During the first hectic couple of weeks here, when everything was either baffling or infuriating or both (I’m looking at you, government bureaucracy), Chris and I said more than once that we kind of wished we could fast-forward six months to when everything would have calmed down. Six months was always the marker we used.
Imagine, then, my surprise this week when I realized that our six month anniversary had passed without us even noticing.
I’d say it is safe to say we feel pretty settled at this point. Despite the horrible scratches all over my car and its busted mirror, driving here doesn’t scare me at all any more. (Annoy me? Yes.) Owen goes to school three day a week and doesn’t get upset about it much any more. We have favorite bakeries, butcher’s shops and grocery stores. We have friends to hang out with. We are taking Italian lessons and catch about two words in 50, which is significantly more than we did before. We have a better idea about how that double-cheek kissing thing works.
That’s not to say things are perfect. I’m still completely confused by so many things (in large part because I don’t understand those 48 out of every 50 Italian words I hear!) and the combination of all things Sicilian and government can be infuriating. For example, Owen and I each saw the doctor on base a couple of times, starting in October. We are supposed to receive a bill in the mail but none ever came, so I went to the hospital to ask for the bills. I was then told that because they need to comb through “different systems” it would take a few days to get my bill organized. Two weeks later, I received an e-mail telling me my bill was ready and I should come in right away because, surprise! it will be sent to collections if it isn’t paid by Friday. It was a Tuesday night. Likewise, most of our utility bills show up a couple days before they are due.*
But all in all, we’re very happy here. We can’t believe how lucky we are to be able to have this opportunity and are trying to make the most of it!
What we love.
- Food. Oh, the food. I can’t begin to explain how good the pasta is here, and that includes packaged pasta you buy from the store and cook yourself. I don’t remember exactly what the difference is, something about the flour used, but is is exceptional. And the bread! And the oil! Don’t even get me started on the olive oil. We are basically going to have to buy a couple barrels to bring home when we move back. The produce here is also wonderful, especially the strawberries lately. Just down the street from us are a couple of dudes who sell fruit off their trucks, so about every other day we are popping over there to grab something. There’s also a fish guy, but since I haven’t completed my learn-to-love-fish goal we haven’t done that yet. Oh, but we are now obsessed with espresso. Woo!
2. The scenery. On a clear day when Mount Etna is in her glory I still can’t believe we live here. And eruptions have not stopped being absolutely thrilling to me, as anyone who is friends with me can probably tell from their lava-filled newsfeed. And that’s just in our area. We’ve seen some truly gorgeous places, and we haven’t even been here during the most beautiful time of year yet. I can’t wait to see more!
Ragusa, from this trip.
3. The people. People we’ve met here have been mostly warm and wonderful. The Sicilians (maybe Italians in general?) are absolutely obsessed with children and are constantly going out of their way to smile at our kids and try to chat with them. (Also touch their hair, which Owie and Fi don’t so much love — their hair is a bit of a novelty). People seem to be remarkable relaxed, everything is ‘va bene, va bene’ all the time. Even when I accidentally hit some woman’s SmartCar.
4. The travel. At home, I spent a lot of time “planning” European trips that I wanted us to take eventually. Now that we are here, I get to plan them for real! We’ll be in France, Ireland and Germany at various points of this year and believe me, I am 100 percent aware of how lucky that makes us. This is a once-in-a-lifetime thing. We know that we are here for a limited time, three years or five years at most and because of that, we are motivated constantly to get out and see things around us when we can. I hope that we bring that attitude back with us when we get home and see more of our own beautiful country.
Things I Miss
I’d be lying if I didn’t admit there are some things we miss very much from home, however.
- Family and friends. This one goes without saying, right? It is hard to be away from people you care about. I even miss just being on the same time zones as my friends for text-messaging purposes. Luckily, we’ve had visits from my parents and sister already and Chris’ mom will be here this spring and his brother in the fall. I hope lots more people come to visit!
- Having internet that works well. Our internet is fairly terrible and there really isn’t anything to else be done about it (Chris has already made some adjustments and additions). If Chris is trying to play a game online, we can’t use any other devices at the same time. Same goes for when I’m trying to make calls for work and the quality is often less than great, which can be frustrating and embarrassing. So yeah, we miss high-quality internet.
- Our town. Bloomington is a beautiful place to raise kids and I wouldn’t mind going back there when this is all over. In particular I miss our gorgeous walking trails, especially since lousy (and largely absent) sidewalks here mean taking a walk with the kids can be somewhat harrowing.
- Being able to watch sports. The only NCAA games we managed to watch started at about midnight and it was pretty brutal trying to stay awake!
- Convenience. I am finally at the point where I usually remember that everything is closed at riposto time (usually between 2ish and 4:30ish) but it hasn’t stopped annoying me. I miss being able to get anything at just about any time of day. And I miss Amazon two-day shipping. And going out to dinner at what is (to me) a normal time. Most restaurants don’t open until 8 p.m. and by that point that point we are trying to have the kids in bed and it isn’t worth the effort.
- Knowing what the hell I’m doing. Even simple transactions here can end up fairly anxiety-ridden for me because of the language barrier. For example, going into a cafe I still invariably end up confused as to whether they are delivering my food or if I’m taking it now, and when I pay. I’m getting better about just laughing it off, but honestly some days I just wish I could go pick up food at the chicken place or buy a bouquet of flowers without it turning into a big, confusing debacle for all involved. I guess this can only get better with time and Italian lessons though!Remember this? Early attempt to order Owen a hamburger with no sauce. I actually do know how to say this in Italian now … unless they have any follow-up questions at all. Then I just look like a deer in the headlights.
And finally … the things I don’t miss.
- Enforced speed limits
- Traffic lights (there are very few of them here, mostly all roundabouts)
- Eating too much fast food (We have McDonald’s but the language gap means I have to go inside instead of using th drive-thru, and mostly I consider it not worth the effort. Which is a lot healthier for us all).
- Our mortgage
*This is especially weird because by and large many of the other businesses we’ve encounter have a surprisingly casual attitude about bills. Our preschool, for example, didn’t have me pay for weeks after he started (despite me asking frequently) and didn’t even mention it when one month I forgot to pay until about the 20th.