Italy had always felt like a dream, so it took some getting used to hearing again and again: Why would you leave America to come here?!
Italians were incredulous, as if I had left the golden land for the desolate streets of insecurity and unemployment. Not realizing just how serious they were, my responses were usually flippant. In a bar I’d make something up, during an English lesson I might explain more: my husband is Italian and I came here because I love Italy and I love him. To pressing acquaintances I’d shrug and say the truth, or at least the truth at the time: I had just graduated, had no plans and only wanted to travel and continue my love affair with both Marco and Italy. Marco had a job in Italy, I didn’t have one in America. It just made sense for me to come here.
The answer pacified most but satisfied few.
Italy hit the peak of its economic crisis a few years after America. There were no jobs in Italy for young people, no way to get a house of ones own. The only hope was, and largely still is, to continue living with parents and studying well into your mid-30s, whether you need to or not. The vast majority of young Italians I met considered the U.S. a magical land of jobs.
Though it’s not Egypt, the quantity of young people with nothing to do is comparable. ANSA, the state news service, reported then that “Italy has the highest proportion of young people doing “nothing”, with almost a quarter of 15-to-29-year-olds not in education, employment or training.”
In fact, 51 percent of Italians under 40 feel they need to search for employment outside of Italy, according to the survey ‘Youth in Crisis’, compiled together with the Trieste-based SWG polling agency. Nearly 75 percent said they feel Italy offers “no future” and you can find more than one Netflix documentary about Italians leaving Italy. Many feel its easier to uproot their lives and leave than to find a job that pays a living wage in Italy. For many, it’s true.
So you can understand why the Italians I met are confused about my move to Italy.
Few people have the luxury of choosing their home, of creating their lives in the exact way they want it exactly where they want it. But I did.
Like I already mentioned, the initial choice was simply logistical. It just made sense at that time for me to give Italy a try. Still, over the years Marco and I have dissected, debated and discussed living in America rather than Italy. Though we’re lucky to both have jobs here, the economic and political situation still isn’t great. Yet ultimately, we always decide to stay.
Our quality of life is higher in Italy.
In America Marco could potentially earn three times the amount that he’s making here. He’d be paid a wage that actually matches his skill set.
In America I would live in a country that speaks my native tongue. I could more easily find a communications-related job. I could network and make connections easier.
In America we’d be closer to family. Our children would be raised “American” with an academic system that values sportsmanship and the practical side of jobs as opposed to just theory (or is that just the Midwest?).
In America we would (likely) pay fewer taxes and live in a system of relative efficiency. We’d have fewer bureaucratic headaches. We would live in a mixed-raced, mixed-religion, mixed-everything culture.
And yet it all comes down to that one little truth: Our quality of life is higher in Italy.
Here we make little, but we live well.
Here in Italy we have a home without a mortgage (no small matter), a beautiful garden we can call our own and the love and support of being surrounded (quite literally) by family. Here our work is precarious but flexible. We can manage our work hours, take as many sick days as needed and enjoy all of August off work. Here no one looks down on you for using your maternity leave, for taking long weekends away and enjoying your free time. Hobbies are encouraged, friendships cultivated, beauty appreciated.
Here I can fly to a European city for the same price it costs to simply drive out-of-state in the U.S. I can stop in one of the dozens of museums that surround me, go out with friends and bring my daughter along with no disapproving stares. Here I can trust that my food is regulated, that my healthcare is free, that public transportation, no matter how old or shitty, exists. Here I can cycle on the side of the road without igniting rage from drivers who have never seen a cyclist before. I can pick up inexpensive, fresh produce and bread daily and enjoy a daily morning coffee for 1 euro – no breaking the bank on expensive, cancerogenous frappuccinos. (Instead, make a cappuccino at home!)
Some people desperately want to climb the ladder, to be able to buy their quality of life. They want to find a certain level of success and in that sense, living in Italy can be more of a hindrance than a help. That’s not the case for Marco and I.
Instead, we want to be able to spend the evenings together. We want to take our daughter to the mountains on the weekend, turn off our work phones after-hours and live in a bilingual world. We want to have long conversations, delicious inexpensive wine and fresh food. We want to build a community.
Of course these aren’t the only reasons that we’ve decided to live here. It also comes down to a feeling, an atmosphere, a love, an attraction. We like it here, for better or worse. See: A Love Letter to my Home
There are good and bad things about wherever you live. I still care about the United States and still identify as an American. (See: How to Support Your Country From Abroad). I miss my country. I miss the things it offers that Italy does not, not least of which my family and friends. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: Living abroad isn’t all sunshines and rainbows. It’s living, and that includes all the quotidian hassles we all have. Still, sometimes you just fall in love, imperfections and all.
We had a choice, and for now, we’ve actively chosen to stay.