Karen Rigatti is a Certified Counselor based in Milan since 2008. She provides counselling in an outpatient setting, working primarily with ex-pats, helping them develop more effective communication and coping strategies, to better manage interpersonal challenges and embrace the changes in their lives. Karen counsels individuals, couples, and young adults with an emphasis on cultural adjustment, couples counselling, intercultural relationship and family issues, anxiety, stress, pregnancy and new parenthood.
There is no shortage of information available out there on what you should know when moving to Italy, and I myself have written a number of articles over the years on cultural adjustment. The subject is as multi-layered as Italy itself. Even after 15 years of living as an ex-pat in Milan, the nuances continue to reveal themselves. So, if you’re planning to pack up and move to Italy, or if you’ve recently found yourself settling in for an extended period of time, here are some things to keep in mind to make the transition and adjustment just a little bit easier.
Life in Italy is not all about efficiency. Getting it done ASAP is almost never the goal, and in fact, the path from A to B (for almost any task) will likely be circuitous and full of detours. Don’t panic. Don’t yell. It will get done. Just not on your timeline.
Community is key, so get busy building yours. If you haven’t yet arrived in Italy, reach out to online groups even before you leave home. There are online groups of all kinds – for those of you with families, for finding schools, for groups with special interests, and for those of you arriving on your own. You can get real-time answers to questions, find on-the-ground resources, and establish some friendly connections even before your shipment arrives.
Food, glorious food, is the great connector in Italy. Regardless of background, age, or beliefs, people relish talking about every aspect of food. Ingredients don’t need to be fancy or expensive, but they must be of the highest quality. A common question in Italy is, “hai mangiato bene?” which means, “did you eat well?” Eating well, at every meal, matters a great deal.
Brace yourself. Bureaucracy in Italy is infamous, and not just for foreigners. Italians simply have the advantage of being used to it. The endless paperwork, unclear communication, and impossible-to-nail-down answers to seemingly straightforward questions are all part of the package.
You will need a new pair of eyes and a new pair of ears for Italy. This means that in order to adjust well, you should learn to start seeing things through an Italian lens and hearing them with an Italian ear.
Staring is common and not necessarily considered rude. Try not to take offence or assume you’ve done something wrong.
Complaining isn’t seen as being negative and is a kind of national sport. It is often more a mix of sharing, venting, and connecting—no need to offer solutions.
Relationships are tantamount and introductions are key. As the saying goes, “it’s not what you know, it’s who you know.” This couldn’t be more true in Italy.
History is held dear and change is slow. “We’ve always done it this way” is a common response to proposed changes.
It can be considered rude to ask about someone’s work or profession upon meeting them. Talk about art, history, food, travel – in general, Italians are extremely cultured.
Give people time. Italians usually need to see you and speak with you many times before letting you into their “inner circles.” Don’t take it personally.
Tying it all together, remember that life in Italy is meant to be savored, people and food come first, and that patience and a sense of good will go a long way in helping you adapt to your adopted country. Good luck and enjoy!
Join our Facebook group International Families in Italy to connect with other families
For more information read MumAbroad’s Ultimate Family Guide: Moving to Italy