An English woman, an Irish woman and two Midwestern Americans sat around the table, spritz’s in hand and classic Italian aperitivo snacks littering the table, each discussing the merits of their own country. The question asked by an Italian acquaintance was “do you like living in Italy?”
Eyes were immediately averted, smiles forcibly kept. How to answer such a complex question simply, concisely and to someone you hardly know?
We’re here, aren’t we?
Of course we like it!
But of course, the truth is always more nuanced.
Whether you’ve been living in Italy for 5 years like me, 20 years or 30, sometimes you’re here simply because you are. Sometimes you liked it but found that your emotions have changed over time. Sometimes you like it and hate it at the same time, like an outgrown lover, like your closest family members.
“Home is still Ireland for me,” said my Irish friend, despite the fact that she’s been in Italy for 30 years.
“They’re both home.” Oh how we could understand.
It’s clear that living abroad isn’t for everyone. And sometimes living abroad isn’t for everyone forever.
Living abroad works for me now. I like it. Will it work forever? I can’t say.
This is the truth of expat life. This is what you see on the faces of those who have lived in a country not their own for 10 years, 20, 30. What may have started as a fun adventure becomes a life. Becomes a husband, kids, a job. It’s not as easy as picking up and moving back. Sometimes, it becomes your only option. And then, then living abroad takes on a whole new light.
Then, the question “do you like living in Italy?” becomes completely irrelevant.
Sometimes we love it. Sometimes we hate it.
And sometimes we just have to spend a happy hour sharing our hometown culture. Saying what we miss the most (the space). How different we are when we go back home (always trying to kiss people on two cheeks in a standoffish Anglo Saxon country.) The ways and good old-fashioned pastimes from our neck of the woods (smores). Sometimes you have to discuss what you miss the most to remember what you love about Italy. Sometimes you have to laugh with friends who understand that like it or not, home is where you make it.