopt a Sicilian ‘dolce far niente’ approach, an attitude of pleasant idleness, which has become almost a torture for this workaholic expat who keeps slamming her head forcefully into a wall of culture shock, which I always forget to lookout for.

Living in the moment is normal for Sicilians but I worry about my savings, career and future and so these are difficult times for this Unwilling Expat. Sicily is perfect for reflection, writing, history, food and wine and finding stories. Work is not important as life tends to disrupt employment in Sicily.

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