Thursday, May 22, 2008

The perks of living in Italy

Bet you never thought I'd type out those words!

Despite my bitching & moaning, there are lots of things I do like about living in Italy. One of them is the fact that I'm a foreigner. Yep, being straniera comes with many many perks, my friends. Perks that I became aware of only after I'd settled here and been living here for a few years. Such as:

1) I can wear whatever the fuck I want.
When I starting sporting my red birkis outside of the house, I was getting some intense stares. Not "Those are so cute where'd you get them?" stares. More like "Are you on crack going outside with red plastic clogs on?". Though I do notice the stares, I couldn't care less. I've always been rather immune to these things all my life. The funny thing is, some of my Italian friends justify my quirky choices by saying "Well, you know... she's American" as if that gives me the freedom to walk around wearing a garbage bag if I wanted to. For the record, I also sport Dansko clogs and know they aren't particularly pretty but they're ridiculously comfy- so who cares!
A few years back I was working more or less full time for a subtitling company in their office. I'm allergic to suits and dress-up clothes, so I wore what I'd normally wear: jeans, T-shirts, etc. Not sloppy, but definitely not business attire. I can safely say I was the most under-dressed person there. One day I get a call from the boss lady asking me to come in the next day for a meeting with a BIG client she was trying to snag. I normally didn't deal with securing clients but I agreed to attend. Before she hung up she said "Careful about what you wear tomorrow". I automatically thought- Hell no, I'm not getting dressed up to do something that's not even my duty. But before I had a chance to protest she went on to say "Make sure you dress like you always do, all American with your weird T-shirts and sneakers". Whatchutalkinboutwillis? Apparently she wanted to assure these big clients that she had a real, live American working for her who would translate their films into perfect American English. So not only did I not have to dress up, I was begged to come to work in casual gear- right on!

2) I can say whatever the fuck I want
This perk comes into action once you're fluent. If you're still fumbling with the language, you might not fully enjoy the power of this one. I get away with murder- I can say just about anything to anybody. I'm well aware that I don't have this impunity in my homeland, in fact I rarely (almost never) mouth off to people in NYC because I know better. Here in Italy though, I mouth off with no fear. At times people will snap back, but no bodily harm is inflicted. And lots of times they merely shrug it off saying "Oh well, she's American".
Same holds true in the workplace. Being straniera gives me the liberty to say stuff I probably wouldn't in the American workplace- I protest, complain, curse, criticize their procedures and they actually seem to LOVE it. One of my "employers" (I'm freelance so he's not really my boss), after witnessing one of my tirades, decided it would be beneficial for him to sit down and have occasional meetings with me to pick my brain and get my input on how he can tighten up his business. And I give it to him--- straight up.

3) I can do whatever the fuck I want
Many years ago, when I was the first female to step foot in a testosterone-filled raunchy kickboxing gym, they all stared at me with hostility as if I were an intruder. Once they realized I was American, they were more willing to accept me as one of "the boys". I got a glimpse of that hostile stare again when I showed up at the gym wearing flip flops in the summer... Mind you, this was before flip flops were trendy & acceptable as outside footwear in any place other than the beach in Italy. After they all harassed and mocked me for about 20 minutes, they brushed it off with the usual "that crazy American girl!" and all was well.

4) I'm always "interesting"
Even if I'm feeling sluggish and anti-social at an event, I'm automatically considered "interesting" because I'm a foreigner. It's pretty sweet, I must admit. I can utter 2 words and people will be fascinated with me because I'm a foreigner who's lived in Rome for so long. This also has a downside though- being bombarded with the same ol' questions about America, about why I'm in Italy and what I think of it, even if I'm not in the mood to play that game.

For the most part, being foreign here is fun, for me at least. I know several expats who ended up leaving Rome because they were tired of not fitting in, tired of being seen as an outsider, tired of being foreign... But that doesn't bother me much, maybe because I've always been a bit of an outsider by choice.

There is another side to the coin, of course. There are some VERY annoying disadvantages that come with being a foreigner here too. I'll get into that next time.


Anonymous said...

ha ha ha, gotta love it! Nothing like being who you are and flaunting it.

Piccola said...

I love my Birki's too! Mine are basic black. You'd fit right in here in Portland. Good for you for sporting them in Uber-trendy Italy. It's nice that they let you be who you are. Who wants to be fake??

Kataroma said...

Hah - now you see why my life is so fabulous! :) As a third culture kid with a weird name and even weirder impossible to place mid-Pacific accent (half American, half Australian) I'm ALWAYS the foreigner and therefore always "interesting." It's great!

I agree that it's silly to try to conform to your host culture. Way more fun just being yourself and embracing your-foreign cappuccino drinking after lunch ways.

nyc/caribbean ragazza said...

ha! Every time an Italian offers me a cigarette one of my Italian friends says "She's American". Which is followed by "ooooh capito".

Romerican said...

ms. violetta- Bingo!

piccola- I was torn between the black and red ones, but I opted for red. At this rate I may as well move to Portland with all the damn rain we're having here! Speaking of Portland, I just accidentally bought a book about it: "Fugitives & refugees". Read it? I bought it cuz I live Chuck Palahniuk, only later did I realize it was all about Portland.

kataroma- Dang, you must be the life of the party! And you even look foreign too, right? That's a double whammy =) What's odd is that my quirks and eccentricities are seen as just that in US, whereas here they're chalked up to the fact that I'm foreign.

NYC- hahhha! good one, I forgot to mention that... Maybe next time someone asks me "Can I bum a cigarette off of you?" I'll just say "I'm American" ;)

SWT said...

I too walk around Rome in my Dansko's...wouldn't give them up for the world!!

Miss Expatria said...

OMG i love you, i can't believe i'm not in rome right now, otherwise i'd find you and make you be my friend.

Romerican said...

miss expatria-
Come on down!!!! ;)