Thursday, July 18, 2013

My Love/Hate Relationship with Italy...

  It's funny how living someplace gives you a whole different perspective than just visiting does. It's pretty easy to love someplace when you're only visiting but when you live there it can be a whole other experience. I tried to keep this in mind while preparing to move here but there are just some realities that have to hit you in the face. It's kinda like trying to prepare yourself for marriage or having kids when you've never done either. You sort of know it's not going to be easy but you still envision unending dreamy, romantic evenings with your spouse and perfect, smiling, cooing "Gerber babies." At some point reality sets in and you realize just how silly those ideas were. It's not that you never experience good things but you become acutely aware that the real world has very little in common with the fantasy.

 Just to be clear I am definitely having some wonderful experiences here. The traveling has for the most part been amazing and we still have a lot more to see and do. I'll write more about that in my next blog. What I want to focus on for now is the reality of really living here. In conveying my feelings about these things I am aware that my perspective is that of an outsider. The way things are done here are probably perfectly sensible to someone who's native born. But as an American I can tell you that to me, NOTHING here makes any logical sense! Let me try to give you the best examples of this...

 Speed Limits: Trying to merge onto a freeway you would think it best to increase your speed to match the speed of other cars. Not here. The merging speed limit is 40 km. per hour (approximately 25 mph)! If you're traveling on the highway in the right lane and someone is merging you'd better move over or slow down! It's odd because this is the only place I have seen Italians actually going the speed limit.

  Drivers Licenses: The Italian government has made it impossible for immigrants to get a local driver's license.  We do have our international licenses but they are only good for 1 year. After that you are expected to get an Italian license. Here's the problem: You have to apply for a driver's permit. Sounds easy enough. The permits cost approximately $250 (of course that's in Euros) and from the moment you obtain your permit you have 6 months to learn the rules of the road and then take the test for your license. Plus you  have to put a large letter "P" on the front and back of your car, you can't drive on the freeways and you must drive ONLY with a licensed driver who is under the age of 60 and has had a valid license for at least 10 years. Now if someone can tell me where to find an Italian who's willing to drive with us to work, the grocery store, church and every other place we have to go I'll do my best to get a license. Oh by the way if you fail the test which is 40 questions (you can only miss 4) your permit is torn up and you start the whole process all over again... And the test is no longer offered in English. Brilliant.

  Parking lots: I talked about this briefly in my last blog but I still can't seem to grasp this concept. It should be a simple enough thing. You drive to a store and you park your car, right?  Here that's only if you can get through the maze of barriers, one way arrows and "Do Not Enter" signs to FIND the parking lot! I have never seen anyplace more bent on keeping people out!! And it doesn't seem to matter where you're going. Grocery, hardware and furniture stores, government offices, malls...Oh, let's talk about shopping malls. 

  Italy likes to play a little game called "Hide the Mall". Here's what I mean: 

Last week we were trying to find a mall that we had been told had an Apple store.    Like a lot of men, my husband is an electronics maniac and loves electronics stores so we looked online to find out what the mall was called and a map to the place. Following the directions on our GPS we ended up at a shopping center that had 3 large stores, Italy's versions of The Home Depot, Academy Sports and Garden Ridge. At the opposite end of the parking lot were some industrial looking buildings with almost no cars parked at that end of the lot.  We decided since we were there to park and go check out the stores even though it wasn't the mall we had hoped to find. We found an underground parking lot (a good deal of parking here is underground) and realized that it went on a lot further back than we realized. We drove to an area where there were a lot of cars, got out, rode up a motorized ramp and... VIOLA! We were in a huge shopping mall! Those strange, industrial looking buildings with almost no cars in the upper lot WAS the mall!

 Now this might seem like an isolated incident but we came upon another mall a few days ago the same way. By parking in an underground lot and walking into a set of non-descript doors. We've also been to a few outlet malls where all of the stores face in and the back of the stores are what face the maze.., uh, I mean parking lot! Oh and by the way, every store in this particular mall was closed...on a Monday. The only things that were open were the restaurants and pizzarias. And that leads us to the subject of business closures...

 A lot of businesses, particularly the smaller ones still follow the siesta schedule. From about 1pm to around 3:30 or 4:00 they close up shop. That's really okay with me, as a matter of fact I kind of like it, but it's not something I expect from a large store. I found out the hard way the other day that some of the bigger places do it too. Also, there are hundreds of small towns and villages and each one has a patron saint. If any of these towns happens to be celebrating their individual saint on any given day the businesses will be closed. No way of knowing unless you're a local what day that will be, but whatever! You learn pretty quickly that if you want to go someplace it's probably a good idea to find out if it's going to be open when you get there!

    In the interest of keeping this blog entry shorter than your average novel I won't go into all the other things that seem completely illogical here. There are plenty of them I assure you. In joking about it the other day while we were searching every "logical" place to find a shower rod for our new house and not finding one Mark said, "maybe we should check a shoe store!" 

 ... And that is how we're handling all this! God gave us both a unique and quirky sense of humor and using it has kept us both (somewhat) sane! We do get angry and frustrated from time to time but we're at least trying to see the humor in our new situations. It also helps to have other Americans who are in the same boat to talk to. Once again, as stated in my previous blogs, I'm thankful for the people God has put in place for our journey here. Especially the church we have become a part of. I'm still not clear on the purpose for our being here, and I'm aware I may not ever really know. But knowing that God has put us here is what I keep relying on. Frustrations aside this has been and will continue to be an interesting adventure!

As always, thank you for taking the time to read my ramblings. I will focus more on the positive things in my next blog, I promise!



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