“Other than the culture, which is beautiful for sure,” the question from a ‘Catherine’ on the online expat forum began, “why would a non-Italian national want to subject herself to the hassle, inefficiencies, high inflation and debt, illegal immigrants and corrupt political system, to retire in Italy?”
It ended: “I am beginning to think there are better places for retirement, such as the USA.”
Especially terrifying was that despite my much celebrated and very recent move to Italy, I had to admit: Catherine was right.
Italy is gorgeous. With the sea and the mountains; sunshine and skiing; food, culture and art, there’s something for everyone. But any expat in Italy will tell you, when the novelty wears off and you’re fighting with your taxes, fighting with the workers at the post office, fighting the traffic, the crowded metro or the oily water splashing from the potholes, it can become difficult to stick up for your beloved new country.
The truth is, Italy isn’t perfect. It runs out of a sort of functional chaos and a never-ending creativity that’s necessary to deal with the draconian bureaucracy. In my best expat moments, this creative chaos is fascinating, in my worst: infuriating.
At the time I didn’t immediately have a response for Catherine in the forum. Maybe she was right. Today, however, I would answer that some are willing to take the better healthcare with the more difficult bureaucracy; the better climate with the more difficult traffic or the better lifestyle with the loss in punctuality.
No place on earth can offer us every single thing we want with zero problems.
I’d answer that we don’t move abroad because it’s easy. If that was what we wanted than Catherine would be right: better to stay at home. We don’t move abroad hoping to escape the differences of our new country from our hometown. Everything is different, that’s part of the process. Every country has its problems and choosing a new home comes from much more than a list of pros and cons.
We move abroad because it’s right for us. Because we need it. Because we’re ready. It’s motivated by passion, by love, by attraction. Moving to a new country is like falling in love: at first you don’t notice the flaws of your new love, and once you do you realize you’re ok with them.
No one decides to stay in Italy because it’s perfect, they decide because they can’t imagine living any other place on earth. Italy is inside of them. It’s a land that can teach us how to live again, teach us what wealth and health truly mean, and that only we can control our happiness.
In the land of “il dolce far niente,” or the sweetness of doing nothing, Italy – through its blessings as well as problems – teaches us to slow down; to stay passionate but accept what we cannot change; to enjoy the little things with the knowledge that it’s all the little things. Time works a bit differently in a 3,000 year-old-country. Honestly? Everything works a bit differently. Italy is fallible, and humanly imperfect.
We don’t fall in love with perfection, such a thing doesn’t exist. Rather, we fall in love in spite of the imperfections. Our love doesn’t necessarily make sense, I’d tell Catherine, but luckily for us it doesn’t have to.