Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Christmastime In This Small Town- Italy

I am often asked what it is like during the Christmas season in my small town called Chiusi. I have spent now a number of holidays here to know what the lineup of festivities are. During the whole month of December, the stores are open on Sundays as well as the other days of the week. The first Sunday in December is devoted to the town fair or "Fiera." The streets are closed to traffic and there are stands outside selling everything from clothing to shoes to food to animals. Every year I get my great wicker baskets at this Fair that I use for magazines, wood, toys, etc. A great bargain. Many people do all their Christmas shopping at the Fair just because the prices are so good.
The last week before Christmas is the most exciting, especially for children. In one of the smaller piazza's, there is a wooden shed named "Santa's House" that is decorated and has a small mail box in the front where children leave their Christmas letters for Santa. On the Sunday before Christmas Santa "drops down from the sky." He actually comes out of a window from a 5 story palazzo and slowly lets himself down a rope while he throws candy down at the children. This takes place in the town piazza and is usually a crowd pleaser. During the week before Christmas there is also the horse and carriage where children or adults can take rides around town.
There may not be the hustle or bustle of Rome, Milan, New York, or London but there is something really comfy and quaint about Christmastime in Chiusi.

How and Why Do Italian Women Pamper Themselves?

After living in Italy for several years, I have discovered some interesting facts about Italian women. I can speak only of the smaller towns where I have resided. Women here have a fast paced lifestyle but not because they have to rush to get to work but because they have to rush to get home! Since the whole family returns home for lunch, it is the responsiblity of the woman usually (mother,wife, grandmother) to have everything ready for a sit down lunch. Since most supermarkets, bakeries, butcher shops, fish markets close at 1pm these means the person responsible for making lunch has to run to get shopping done and then rush home to prepare it.

The whole affair includes shopping, cooking, setting the table, cleaning up afterward on a daily basis. I see women running around like mad people trying to get everything done for their loved ones. It is quite stressful. It is the responsiblity also of this person to do the banking, go to the post office, take care of the bureaucratic papers at the town hall, do the paying of bills. This person also has to wait in long lines at the doctor's office, other long lines to get prescriptions for drugs and medical tests. Usually a family has one person who either works or does not work that is given the task of getting all these things done. Sometimes it is a retired grandmother. Sometimes it is a mother who works part time. Sometimes it is the mother who works full time.

So what happens? Inevitably the women are stressed and they need pampering.
The most common way Italian women pamper themselves is by going to the hair salon. The hair salon in Italy is a phenomenon. I could never understand why an Italian woman would go to the hair salon on a weekly basis in some cases but usually every other week. Now I understand. Women here need pampering and it is very common to go to the hair salon to get some pampering by way of a hair trim, hair set, color, etc. It is their way to get away! There is no excuse necessary to go to the hair salon frequently. It is something expected. Sometimes going to the hair salon means spending hours there waiting for your turn which means hours away from all the running around and stresses. What better way to pamper yourself?

Friday, December 19, 2008

Bilingual Children At Home - In Italy

Raising bilingual children at home is a learning process for both the parents and the children. My native language is English and I am almost completely fluent in Italian while my husband's native language is Italian and he is not fluent in English. Since we live in Italy and since our common language (between my husband and I) has always been Italian, we have continued to speak Italian to eachother in the home. This I believe has been a negative influence on our children.

I have always tried to speak only English with our children but I find myself more and more speaking Italian to them just because it is becoming more and more natural for me. I really have to stop myself, think and then start over in English. My eldest child who spoke consistently in English with me is now speaking more and more only Italian. This may also have to do with the fact that he is in preschool and speaks Italian with everyone but me. So after doing some research and talking to my husband, we decided that we will try to bring back the English language in our household so that at home we will speak English with eachother, no matter how strange it might feel. It would be the best not only for our children, but also for my husband who has never taken a formal English language class in his life!

The other thing that happened to us regarding our bilingual children, is that my eldest son after returning from a three month vacation in the United States, began to stutter quite profusely. It seemed like the words just could not come out. After speaking with the kind and helpful people at the Stuttering Foundation and reading their literature (www.stutteringhelp.org), we realized that it is a very normal occurence with bilingual children that may come and go, but that will pass in many instances. After a month of stuttering, he is now speaking normally...but in Italian mostly.

There is a lot of literature available about dealing with bilingual children at home but the best advice I found on www.italiakids.com "Raising Bilingual Children: The Most Successful Methods" by Christina Bosemark or visit www.MultilingualChildren.org. These are both very helpful sites for raising bilingual children. I will let you know how we do! Buona fortuna.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Postal Service in Italy

Have you ever had to deal with Italian postal service? Have you ever had your mail or packages lost and had no idea how to retrieve them? Are you unsure of what you can or cannot send to and from Italy? All these questions come back to haunt us during the holiday season.

I try to avoid as much as possible the Italian post office. I only go there occasionally to pay bills and then we keep our distance from eachother. However now and then I do not have a choice if I want to send packages to my family back home in the United States. I only discovered yesterday, to my delight, that it is much simpler and cheaper to send things by priority mail in big padded envelopes than to send the same things in a package. I can send up to one kilo of articles in a big padded envelope from Italy to the United States and it costs a little over 8 euros (about $11). You can send pretty much anything that is legal like foods, clothing, books. Whereas if you send a package the same weight costs about 40 euros ($56) and there is a long list of items you cannot send.

Receiving packages in Italy is always a mystery until you actually hold the package in your hand. I have had such bad experiences with this scenario. Several years ago, my family had sent me prenatal vitamins for my pregnancy that were stopped in customs for 3 months because they were unsure if they were pharmaceuticals. (You cannot send pharmaceuticals.) After my obgyn wrote and signed a declaration saying they were vitamins and after I paid an additional 130 euros to get them out of customs, I received them. If you don't do these two requirements, they destroy the package or send them back to the sender for a fee. Suffice to say I received the vitamins days prior to my going to the USA to deliver the baby!

Last year was the last straw. My good intentioned family sent Christmas gifts to my boys and to us that we never received. We are convinced there is some family in Italy where the son is wearing a toddler tshirt reading "Obama for President" and the mother is wearing a nice new designer purse.

I have also received birthday cards that are torn and open, with missing money or checks. We now unfortunately or not do not do much gift exchanging by mail. We have pretty much resolved the problem by sending eachother flowers. Long live internet and credit cards!

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Tips on How to Purchase Italian Womens' Dress Shoes

Here are some insider tips on how to purchase Italian womens' dress shoes. There is a multitude of different makers of Italian dress shoes available in every department store, specialty boutique, outlet, online retailer, etc. However sometimes many of these shoes lack quality and are over priced. What should you look for before pulling out your wallet??
The three most important attributes when buying Italian dress shoes are :
1.Quality- this is probably the most important factor when purchasing dress shoes. If the dress shoe is high quality, there is a good chance you will be able to wear it for years to come. Quality means that accessories or anything applied to the shoe does not come off. It also means that the shoe is not made of synthetic material but of high quality leather or high quality fabric. Look for the symbol showing that the entire shoe is made of leather and not just the tip, bottom, etc. If have your doubts, use your nose. Leather smells like leather and plastic smells like plastic. Ask the salesperson for further information. The shoe should be strong and not have any weak points. The heel should not be wobbly. The trim, lining, sole and seams should be exact without any visible creases. You should never see glue,spots or stains. Every detail should be precise. You should always look for the symbol "made in Italy." Many shoes nowadays have an Italian name, Italian packaging but are NOT made in Italy.
2.Fit/comfort- If the shoe is not comfortable, you will end up not wearing it. Although you will accessorize your closet, you will not be utilizing the shoe. Most of the time if the shoe is a quality shoe as stated above, it will be comfortable and wearable. Don't ever buy a shoe that is too big or too small. Don't ever believe a salesperson that says "oh the shoes will stretch" or "you will grow into them." Also don't buy a shoe knowing you will have to put another sole into it to get it to fit. These tactics seldom work.
3.Price- You should never pay more than what the shoe is worth. How do you know what it is worth? If it is a high quality shoe, you can use the prices of designer shoes as a gauge. If the shoe is high quality, comfortable, Italian and not designer, then its price should not be as high as the designer shoe. A shoe that is not made in Italy should never be priced as an Italian shoe. A shoe that is not all leather should never be priced as an all leather shoe.
I hope you keep in mind these tips before buying those beautiful Italian dress shoes.
Fotographs courtesy of Gerardine shoes (www.gerardine.it)

Monday, December 15, 2008

What Makes An Expat Want to Remain in Italy?

I am not sure what percentage of people who move to Italy, actually remain in the "bel paese." I always suggest to those wanting to move to Italy, to try living in Italy temporarily, before quitting their job or selling their house in their home country. Why? For the simple reason that vacationing in Italy is much different than actually living in Italy. When you are on vacation, you don't have to deal with the majority of things you have to face on a daily basis when living in Italy. I assume this is the case for any country you move to. Vacation is bliss no matter where you go.

I thought deep and hard about what makes an expat want to remain in Italy and I believe it comes down to this:

1.one remains when expectations are met or are surpassed and/or
2.one remains when discovers new positive features in the country he/she moved to

I am sure there a zillions of more reasons people remain but the two that stand out are these.

For instance I was thinking of how lucky I am in my little town to be able to always park pretty much anywhere I want. Even if I am illegally parked in front of the bakery, the street police or vigile know I am getting my ciabatta for the day and will quickly move my car. Or when I illegally park because it is raining and I have to get as close to the school entrance as possible, otherwise my little angel will get wet. It seems the street police have unwritten rules of what we can do and not do under certain circumstances. Well all these are new positive features of Italy that I discovered while living here. Now I don't know if I can handle a normal parking situation in my home country where I do have to abide by the law...all the time.

Also you get spoiled when you live in Italy and certain extras become necessities like espresso coffee at the bar, fresh bread at the bakery, afternoon nap if possible, sleepy Sundays with great lunches, views of rolling hills and olive groves.

So it is difficult to say what exactly makes an expat want to remain in Italy but it has something to do with the positives outweighting the negatives at least for the time being!

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Country Living In Tuscany On This Cold Sunday

A typical Tuscan Sunday for us in the Winter is spending the most part of the day home with the fire burning and some cozy blankets munching on "panettone" or "pandoro" (Christmas cake) and some hot tea.

We went out only this morning to go to Sunday Mass and then make a quick run to the grocery store to buy the much needed bread for our "bruschetta". Returning home, we noticed our neighbor Anita had many cars parked in her front yard and one of her pigs was missing. This scenario is always equivalent to one thing...they slaughter one of their pigs for their big Christmas meal and then divide it amongst close family and friends. I have learned not to become buddies with her "pets." In the following days, Anita will surely come by our house with some remnants of Mr.Pig.

For lunch, this Sunday my husband and I decided to stay with Italian tradition and cook our meat and bruschetta in our fireplace. After a great lunch of spaghetti sauteed in a cherry tomato and garlic sauce, bbq steak, cauliflower and bruschetta. We washed it all done with "il vino del contadino," (the farmer's wine) and then celebrated pre Christmas style with "Pandoro" or Christmas cake.

Buona Domenica. Happy Sunday

Thursday, December 11, 2008

How to Save Money on Gifts This Christmas

There are a few simple strategies to help you save money on gifts this Christmas. We all know Christmas is not about giving and receiving gifts and with consumers facing a financial crunch right now, these would be even more reason to end the gift exchange. But we know this is not going to happen and it is not realistic to think we will stop exchanging gifts. So here are some great tips to help you save money on gifts this holiday season.

1. Make a list of people and the gifts you want to buy them. Check it twice and then again and again until you have fine tuned it. Is it really necessary to give a gift to the man behind the counter at the gas station? You should be giving gifts to the people you know, like, feel strong about. Bring your list with you when you shop and stick with it. On the list you should have name, gift and budget for gift for each person. You should have a total budget of how much you will spend on gifts this Christmas and stick with it! You don't want to receive your credit card bill after the holidays and wonder how in the world it got out of whack!

2. Do not start your Christmas shopping early. Why? The earlier you shop the more you are going to spend. Don't worry, stores will NOT run out of gifts this year, or any year at that. Don't be harassed by the "only 2 more weeks until Christmas" ads you see and hear. You should say to yourself "yes and I have not spent a dime yet!" When is the best time to shop? Ten days early is more than enough time to start shopping.

3. What you should do before pulling out your wallets is research prices and retail establishments or online stores. You need to comparison shop online before actually buying anything. There are some superb websites to do this. Check out for instance www.pricegrabber.com and www.dealtime.com for best prices, stores and consumer reviews.

4.What to buy? Don't buy items that are frivolous. Buy items that people can use. If your son needs a new backpack for school. Buy it. Wrap it. Put it under the tree. You are teaching him about gift giving and about not wasting money. Does he really need his fourth green Ben 10 watch that he will play with for 2 days and then toss aside? Great gifts can also be foods, wine, useful household appliances or accessories. A gift does not have to be expensive to be a good gift. Think useful and non frivolous. In fact, it may not be the warmest gift but for close family, the gift of money is always appreciated. And if you really want to stay in the spirit of Christmas why not make a donation to a charity of choice in a friend or family member's name? That would be a great gift this Christmas.

Happy shopping and happy gift giving!

Womens' Italian Dress Shoes- Looking Good

There is no comparison. Womens' Italian dress shoes are far more superior to any other footwear. Not only have I been studying the Italian women's style of dress for the past ten years, but I live within the Italian footwear industry. My husband and his family have been making Italian womens' footwear for the past 35 years in Italy. Through them, I have been continuously exposed to everything that goes into making this fabulous product. There is an attention to every detail within every phase of production. The outcome of this work is obvious when you pick up an Italian made shoe and wear it. But even the best Italian shoe will not look good if you don't know how to wear it.

How do you look good wearing womens' Italian dress shoes? You have to know which shoe looks good with your style, body, clothing. Even if the shoe is beautiful, it will not come across if it does not match everything else. Matching does not mean just getting the color of the shoe to match the clothing. For instance you should not wear a knee high boot with a dress slack that has a flair leg. It just does not look good. Here are some tips for matching shoes with clothing:

Weather permitting, the pump shoe can pretty much be worn with everything. It can be worn with dresses, skirts, dress slacks and jeans. Nude color pantyhose or no foot covering is best.
Ankle boots are very much in style this season and can be worn with slacks and jeans. It is very trendy right now to also wear them with skirts and leggings, making sure to wear them with winter tights.
Knee high boots should be worn with jeans (tucked in), skirts, and dresses.

The color and style of the footwear should match the outfit. For instance, you don't want to wear western boots with a cocktail dress or business suit. You also don't want to wear black motorcycle boots with a tan camel hair coat.

These are just a few tips to keep in mind when getting dressed this winter. If the shoe fits, wear it.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

What Makes Someone Want to Relocate??

There have to be some really good reasons to make people pick up and leave their homes to move to another country. Most times people are moving somewhere where they do not speak the language, do not know anyone, are not employed, nor have a place to live. Yet they still decide to quit their job, leave or sell their home and move to another country. Sometimes it is a matter of following a dream or a desire to just get away.
For many Italian Americans like me, a compelling reason is that we feel very Italian and we move to Italy to see if we can be happy in Italy, our country of origin or origin of our parents or grandparents and so forth.
For many, Italy is viewed as that "bel paese" where the people are smiling all day long, everything moves at a snail's pace in a relaxed atmosphere, great food, wine and espresso are abundantly available everywhere and everyone dresses well! Although these definitely attract the foreigner, I just don't think they are what makes people move here.
Whether it be because you fell in love with someone who lives here, a job took you to Italy, or you really are following a dream, the reasons can be many. I guess the next question would be what makes someone want to stay in Italy??

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Research Before Moving to Italy

After ten years of living in the "bel paese", I think I can safely pass on some suggestions to those considering moving to Italy. The single most important advice is to do a lot of research before relocating to Italy.

You should have a job before moving or at least some strong job leads. Know which city or cities would best suit your needs and personality. Obviously if you want to work for a large corporation, you should not move to a small town in the middle of nowhere. You should spend some time in the city or town you want to move to before you actually move there. You may realize that that city is not what you had in mind or does not offer you what you were looking for. While in that town, talk to as many people as possible asking as many questions that come to mind about living there. Talk to both locals and foreigners living there.

A huge consideration of course is if you will be moving by yourself or with your family. What consequences are there for your companion and/or children? What are the schools like? Will your companion be able to find work if looking? What is the health care like? What are monthly expenses?

Nowadays through the internet you can get a plethora of information from people who have a lot of hands on experience, have been there. The forums are a great place for information. Three great forums are within www.italymag.co.uk, www.slowtrav.com and www.lifeinitaly.com. I wish I had access to these before I moved to Italy! You will find people more than willing to answer your questions.

What I would have done differently? Ten years ago I brought all my hardware (fax,computer, printer) and then spent the following year dealing with transformers, electrical outages, etc. Buy your hardware in Italy. Nowadays the costs are similar and the products too. Plus who uses faxes anymore??! I would have done more research talking to people who had already lived in Italy for years learning the upside and the downside. I was so excited about moving here. I did not want to hear anything negative about it. But it was a tough few years full of disappointments and a lot of loneliness too. I had had high expectations and when they did not pan out, was ready to pack and leave. So do your research and be realistic of how it will be utilizing all the information you have and gather. Let me know if you have any specific questions regarding your wanting to move!

Monday, December 8, 2008

Easy Italian Bruschetta Recipe-The Real Thing

One of the absolute best Italian foods is "bruschetta" or toasted sliced bread topped with olive oil and chopped tomatoes. Here is an easy Italian bruschetta recipe, which I call the real thing. This is how real Italian bruschetta is made:

Easy Italian Bruschetta Recipe
Day old bread (ciabatta,french bread,any wood oven baked bread)
Extra virgin olive oil
Garlic (optional)
Chopped ripe tomatoes (optional)

First the day old bread should be sliced not too thin nor not too wide. The slices should be about 1/4 inch to 1/2 inch wide. (The bread should not be fresh as it toasts better with one day to two days old bread).

Oven toasting
If you are using an oven, you should preheat it to 400 degrees F. Place the slices on a cookie sheet and bake until top is brownish in color. You should flip them to get them toasted on both sides. Depends on oven, but usually takes no more than 5 minutes total.

Toaster toasting, Frying pan, Barbeque
You can also toast slices in your toaster and keep an eye on them until they are golden brown. You can also place slices in a frying pan or on the barbeque (do not butter or oil pan) and then flip them when they are brownish in color.

In the wood burning fireplace- Best method
Place the slices on your grill and flip them when golden brown.

Take slices out of oven, toaster,fireplace,etc. You are ready for the topping.

Sprinkle salt on slices. At this point garlic is an option. (I personally do not like it). Take a fresh clove and run it across the slice. *

Next pour carefully only the best quality extra virgin olive oil on the slices. The bread should not become soggy with oil. Only enough oil so that the entire slice has oil on it.

You are ready to serve your bruschetta.


*Tomato topping option
If you decide you want to top with tomatoes. Prepare sliced ripe tomatoes separately in a small bowl, add enough olive oil to help mix tomatoes, add pinch of salt. Add the topping before adding the olive oil.

Friday, December 5, 2008

How Italian Women Dress- Tips for Getting a Better Fit

You know there is something wrong with women who have perfect bodies and great clothes, yet they just don't look good, classy, pulled together. Why is that??
The better question is so if "those" women don't look pulled together, how can the rest of us, who don't have perfect bodies or designer clothes, look good?

It is not a matter of spending more on clothes. It IS a matter of getting those clothes to FIT you. Italian women are aware of this. You hardly ever see for instance an Italian woman with slacks that are too long and drag on the floor. An Italian woman will make sure that her slacks fit her body perfectly, are hemmed just right, have a cuff if appropriate or not. An Italian woman will make sure her sleeves are just the right length under her suit jacket.

It is not an easy task to get every fit right for your slacks, shirt, skirts, jackets, etc. But once you get the hang of it, you will slowly learn how it works and how your clothes should fit. Some people spend a lot of money on a stylist and pesonal shopper to make sure their clothes fit just right. Not all of us can afford these luxuries. Most Italian women do not have these. All you need to do is learn a few easy tips that will help you get the fit right.

1.Never buy clothes that are visibly too small or too large. No matter how great your tailor is, he/she will have great difficulty getting the clothes to look perfect on you.

2.Shirts- Do buy fitted shirts that caress the body and are never too tight. It is classy to wear long sleeves with a suit jacket. The shirt sleeves at the wrist should be visible underneath the jacket. There should be at least one inch of the sleeve showing. Always tuck in the shirt for a more professional look. The shoulders of the shirt should fit and not slouch.

3.Jackets-I like fitted jackets because they just look more pulled together. Stay away from jackets that are sloppy looking. Again, the shoulders should not slouch but fit perfectly around the shoulder. Sleeves should not be too long nor too short. The right length (standing up and with arms rested to side) is over the wrist but never past the thumb joint.

4.Slacks-No low risers here please. Slacks should glide on the body and not be skin tight. The seat should not be baggy. There should not be any visible "breaks" or creases in the pant legs. The hem should not drag on the floor but not be too short that your socks are showing.

5.Skirts-Again skirts should not be skin tight nor baggy. The hem should be below the knee for a more professional look.

These are quick easy tips that Italian women live by. You should use them when you are shopping for new clothes or when you need to get your clothes fitted.

Remember you don't need to have a perfect body, designer clothes, a stylist, nor a personal shopper to look good. The key is the fit.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Italian Evil Eye Curse

What is the Italian evil eye curse? It is a superstition passed on generation to generation by Italians based on the premise that a person has put a curse on you. The curse is a result of the culprit's envy or jealousy towards you sending bad wishes your way. It is much more prevalent with Italian Americans in the USA or abroad then in Italy. It is more common in southern Italy among the older population. In fact it is a practice to give newborn children tiny, mini gold horns to be worn or pinned on their stroller. This will keep away any bad wishes or evil eyes.

Apparently the only way to prevent this Itlaian evil eye curse is to wear the Italian horn or to make the horn signal with your hand. How do you know if you have been cursed? There is no real way with the exception of being hit with perceived continuous bad luck.

Why does this superstition exist in a Catholic country like Italy? I am not sure but know that like this superstition, there are many many more in Italy.

The question is why would you hang around a person who you know would give you the evil eye curse, is envious or jealous of you?? Who are these evil monsters that would send bad wishes to a newborn child?? It truly baffles me!!

Monday, December 1, 2008

Ready to Wear Italian Fashion

Ready to wear Italian fashion signifies "off the rack" clothes that are made in Italy. In these past ten years of really studying what gives the Italian woman the edge on looking good, most of it comes down to the fact that ready to wear Italian fashion is simply better fitting and higher quality than the competition.

It is easier to look good when you have the advantage of clothing that needs few to no fittings. You can pretty much buy something off the rack and wear it the same day without even getting it fitted to match the curves of your body. Even if the clothing is mass produced in factories, the Italians just know what they are doing when it comes to clothing and fit. Slacks, sweaters, suits, and shirts glide on the body as if they were made for your body. I am talking about high quality clothing made in natural fibers and not the synthetic fabrics. I am talking not only about designer clothing but also clothing made by the smaller less known companies.

How do you find this ready to wear Italian fashion? Since this ready to wear is more expensive than its competitors, you can find it in the best department stores and boutiques. Don't be fooled. Even if you are in the best stores, you need to check labels. I do. I look and see if it is Made in Italy AND if it is a natural fiber. I will not pay top dollar for polyester, acrylic or anything similar. It must be wool, gabardine, cotton, silk,etc. And if it is not, I do not buy it.The natural fibers, if treated well, will last a very long time.
Good luck and happy shopping.