Tuesday, January 27, 2009

An Economic Crisis-Surviving it in Italy

The economic crisis is alive and well in Italy just as so everywhere else in the world. Although it is easy to say that Italy's economic woes are the result of the world's financial mess, this country has had high unemployment, inflation out of control, low impossible salaries for years and years. In fact when I arrived here ten years ago and saw what the going salaries were (much less then those in the USA for comparable jobs), my first reaction was to get back on the airplane and return to the USA. I remember continuously saying "how do people live on these salaries?" I suspect that the problems go way way back prior to my arrival in Italy.

So how do people survive now with this enonomic crisis in Italy? Just from my research of how people live, I imagine that those that will survive with fewer problems are those that know how to get by. These being people who already were savers and not spenders, regardless of the economic crisis. Most of these people are the elderly people. Why? Because they have been through wars, depression, recessions and most of all because of their personalities. It is ingrained in them of what it means to save. They don't even think about it. They have no problems walking by stores and NOT buying that article. They use their cash wisely. They don't have debt. They never use credit cards. Many of them do not even own credit cards. Their homes are paid off. They have one small utility car. They walk when they can to save money on gas. They put on an extra sweater instead of turning on the heat. All of these qualities are mostly seen in the elderly here in Italy.

The younger generation will have the most problems. These are people in Italy that HAVE to have all designer clothing, HAVE to go on vacation every year, HAVE to have the latest model of the expensive automobiles, HAVE to have expensive furniture, and etc. etc. These people will have the greatest problems in surviving the crisis in Italy.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Making Sense of the Italian Language

First of all I apologize for being absent for some days. Last week was a challenge with two young children home with the flu. I was so satisfied though that I was able to catch the entire Obama swearing in ceremony on CNN. Thanks CNN and thanks hubby and inlaws for helping out with the kids. Now on to my post....

I am amazed on how many Italian words I did not know and on how many English words are used in Italian daily conversations. Let me explain:
In this region and in this small town the word "minestra" signifies the small noodles or pasta used inside soup. The word "minestra" to me growing up in my Italian American household always meant "soup". Italians use the word "box" to mean "playpen" but it is also used to mean "garage". That could be means for a safety disaster I know. They use the word "scatola" or "cartone" to mean "box".

Italians use the word "scottex" to mean paper towels and "cotton fioc" to mean "Q tip swaps". They use also many English words with an Italian flair. For instance they will say "bisogna faxare" meaning "you need to fax it". They don't say "email" but "a mail".

When it comes to clothing they have a whole different vocabulary. A "kway" is a sort of rain coat I believe and a "polo" is a shirt with a few buttons only at neck. A "golf" is a sweater and a "pull" is a sweater too. The "pinochietto" pants is a capri pair of pants (name from famous wooden boy!). I can go on and on. It is a learning process and an adventure. I still make all sorts of mistakes and frankly I am now unsure of the proper Italian from the improper.

What have been your experiences regarding Italian??

Monday, January 19, 2009

This American in Italy for Obama

I cannot help but want to be in Washington D.C. tomorrow for Obama's swearing in ceremony. I will be watching it live as will so many people. It will be a historic moment that we have all been waiting for.

No matter who you are or where you are, I think that everyone's eyes will be on Washington D.C. tomorrow. What an incredible moment to be American!

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Italy Property- Interesting Tips

It took us one year to find our present home in Italy. It was not that I was particularly picky. It was that I had no idea how the whole finding property in Italy phenomenon worked. Here are some interesting tips I learned about finding property in Italy.

1.Don't expect to find "for sale" signs in front of properties that are for sale. For some reason Italians are embarassed by this.
2.Don't expect to get a definitive answer from Italians if their property is for sale. You will get "yes, maybe if the price is right I can move" type of an answer.
3.Do expect to get prices quoted first in Lira, then in Euro, then in Lira, then in Euro.
4.Do expect the price to change continuously.
5.Do expect that the real estate agent will never return your calls, is not really interested in a sale, does not remember who you are or what you wanted.
6.Do keep a diary of the properties you already saw, the prices, date, description, contact name, location.
7.Do expect to be taken to see the same property again although you flat out said not interested.
8.Do expect the agent to not really care about what you want in a property.
9.Do scour the area you are interested in and ask anyone (farmers, residents,etc) if they know of properties for sale in the area. These people know more than anyone else.
10. Do use the internet www.casa.it to compare prices, areas, homes, etc.
11.Do be patient.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Standard of Living Italy

Everyone assumes that the standard of living in Italy, especially Tuscany, must be very high. The most sought after question for those wanting to move to Italy is if the quality of life will be better or worse than their present situation.

No one can say for sure if the quality of life is better or worse. This depends directly on what "standard of living" means for that person. What is important? What can one do without?
For instance a retired couple from the USA moving to Tuscany may not care that the unemployment rate is very high or that the school system is very much lacking whereas a couple looking for work with school age children may find that those two parameters (employment and schools) are very important indeed.

Some standard of living parameters are lifestyle, work, environment, health care, crime rate, population, leisure time. Again, what is imperative to one may be less pressing for another. The best advice is to research and research what is important to you and your family and find out before moving what the town or city in Italy offers. If possible, spend some time in the town or city before moving there and do not quit your job before having a paying job with a legal binding contract in Italy.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Raising Bilingual Children in Italy

I received many comments regarding raising bilingual children in Italy. It is a learning process for the parents and for the children. It is so interesting to hear how my children are acquiring both languages of Italian and English.

So the stuttering stopped for a few months as my older son was speaking more and more Italian then we had my sister over visiting (speaking mostly English) and the stuttering started again but only slightly. Now that my sister left the stuttering stopped again and we are speaking more Italian. I am trying more and more to speak only English to both kids and it is helping. I would like that the language mostly used between the two children be English but we will see what happens once the younger child begins to speak more.

I imagine when we go back to visit the grandparents in the USA, the English will come back full force again and maybe even the stuttering. I tried to get my husband to speak English at home but did not work. It is just awkward for him plus his Italian is better than his English.

I guess it is a lot of vocabulary to learn for a child in both languages but they have the ability and skill to acquire both and even more. I don't push it and never reprimand if he does not speak it. I just repeat what he says in Italian, in English and that seems to work. Any advice out there??

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

The Climate Crisis in Italy

The climate crisis and clean environment movement is contagious and thank goodness it is. In Italy, suddenly, every magazine or newspaper you pick up has at least one article on cleaning up the environment. Am I more aware of this now myself or has it become a sudden important trend? I am not quite sure.

In a way, Italy is much more advanced than the USA in keeping the environment clean. The very things I complained about before are the things that have kept carbon dioxide emissions down in the country. Each household is allowed only 3 kw of power and this means to you and me that if you have your washing machine running you cannot use your hair dryer! This means that if you have your dishwasher going, you cannot turn on your air conditioner. I used to complain about this but now I realize that it is actually for our own good. I now wonder what would happen in a country like the USA if Americans were told to do the same. It would be difficult to get used to. What if Americans were told (and they are) to put their clothes out to airdry instead of using a dryer. I immagine sheer chaos.

Italians are used to living like this. For them it is also a matter of keeping their electricity, gas and water bills down which can be very steep. Few Italians even own dryers nor air conditioners. Is it because they are worried about emissions? I don't think so. It is partly due to a culture that never used these appliances and partly due to high prices which few can afford. No matter what the reason, it least the end result is fewer emissions.

So in a way, Americans can learn a lot from Italians. According to www.climatecrisis.net, the average American generates about 15,000 pounds of carbon dioxide every year from personal transportation, home energy use and from the energy used to produce all of the products and services we consume. That is mind boggling.

Monday, January 12, 2009

After Christmas Sales in Italy

I am not quite sure if it is because of the recession or if it is just in my small town of Chiusi and the vicinity but the after Christmas sales so far are quite disappointing. In Tuscany the sales were supposed to start on January 7th so I armed myself with some cash and started hitting the stores where I had seen certain items I was interested in. I was shocked when I saw no sales. I asked the store personnel when the sales would start and they said "oh we are not having sales this year." So I thought it must be an isolated thing. I went to two other larger stores and the same response. I went to another store and they told me "Oh I don't know when they will start."I finally hit the last store, a franchise store for children's things, and they said "oh those items (the ones I wanted) are not on sale."

What a disappointment. The only stores that are having sales are those with items that had outrageous original prices. The sale price is a joke.

Haven't these people heard of the recession going on? Are they hurting so bad they cannot put anything on sale? Probably. It is no wonder people are going more and more to larger shopping malls and outlets to do their shopping or not shopping at all. No wonder the rate of consumer spending has fallen so low.

Shopping in Italy is not what it used to be. In the past you could get some really nice things out here at decent prices. You could get quality Made in Italy clothing, shoes, bags, etc and they would last years. Now finding Made in Italy anything is a real challenge in Italy.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Can You Continue to Live as An American While Residing in Italy??

Before moving to Italy over ten years ago, I remember saying to myself that I would try to continue to live as an American while residing in Italy. The point being that I would try to avoid all the negative aspects of living in Italy and yes there are negative aspects. I would not fall into the "image is everything" philosophy, would not rush home to make meals, would not buy fresh bread everyday, would not turn into one of "those Italian women" who are at the beck and call of their families, and would not burden myself with all the bureaucratic mazes one has to go through almost daily in Italy.

Interestingly enough during the first years while I was still single and living in the metropolitan city of Milan, I was able to continue to be the American. As any single person, I ate when I wanted to, dressed as I wanted to, went to the gym, worked hard at a job I somewhat liked and all in all I was able to continue to be the American.

Things slowly changed as I moved to smaller and smaller towns. I found myself doing more and more the things that "those Italian women" do. While I am not single anymore, I don't think I am at the beck and call of my familly but I am buying into some of the Italian ways of doing things. Now my philosophy is "don't reinvent the wheel". If Italians have been getting by doing things this way, it must work and if it doesn't work no skin off my nose. There is always "domani" or tomorrow.

I have also realized I have the incredible luxury to be L'Americana (the American) or be Italian when it is convenient for me but that is our little secret. If I want to dress down and wear flip flops until October...I am The American! If I want to not have fresh bread in the house for days...I am The American! If I want to be overly obsessed with safety for my children....I am The American! It works both ways you see. I can also be the Italian when I want to let things slide until tomorrow or double park, etc.

I haven't figured out how to avoid the whole bureaucratic maze but am constantly researching how the Italians get around it. Will keep you informed with details. In the meantime remember if you move to Italy, you really have the best of both worlds. It is not so bad being L'Americana!!

Friday, January 9, 2009

Montepulciano Italy- Great Restaurant

I thought I would give you the head's up on a great restaurant we found just before reaching Montepulciano. It is called Il Covo and is located at Localita S.Biagio n. 3/5 just off the SS for Chianciano. They serve everything from great appetizers to hand made pasta dishes, specialty meats, fish, and pizza. We were with native Italians who said it was one of the best meals they have had.

We had bruschetta, hot crostini, cinghiale al sugo, risotto ai frutti di mare, braesola, pici a ragu and some house wine. The restaurant itself is large and kid friendly. Prices are good. If you are in the area and don't know where to eat, stop there. You will be pleased.
www.ristoranteilcovo.net (Tel.0578.757228)

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

The Best Places to Live in Italy -Quality of Life

Happy New Year to all. I found a great article in "Il Sole 24 Ore" of December 29th 2008 on the best places to live in Italy and thought I would share with those interested...

The research done by the newspaper for the 2008 rating of provinces with the highest quality of life is as follows:

1. Aosta
2. Belluna

The province of Florence is placed at number 12.

The parameters determining high quality of life for the research are : standard of living, business and employment, services/air quality/health, crime, population, leisure time. Not surprisingly, there is a definite relationship between a higher quality of life and living in the smaller and medium sized towns.

As for any research study, you have to make up your own mind. For instance while the quality of life in a small town in the province of Siena may be high, you may be at a disadvantage if you want to find work as a manager of a big company. Also I could not find education as one of the important parameters on the study which I find very important.

The best advice I can give someone who wants to move to Italy is to research, research and do more research. Visit the town or towns first and repeatedly during different times of the year and if you can, try to live in the town renting a place first before moving there. Also do not give up your job in your native home before getting a contract for work in Italy. The unemployment rate is extremely high.

That is my two cents!