The Skin I’m In: The Expat Dilemma Ischia Ponte1

written by Rebecca

A few weeks ago our little hamlet held what comes closest in rural Umbria to a block party, if by block party one includes events that begin with Mass, end with a costumed drum corp, and have tables laden for food for the 150 guests (though only 11 actually live on the block). We had guests staying at Brigolante on the Sunday of the party, and—as we do every year—we invited them to come join in for food and fun. As one of the party’s organizers, I spent the evening serving food, filling glasses, herding children, hunting down extra chairs, bantering and gesticulating, joining in when the accordian started busting out with “Ecco Maggio, è venuto!” and pretty much leaving our American and English guests to fend for themselves, which they did with aplomb.

The next morning one said to me, Wow, you sure have assimilated after all this time living here. which stopped me short. Have I?

The villa..

to be or become absorbed.

I am coming up on my 40th birthday (Though they say that 40 is the new 30, which is fine by me. While we’re at it, can we throw in grey is the new honey-colored highlights and muffin-top is the new six pack?), and predictably I’ve been reflecting about where I am in my life…a large part of which is the experience of being an expat. In fact, in just a few short years I will have lived more years outside my home country than inside. I would love to say that I have assimilated, that I have become so seamlessly absorbed into the culture and language here in rural Umbria as to be virtually interchangeable with someone who was born and bred here. But I know that’s not the case.

A House in San Venanzo – part 1

We had no interest in Italy. None. Nada. Then Frank (my son) was stationed near Naples for two years, so we decided to go. Our first trip was in September, 2000. We took an organized tour with our good friends Sherry and Dave. We arrived a few days before the tour began and stayed a few days after. We had a fantastic time, and the four of us talked of returning.

Villa Balbianello

For Art and me, that opportunity would come in January, 2001, when NWA offered free airfare from Louisville with frequent flier miles. In March, we had a three week trip planned with my daughter Angela, her husband Duffy, and our grandson Nicholas. We were going to have a family reunion of sorts. This trip had been in the works since Frank and Shannon first knew they were going to Italy. Art and I spent a week in Umbria, and then went to Sorrento for a few days, Later we all met up in Formia, where Frank and Shannon lived.  We then went to Rome with Angela, Duffy and Nicholas, and while the parents joined their tour group, we took Nicholas. The story of losing my purse and all three passports deserves a story all its own, but personally, I would just as soon forget the whole incident! Let’s just say that we made it back home eventually.

At this point, we’ve been to Italy 3 times in less than eight months. And we are now wondering, when will we get there again? How can we wait? We have one week of vacation scheduled for October, and, as if heavenly ordained, that turns out to be the same week as the Chocolate Festival in Perugia! So we go.

Next we return in May 2002, for a two week visit, one week in Florence, one week in Umbria. And I am too scared to post on SlowTrav the questions that are gnawing away at me. Could WE live in Italy? How would we do it? Could we afford it? Who would help us? I had posted similar questions after our March/April 2001 trip, and thought it was pointless to keep asking these questions every time we returned home. After all, retiring to Italy is not something for people like us. People with just an average amount of money, little savings, and no language skills.

Once again, divine intervention. Umbriaphile (Carl) poses the same questions on the message board! Well, it must be a sign! We plunge into the discussion headfirst, with much more enthusiasm than facts. And slowly, we start to get the idea, maybe we CAN do this. Ex-pats tell us we have enough monthly income from Art’s retirement. They even say we could probably afford a house. So we begin to contact everyone we ever knew in Italy, or at least those who were foolish enough to give us their email addresses! We scour the web, finding page after page of real estate agencies. Most of the places we see on the web are WAY too expensive for us, but most people seem to think that with some luck and patience, we CAN afford a house.

Interview with Alex the Blogger in Naples

Name: Alex


Date of Interview: August 16, 2007

Area of Italy you live in?


Let us know a little about yourself?

Married mum aka merry mum?

What type of process did you go through to be able to move here?

1st stop was a visa from the Italian consulate and then the wait wait wait…. I finally just jumped on a plane (and only then did they have it ready) then the P.S. fiasco which took a year of waiting for a white piece of newspaper print and a lousy photo and we’ve been here ever since.

What problems did you run into during the initial process and how were you able to fix them ?

Yes, I need my birth certificate translated (from a non latin based alphabet) and certified multiple times (they lose a lot of things around here) so have everything done in triplicate if you can.

How long have you been here?

Since 99.

What type of adjustment problems have you had?

Initially it was language (Neapolitan that is) and then the expectations – I expect too much. Expect nothing and then be pleasantly surprised is the way things go around here.

What do you wish someone had told you before you made the leap?

Don’t bring anything you value too much – it will get stolen

What inside secret could you pass on to others looking to move over?

Make friends, make friends, make friends and have a back up plan.

Do you have any disappointments, things you thought would happen but haven’t for whatever reasons ?

Perhaps staying too long has been a disappointment because in truth you can never really become Italian the way they need you to be.

What has changed about you since you have been here ?

Don’t care as much about being “fiscale”

Do you think that you will stay forever?

Nothing is forever

Can you think of anything that you would like seen added to this site?

Are you kidding? I haven’t even seen all of the bells and whistles yet -it is very cool!


Artist Signman Teacher

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