I took a little break last week from blogging because I wanted to get my thoughts in order for the new month. If you read this blog often, you’ll know expat life can be difficult.
As I write this, there is a nagging voice in my head that just keeps saying: well, who the hell told you to move to Italy? Funny, it sounds exactly like the insufferable bespectacled student who asked that exact question earlier in the week.
We were talking about what expats miss the most. Traditional food was thrown around about 15 times. I think they meant local cuisine, but didn’t have the words in their vocabulary. I’m not a great English teacher okay?
I was in the worst mood. My ear has been blocked for the better part of the week and since I live in bum fuck nowhere, the ear specialist won’t be in town for another two weeks. I had to wait an hour and take a number from the same ticket machine they use at your local supermarket to be told this.
Okay, I’m lying. He didn’t tell me because he assumed this pretty face was far beyond comprehending basic Italiano. So he told my father-in-law instead, who was there because otherwise he wouldn’t have seen me at all. He’s not my family doctor. He’s my father-in-law’s. My family doctor only comes to town twice a week for the sum total of three hours.
He then proceeded to print off and sign a pile of prescriptions for some hard-core pharmaceuticals at the behest my mother-in-law, who wasn’t even there! She even ordered her own gastroscopy and Dr. Doctor complied without asking why she needed one. But that is a story for another time.
Since I wasn’t in the mood to flatter anyone, I told my students that thing you miss the most is fitting in. I told them this in Italian because they just stared at me when I said it in English. This particular bunch of students just comes to English class to gossip in Italian once a week. Meh, I tried.
Before my ear got blocked, I was going to write this cutesy piece about how much fun it is to be the outsider. Then I realised, individuality is overrated.
It’s so easy to espouse how unique and totally-non-mainstream you are when you’re living in a country where there are thousands of other people who think the same rubbish.
Try doing it in small town Tuscany and it’s a different story. Diversity is a foreign concept. The word means nothing. And I am not referring to a misunderstanding over the subtleties of hipster and indie.
We’re so far behind over here that the only dark-skinned people they’ve ever met are the ones that sell them things on the street and whom they collectively and derogatively call “marocchini” even though none of them have ever stepped foot in Morocco. The man who runs the local discount store is Asian, so whenever anyone goes there, they refer to it as the “cinesi”.
I may be the same colour as them, but I am just as much an outsider. Forget about making a good first impression. Mine is already made for me and it’s, are we sure this girl can understand Italian?
Every person from here to the end of the county prattles about much they would love to visit Australia if only it wasn’t soooooooo far away, but that makes them no more inclusive of the only Australian in the village.
I will forever be the girl who dresses strange. The one who dares to leave her fur-lined jacket and scarf at home when its 15 degrees Celsius outside. The woman who cooks weird food and wears heels instead of comfortable sneakers.
It is so far from the maddening racism that most other immigrants in this town experience that I shouldn’t even be complaining, but the irony is impossible to ignore.
Fresh off the boat in 1960s Australia, my mother was teased mercilessly for her prosciutto sandwiches and wooden coloured pencils. But unlike her, I cannot expect millions of other Australians to arrive in my Tuscan town to make our customs not just seem normal, but desirable.
I don’t expect this feeling to go away. In the simplest terms, I miss my people. I miss being one of the 21 million. An utterly ordinary being who can say, do and eat what she likes without anyone batting an eyelid.
But my biggest fear is that when I finally have children, when I finally have a handful of half-Australians to keep me company, they will abandon me. They will, like my mother, like the Romanian children I teach, turn their backs on their heritage.
They will do everything not to be an outsider. But to be Italian just like everyone else.
This post originally appeared in The American Magazine