Live almost a decade of your life in a small Italian town and suddenly you become a bumpkin.
Then you return home and everything seems foreign.
I’m back Down Under because my brother is getting hitched. It’s the most expensive two-week non-holiday I’ve ever been on and I’m secretly cursing his name.
Jetlag has got nothing on me. Forget about not sleeping. I forget how to speak. The words that tumble from my mouth are a soup of English, Italian and phrases I’ve invented — “What do you mean ‘disoccupied’ isn’t a word? Since when do we say unemployed?”
It’s now day four Down Under. As I write this I’m itching with agoraphobia. I actually booked an appointment with the Apple Genius Bar on Easter Sunday at 4:45 p.m. Never mind that geniuses don’t recognize religious holidays. I just can’t believe how easy it was.
Back in the land of pasta and gelato, I let the town tech violate my computer and six months of tinkering didn’t help. Now it’s missing its back flap and I stay awake at night worried the geniuses will laugh at me. I should have known a man named “Gianni” would never be able to fix my computer. He plays the accordion in a musical duo at weekends. The other half is his other half. Feel like you’re back in the 1970s yet?
Every time I return to Australia it seems to me it’s taken another step into the future. Meanwhile, I’m stuck with a hairdresser who gleefully puts diamantés in people’s hair and an optometrist who got his degree in Lithuania. (Sure, you couldn’t get into an Italian university, but tell me again why I should take your advice about laser surgery as gospel?)
Before I left, we’d just finished celebrating Carnevale. My district dressed up as a Sudanese musical street band complete with black faces. I asked them why and they told me it was because the local marocchino (who has never set foot in Morocco) got the costumes for cheap. No one thought it was politically incorrect. I could pretend to be outraged, but I’m honestly not. I’m accustomed to the racism and small-mindedness of rural Italy. Plus, I’m egotistical. I worry more about the day when I return home and people start excusing my eccentricities by saying I’m from the country.
Worst of all, I feel lost in this big bad consumerist, globalized, non-denominational and politically correct city we call Melbourne. I get outraged whenever I see how much things cost in shops. I’m so close to bringing my own thermos of coffee to local cafés that my friends have started suggesting we meet at their homes.
Don’t get me wrong. I love driving past Pokies lady, the senior citizen who spends her pension at the slots because her husband died of a heart attack after taking too much Viagra on a night out with some prostitutes. And I adore the fact that the guy who delivers cheese from the cheese shop is having an affair with the woman who heads our Pro Loco in the cheese van outside my house. Suffice to say, I don’t buy cheese from that cheese shop anymore. And I miss walking down the street and saying hi to people I recognize but whose names I don’t remember because I might as well have Alzheimer’s. Home is where I get to hear the latest installment in the ongoing debate over whether this year’s Santa should be someone other than the emaciated old man who lost his pants last December and flashed a bunch of eight-year-olds. Public consensus is currently leaning towards no.
But I don’t want to be under 30 and console myself with memories of the days when I used to be cool. My husband currently occupies that position, and I’d like it to stay that way.
This post originally appeared in The American Magazine.