Being a columnist is a peculiar job. You write extremely personal and isolated anecdotes that you assume people would be interested in reading. That’s not always the case.
A few months ago, I published one of my columns on social media with the terrible caption ‘the sacrifices of expat life’ and someone responded with a sarcastic comment, mocking my use of the word ‘sacrifice’.
It moved me. In a couple of years’ time, I will look back at my seemingly profound columns and consider myself a terrible whine. This realization hasn’t made me turn the proverbial leaf and start writing positive pap though. For that, I apologize. Everything seems worse when you’re in your 20s.
All this week, I’ve been masticating the idea of going home. It’s August and I always head back to Australia in August. It’s winter and no one is on holiday, so I already know I’ll spend the bulk of it alone in my childhood bedroom or playing bingo with the unnecessarily aggressive senior citizens at my grandmother’s Napoli club. It is, by the way, a Napoli club only in name. Beryl and Gladys have colonized the bingo table, forcing the deaf and slightly senile Italianates to read all the numbers in English and repeat the stupid rhyming bingo lingo. 3! Cup of tea! 60! Grandma’s getting frisky! Proverbially, of course. There is a reign of terror at that table and my nonna isn’t so much getting frisky as whispering the numbers to Comare Pina in Italian before she’s told to quiet down. Comare Pina hasn’t crossed anything out in 35 minutes and is $2.60 in the red, which is a lot when you consider the ‘in’ is 20 cents.
Going home should be one of the best times of the year for an expat. I’m incredibly fortunate to be able to go home. But I won’t sugar coat it. It’s uncomfortable. You don’t really fit in. I honour my mother with half an hour of my time once a week. At best, she has 720 minutes-worth of information about what I’ve done in the past six months and most of the time I can’t be bothered going into detail. I’ve already lived it once. I have no desire to recount it. It’s why I don’t keep a diary.
Add the 10-minute weekly weather conversation I have with my grandmother and suffice to say, I don’t really speak to my family unless they want a favour. My uncle emailed a few weeks ago asking me to buy and bring him a replacement toilet seat after the plumber fell on and broke his handcrafted Italian-made one with automatic lid. I had to search half the country to find the €120 replacement. The entire saga was absurd.
Obviously, I could phone more often, but that’s not really the point. Reinserting yourself into the family dynamic every time you go home is a bit like remembering not to drive like an Italian. I get itchy figures when I drive in Australia. I want to overtake everyone, do at least double the speed limit and never use my indicators. I’ve already been stopped for the latter and while the officer didn’t believe my ‘I think they’re broken’ lie, he did let me off without a fine. Ignore the analogy and what I’m trying to say is it’s a conscious effort to behave the way people expect you to and be the person you were before you moved overseas.
I was a vain and spoilt brat who was always on the verge of throwing a fit before I moved to Italy. I was obsessed with shopping and celebrities and getting my way. Sounds like the average teen, but I actually became a journalist because I was convinced it was my only way to meet and seduce Orlando Bloom. Talk about career aspirations.
Now I buy clothes twice a year and get stressed whenever I’m in shopping centres or big cities. I can’t handle all the people. I’m a country bumpkin. But it’s not a travesty, dear relatives. I didn’t bag Legolas and I garden more than I get glammed up and maybe, just maybe, I’m forgetting the odd English word, but there’s no need to get teary-eyed. I’m not the person I was when I left home. I’m better.
Of course, there is no way anyone of them will believe that. I am the poor relative who left the bright lights of Melbourne for the saddest country town in Tuscany. It’s the role I have been cast and I’ll play along because that’s what expected when you go home.
This post originally ran in The American magazine. To read my monthly column about expat life in country Tuscany, head to their website.