Is expat code for outsider?

I spent the weekend reading Diary of an Oxygen Thief. I’m not sure if you’ve heard of it. It’s a really moving autobiography-style novel about a man with terrible self-esteem who used to play women and then gets his comeuppance by falling in love with a woman who destroys him.

It wasn’t until after I’d finished that I googled the book and found out it was a Dutch work of fiction. I felt a little cheated.

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I was enthralled by the main character. He seemed to have this amazing life living overseas as a well-paid advertising executive, but he was miserable. And I could relate. On paper, living in country Tuscany sounds fantastic. Don’t get me wrong, I love my life and I’m not miserable, but there are elements that make it really difficult.

My situation is unique. My parents immigrated from Italy in the 1960s in search of a better life for themselves and I undid all their hard work by moving back to Italy.

After almost three years here, I’m losing touch with my homeland, but I’m not becoming any more of a native. I’m the ultimate outsider. No longer at home in my birth country and not yet at home in my adopted one. It’s something a lot of expats feel, but can’t really share. People roll their eyes whenever you moan about living in Italy as if you are ungrateful and just don’t understand how spectacular it is to eat pasta 24/7.

When people ask me if I like living in Italy, I simply give them what they want, an answer along the lines of: ‘Yeah, it’s fantastic’. It makes them happy and keeps their own fantasies of la vita bella alive.

What I want to do is tell them that it’s a really lonely life and that you can have all the Italian friends in the world, but still miss people from your own country and your own culture. That sometimes even the most beautiful and oldest buildings don’t make you feel any less homesick for the Australian suburbs, supermarkets and fast food chains of your youth. And that even the best cuisine in the world doesn’t make up for a meat pie with a hell of a lot of tomato sauce.

It’s hard to find true friendship when you have to construct the sentences in your head before you say them because you’re not sure if that makes sense in Italian. Expat life is a funny like that. It can make even the smallest things like going to the shops, paying bills and making friends hard. Things you mastered years ago in your own country are suddenly impossible to figure out in another language or another culture.

But since I can’t tell them that, I’ll tell you and hopefully it will make future expats all the more wiser than I was when I started this journey.

Sorry to put such a downer on a Monday morning! Tomorrow’s post will be more positive. Promise x

You can read my monthly column about expat life at The American Magazine

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