Wednesday, October 29, 2008

What to Buy When You Visit the United States

Due to popular demand I have put together a small list of the things we have learned to be worthwhile to buy in the United States and to bring back to Italy. With the favorable dollar you can really stock up in the USA. These are for both those who live in Italy permanently and for those who want to bring a gift back to friends in Italy.

For expats:

Tylenol and Advil- sounds funny I know but cannot get through the winter without them and no I am not addicted!

Cheerios original cereal- have found the honey flavored one but still have not seen the original Cheerios.

Office supplies

For both expats and Italian friends:

High count cotton bed sheets- I always buy new sheets in LA when I come home since I find the cotton to be nice, compact and you really don't even need to press them (great advantage). Remember that bed sizes are different in Italy and a Queen American size will fit a matrimoniale Italian size.

Designer Makeup- you can get some real bargains in the USA with the buy one free gift system. This just is not the case in Italy.

Athletic Shoes & Levi Jeans - These are very expensive in Italy.

Clothing - Casual wear like tshirts, jeans, and sweatsuits are much cheaper in the USA.

Electronics - these too are much cheaper in the USA

Baby clothes, toys, accessories- No, there is no Target out here so stock up on as much as you can!

Books and Music- I know you can get these off the net but they make good gifts to bring back. I like to buy English language books for my children too.

Housewares- kitchen towels, pot holders, table cloths, place setting table mats, runners, etc

Christmas decorations

I am sure there are a lot more but these come to mind. Let me know what your favorites are I may have left out.

Monday, October 27, 2008

What to buy when you visit Italy

My family has been visiting Italy from the United States for over forty years and before that my parents lived in Italy and now I live in Italy. So I can say we have become experts in knowing what products to buy in Italy to bring back to the U.S. Although the euro/dollar exchange rate has not been favorable, there are still must haves:

There is no doubt that if you can still find Made in Italy clothing in Italy, go for it as they just fit better!
There is no comparison. Italian shoes are the best in style, comfort, and assortment.
It is not easy to find 18 kt gold jewelry in the USA that is also stylish. You will not do wrong by buying it in Italy.

Leather Handbags,Wallets,Belts
You can still find very affordable ones at local mercato.

We don't know why but the coffee you buy here, even if has the same brand name, just tastes better. If you buy a bag of coffee beans at a bar, beware as is very costly. You are better off getting a brand name bag at the supermarket. We like Illy.

Parmigian Cheese
Is much cheaper in Italy than in the USA. Make sure you get it vacuum packed and keep it in the fridge until ready to pack.

Big Salt (Sale Grosso)
I heard you can find this now in LA but in case you cannot, buy it in Italy (very cheap). Throw a dash of it in your boiling water when you make pasta to make it taste great!

Zafferon, Funghi Porcini (dried)
I am not a big user of these but heard friends rant and rave about buying these in Italy

Olive Oil and Wine
I have not found a suitable way to bring these back so welcome input by you guy:)

Do not even think about bringing back prosciutto, salami or anything of the sort. It does not go over very well with the customs people!

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Old Wives' Tales...Italian version

Wow here I can write a book about all these weird beliefs pertaining to all sorts of things. Let me say that it is not just the elderly people who think this way but even young people. Talk about passing on from generation to generation.

The Wind Chill

Ok something has to be said about "la corrente dell'aria" or the draft. Apparently if you leave the windows open and a draft occurs you will get sick. Some people take this further by saying if you go out without a scarf, hat and coat on in the winter you will get sick. ..even if its 30 degrees celsius. And even further you must wear all of the above if it is raining because if you get wet.....ah then you will get the dreaded flu. How is it then that you take showers and not get sick?? Anyhow I got into a heated debate with someone on this and had to have the pediatrician (bless his heart) tell this person it just is not so. The person however by the look on her face was not convinced. Must I say this same person will not open shutters without a scarf around her neck??

Taking a Bath when you are sick

Yes there are still people who believe that if you take a bath while you are sick you will get even sicker. Especially for children. So these poor kids that already feel like crap because they are sick, also feel dirty.

Going in the water after you eat

You must not go in the water, take a bath or anything of the sort after you eat because you will die. You have to wait two hours or so before going into the water. I am not sure exactly what the medical ramification is but something having to do with bad digestion. Anyways just don't do it.

Don't sweep over someone's toes

If you pass a broom over someone's feet, that person will not get married. This is more a superstition but thought I would mention it.

The illnesses associated with the change in seasons

It was not until I arrived in Tuscany that I heard to beware of when the seasons change as they cause all sorts of problems ranging from fatigue, sleepiness, hunger, headaches, colds, coughs, etc. Don't know exactly what it is that causes these but they do.

The Circus Brings Dreaded Illnesses

My personal favoritel! This is one I learned in Chiusi. Circus animals and trainers bring and spread diseases. Talk about bad publicity! I say yes if you happen to kiss the elephant who has a cold! It has nothing to do with the fact that the Circus comes every January-February (flu season!!) ??What do you say to people who say this?? I now say nothing at all and just nod my head a lot.

I welcome you to let me know of other odd beliefs you have heard of in Italy!

Learning How Not to Waste in Italy

I have learned many things during my time living in Italy. Perhaps one of the most important things that I do pass on to my children is how not to waste. Having been rasied in the United States I often took for granted the supply of water, gas, electricity etc. Things now have changed I believe worldwide and I do not think people are wasting at least not consciously doing so. Aside from the expense of wasting, it is just wrong on so many fronts.

So now I do not take ten minute showers. I do not make too much food that I will later throw away. I do not keep the hose running outside to water flowers. I do use paper bags. I do turn off the light and open the shutters. I do recycle everything I can of the older child for the younger child! I do not throw away day old bread but heat it up the next day. I do make bags for charity and bring to the church what does not fit anymore or toys that have been outgrown. I do turn off the heat and put on another sweater. I do walk to the store instead of taking the car.

There is just not an infinite supply of everything and sometimes seeing the simple way of living of some Italians tells me I can do that too.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Travel Tip for Italy

It may seem like a really simple piece of advice but knowing ahead of time the day of rest or "giorno di riposo" of stores in Italy is very important for the traveler. There is nothing worse than finding everything closed down in a town you had planned on spending the afternoon in. In Italy every week stores, pharmacies, bakeries, etc close a half day. Depending on the town you are in, this day of the week is different.
For instance here in Chiusi all the grocery stores are closed Wednesday afternoons except the big grocery store called PAM in the shopping center (Etrusco). This shopping center is almost adjacent to the Chiusi freeway exit. All the other stores are closed Monday afternoons and everything is closed on Sundays. Remember also that everything is closed during lunch hours and very few stores have "orari continuati" or open during lunch interval. So that means stores are open from 9 am to 1 pm and then reopen at 5pm to 8 pm. Banks are open from 8:30 am to 1 pm and then reopen from 2:30 pm to 3:45 pm. They are closed on Saturdays too. You really need a calendar to write and remember all these hours!
The stores in larger cities of Milan,Rome and Florence may or may not adhere to this because of huge tourist traffic. Usually if there is a sagra or town festival like Eurochocolate (Perugia, 19-26 October) all the stores stay open to accomodate visitors.
In any case it is a good idea to do your homework beforehand and contact the city hall or "comune" of the town you will be visiting to find out when everything is shut down. Hope this helps!

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

The Cost of Living in Italy

I will be writing a lot about the cost of living in Italy because many people who are thinking of moving to Italy want to know how expensive it is to live here. I can only talk about my experiences.

It is very difficult to say if it is more expensive or not than in the USA for many factors which I will not get into right now. I can tell you how much I spend for various things with a four person family (2 adults and 2 children), living in a small town in Tuscany.

Daycare is expensive for Italy standards in our small town but much cheaper than back home in the USA. We pay approximately 350 euros a month for 5 days a week, half days and lunch & snack included. Private preschool on the other hand is about 120 euros a month 6 days a week, half days and lunch included. Our child could stay until 4 pm with no increase in cost. A babysitter would cost about 7 euros per hour.

Doctors and medical care in general can be expensive if through the private sector. What is the difference between private and public? If you go through the public sector, you have to schedule an appointment through the USLL and most often your appointment will be in months. You have to see the doctor they advise you to see for your town and specialty. Everyone has the right to see the public doctor or dottore della mutua. These visits are free or you pay only a minimal amount. If instead you prefer to see a private doctor who takes appointments it costs about 70 euros (pediatrician). Blood tests vary. Again if you do them through the public sector they are free or minimal. If you do them privately, they can cost between 70 and 150 euros depending what exactly you are having done.

The cost of gasoline is expensive. I pay about 70 euros to fill up my tank which lasts me about 2 weeks time. I do very little driving and only around the town. The gas bill for our home is about 850 euros every two months in the winter. Food costs us around 100 euros a week. Electricity and water bills cost 150 euros and 75 euros respectively every two months.

If you have any specific question on how much something costs let me know as I would be more than happy to share any information I have.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Those Long Lunches in Italy

Something has to be said about lunches in Italy. They are long....but good! We had a great day yesterday having lunch at a farmhouse in the hills surrounding Chiusi and Cetona. The occasion was the baptism party of a baby boy named Luca. After the mass, which of course, we were late to, we were to meet the entire party at the restaurant within a beautiful farmhouse called Larco Naturale ( You can see the pictures. The place is really nice and the owners Luigi and Enzo have taken time to make every rustic detail appropriate to their surroundings.

We had a wonderful lunch which began with an appetizer of prosciutto, coppa secca, mozzarella wraps and crostini (bread with toppings). Next two pasta dishes of ravioli topped with cherry tomotoes and tagliatelle (wide pasta) with a tomato sauce. After this was the secondo or meat dish of veal and roasted potatoes. Then the cake, spumanti, coffee, grappa and limoncello. Don't forget all the wine!! A wonderful meal.

The children spent most of the day outside playing with the puppies, cats and rolling around in the grass! There were walks in between the meals for easy digestion. Suffice to say we arrived at 1 pm for lunch and left at 5 pm!! A fantastic Sunday outside with marvelous warm weather taking in all that Italy has to offer!

Friday, October 10, 2008

Schools and Raising Children in Italy

My post on raising children in Italy is really a request for information and experience from those who have raised or are raising children in Italy. I have to say that I am concerned as any parent would be about the education system in Italy. I have heard both good and bad about the public school program and really would love to hear from people on this.

I finally found a site that is devoted to children in and I understand that soon there will be also a forum whereby you can actually meet people in your area of Italy that have children to plan play dates,etc. One thing that I have always been looking for since I have had children is to meet other native English expats with children in my area of Tuscany.

There are so many changes going on right now in public Italian schools. The private sector is very small in Italy and non existent in my area. I have heard that the elementary schools are good while the middle school and high schools do not properly prepare the students for university. I have heard that it is very subjective according to who your teachers are and if you are "simpatico" to the teacher or if the teacher likes you. Yeah but is this so different in the USA??

Changes that are going on right now include introducing the "grembiule" or apron in elementary schools. This is worn in preschool to keep the clothes underneath from getting dirty but also to dissuade against wearing name brands,etc. Most parents are for this change!
The other change for the entire school system is introducing the "maestra unica" or single teacher instead of having many teachers. This would mean laying off thousands and thousands of teachers. There is much controvery over this measure as you can imagine and the first "sciopero" or strike is scheduled for October 30th. Parents and students are both pro and against this. Right now children even at the elementary school level have several teachers for multiple areas of study (math,language,history,etc).

I want to hear from expats regarding the Italian school system, these changes and their experiences!!

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Culture Clash as an Italian American in Italy

I have talked to fellow Italian Americans about this topic before and it justifies to be discussed. There is something about being Italian American that makes you want to get to know the country that, in my case, my parents' came from. Growing up I always felt very Italian and when I decided to move to Italy I figured this is going to be easy and I won't have any problems with culture clash because hey I am Italian. Wrong. I might as well have been Japanese, Indian or any other nationality. The only thing I had going for me was I spoke the language pretty well and understood almost everything. But I still had and have at times culture clash.

The food I ate as an Italian American in the USA is different from the food I eat here. Italian Americans eat spaghetti and meatballs which they do not eat here. Yes they have spaghetti but meatballs are not so big, at least where I live. I get a kick when I speak to other Italian Americans from Canada or the East Coast because they can tell you all sorts of things they did as Italian Americans and just figured this is how it is in Italy. Foods are different, words are different and lifestyles are very different. Italian Americans know all the dialects from all the small towns around Italy. If I use a Abruzzo dialect word talking to my husband (Italian) he will look at me like I am an alien of some sort. He has no idea of what I am saying. Can I hear from some Italian Americans about this??

Lifestyles are different. I am still very American in that if an appointment is at 1:30 pm that is what time I should be there. But here everything is so easy going. They say don't worry no one expects you to be there exactly at that time. Here there is nothing wrong with waiting at the doctor's office for two hours because he does not take appointments. We once waited at the hair salon for four hours and I only stayed because I was in dire need for a wedding! So culture shock is still very big for me even though I am Italian American and have lived here for 10 years!

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Client Beware of Property Rentals and other Tours in Italy

I just read an article yesterday on the New York Times webpage regarding property rentals and how clients have to be careful of what they rent. I have written a post on Property Rentals in Italy and I cannot stress enough how important it is to do your homework ahead of time. As the article states as well, nowadays it is so easy for any property owner to rent property and you do not always get what you are promised or think you will be getting. There is nothing worse than arriving at what is supposed to be this perfect villa in Tuscany and it turns out to be a nightmare. Unfortunately anyone can pretty much rent anything and the same is true for Italy.
The article goes on and states that renting a property where a third party is involved like a property management company is a good idea but I have to say that the use of these companies in Italy is still not so widespread. In fact I welcome readers to let me know of any good companies they know of in Italy and I am going to do my own research as well.
Also you really need to have referrals of others who have stayed at the property. Better if these are through people you know but this of course is not always possible. I am not saying that all properties are going to have problems but being careful and prudent is never a bad thing.
The same holds true for tours in Italy you sign up for. Again through the internet any Gianni or Sophia can host a specialty tour. Again get referrals from others who have done that cooking school, language school or bike tour. Be weary of activities that promise too much. In other words you cannot learn the Italian language through a four day course or become a culinary expert in a three day stint in Umbria!
As an American living in Italy I am very protective of my fellow American visitors. I always stop and try to help them out if they are having difficulty and if I hear of anyone being taken advantage of, I try to step in. I have been there and in the early days here I was ripped off a couple of times too. Italy can be a wonderful place to visit and it is up to you to come prepared and be prudent. I also welcome readers to tell me about any great or unfortunate experience they have had in the Bel Paese. Buon viaggio!

Monday, October 6, 2008

Sundays in Chiusi

Living in Italy in some ways is no different than living in Los Angeles. I mean yesterday was Sunday and we did what any family would do on a Sunday. We went to Church. We went to have lunch at Great Grandma's house and then after the children woke up from their naps, we went to ...the mall. I know that does not sound so exciting but it was too late in the day to drive anywhere and go to the museum and the weather was not so warm to permit us to stay outside. They call it the Mall but it is really a small shopping center with one large supermarket and a few small stores and one little area where kids can play.

The highlight of my day, aside from spending time with my kids and husband, was lunch at Nonna Lidia's. She is a 81 year old great grandmother that enjoys cooking for her family. She is a retired cook so you can imagine how great she cooks. We had homemade pasta (pici) known only in this area, great tomato sauce with mushrooms and grilled chicken. Everything is very homemade in that the mushrooms (she later told me) she found along a road. She promised they were not the poisonous type and said she almost had to wrestle an old man with a cane for the mushrooms as she said she saw them first! The pasta is homemade and the chickens she boasts she killed herself! Then it was time for dessert. She made a pie with jam that was so delicious. After this big meal we had a nice espresso to keep us awake.

Sundays in Italy really are the days where you should not do anything but rest and be with the family. I used to be so bored on Sundays and yearn to find anything at all to do in our small town. Now I look forward to Sundays and just doing taking in the sleepy atmosphere around me!

Saturday, October 4, 2008

Day care and Preschool while Living in Italy

The first day of day care is scary I think for any mom and that is even more the case while living in a foreign country. My oldest son never went to day care and I was happy with that decision looking back. Now I have two children and things get more hectic and for many reasons we decided to try out day care for our youngest child.

So the first day of day care was yesterday when I actually waved goodbye, got into my car and left. He was fine with it and as he saw me grab my purse, he happily waved goodbye, said bye and blew me a kiss. His complete sense of being ok with it gave me a sense of “ok I can handle this.”

What did I do? I went straight to the gym which I had not done in a long long time. I felt good really about doing something for ME! Moms and dads, you can totally relate to this I am sure. After four years of doing everything for everyone, days and nights….I feel the need to do now for me! So that means going back to the gym, finding work I can do from home, and devoting some time to me!

After running a whole bunch of errands, I quickly went back to get my little angel. The teacher happily told me all went well and that tomorrow (today) we will try having him have lunch at school and see how it goes. He is a pretty independent guy who loves to eat so I am sure all will go fine. In the back of my head though I know and told my husband that if I am not totally content with this arrangement I will put off putting him in day care.

My oldest son went back to preschool for his second year and really enjoys it. He has made a lot of friends that he talks about and he is fitting in nicely. He is bilingual and knows now that his Italian friends and teachers do not speak Italian. He proudly says though that he speaks English too! If there are any parents out there that can tell me how the bilingual thing is going for their children, I would love to hear from you. I will devote a future post to it too.

I have to admit that the whole school system out here frightens me mainly because I am not familiar with it. I have heard so many negative things about it that I am seriously considering to home school them. Any thoughts and comments from you guys out there I would appreciate too. Education is so important and like any parent, I just want the best for them.

With that said, I have to go pick up the youngest and see how his second day of school went!Ciao.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Renting a Villa in Tuscany

Since this is such a popular topic, I will be writing more and more about holidays and renting property in Italy in future posts. For one reason or another more and more people are deciding to rent villas in Italy. The many advantages are to avoid steep hotel costs, freedom to do what one wants to within the confines of your rental property, ability to lodge with many people and divide costs, and finally stay in a beautiful home with all the amenities.

The option of renting an Italian property is becoming so attractive among foreigners visiting Italy. Word of mouth has been the largest motivator. Foreigners return home boasting about the incredible restored farmhouse they rented in the hills of Umbria or Tuscany for instance.

How does finding rental property in Italy work? The toughest job is finding the one property that is right for you. There is a plethora of websites for those searching. I happen to have some favourites:,,

I thought it helpful after you have found a few properties that interest you, to ask for recommendations from others that have stayed there. You can contact them to get some inside info on the villa.

You must of course decide on the city or town you want your vacation to be based in Italy . You will most likely need to rent a car. It would be nice to know how far the autostrada (freeway) is and where the nearest train stations are.

You should know what kind of a Italian holiday you want. Do you want to stay close to the villa and absorb the local beauty and bask at the pool the whole time or do you want to use it as a base and visit neighboring towns (and if so how far are you from these towns?). Will you be travelling with children? A villa in the middle of nowhere sounds romantic and peaceful to you but could be boring for a teen.

Amenities in this Italian property rental may include pool, tennis courts, Jacuzzi, housekeeping services, pick up and drop off at the airport. If you will be with younger children, ask about high chairs, pack and plays, cribs, etc. Make sure you are clear (a written confirmation is best) which amenities, if any, are included.

Also be sure that you know if the villa is being exclusively rented to you. In other words you will not be sharing it with other guests or groups.

Most of the time villa rental costs are not per person but total cost to rent the premises. Rates vary per area and based on low or high season.Again always get a written confirmation.

Other Info
Find out who will be available if you need something while staying in the property. Is this person down the street or in another city? A pipe can burst or electricity can be cut off. Who do you need to call and most importantly, who will pay for the repair?

Be Informed
Get as much info as you can including of course pictures of your Italy vacation rental. Here recommendations will come in handy. You will want to ask past visitors about the cleanliness, overall maintenance, availability of landlord, amenities, etc. Lastly the more prepared you are before getting into the property, the more you can really rest and enjoy yourself once you are here!