Many people would consider me to have the best of all possible worlds: I live in Italy, after all.
In 1995, Adaptec bought Incat Systems, the small Italian software company I was working for, and I was part of the package. I wanted to become a regular employee of Adaptec, though at a distance, since I was by then working from home with quarterly trips to the US office. The idea was radical (for Adaptec at that time, anyway), and they refused; as long as I remained in Italy, they would hire me only as a consultant at an hourly rate. It was a high rate, no complaints there, but I wasn’t a regular employee.
I happened to be at the US office when the sale was completed, so I was able to lose this fight in person, at least. We were all called in for a meeting with Adaptec HR people to explain the company benefits etc., none of which applied to me. After the official presentations, I was chatting with one of the HR people. I mentioned, wistfully, that I would have preferred to be a regular employee. “But this way you get to live in Italy,” she said. Well, yes, but it would be nice to have regular employee benefits (paid vacation, sick leave). “But you get to live in Italy!” she said.
Clearly, she dreamed of living in Italy. Many people do. Funny thing is, I never did. Until I met Enrico, I had barely even visited Europe, and never Italy. It just wasn’t on my radar screen; if I thought about my future at all, I assumed that I would somehow end up in Asia – seemed logical, given my personal history and my college degree in Asian Studies. Had I been actively seeking a husband, it wouldn’t have occurred to me to look for an Italian mathematician.
But there he was, and here we are. He claims that we could have ended up in the US: he could have looked for teaching positions there after graduate school, had the job market been better. I don’t remember ever expecting to stay in the US; perhaps I knew earlier than he did that it was inevitable we would live in Italy. When I bought my first (and only) car, I bought it with a manual transmission, knowing that almost all cars in Italy are manual, and assuming that I should keep in practice against the day.
In any event, Enrico landed a teaching position in Italy while still finishing his PhD, and any ideas of moving back to the States (for more than a sabbatical year or so) never went beyond the discussion stage. Nowadays it’s no longer even discussed; we’re here for the duration.
I don’t miss the US; didn’t have strong ties to it to begin with. Being a third-culture kid, I find it easier to live overseas, where I am “out” as an immigrant, than in the US, where people assume that I’m a native, then are baffled and resentful when I don’t behave quite the way they expect me to.
Italy for me is a happy medium, with all the comforts of developed countries (and then some), but just enough chaos, history, and cultural depth, to keep my interest. Italians are even quite like Indians in some ways, though many Italians would be horrified to hear me say so.
Zod knows there’s little to hate about living in Italy. I write (extensively) about the follies and foibles of life here, but, overall, it’s a damn comfortable life. Thanks to my husband and his family, I live in a very nice home and have few financial worries (though I do need to find some paying work…). I can concentrate on raising a daughter – a complex, demanding, and fascinating task, and the most important one of my life. I look out my windows and see mountains. I go into my huge new kitchen and cook wonderful food. We go on trips, we have friends, life is beautiful.
So what’s missing?
Italy is gorgeous and wonderful and all that, wouldn’t trade it for the world. But it isn’t the world. There’s a whole world of other countries out there, most of them equally full of interesting people, cultures, history, foods, etc. Why limit myself to just one? There are so many places I still want to visit (Australia, New Zealand), and others, especially India, that I want to visit some more. I’ve been able to do some non-US travelling in recent years, just enough to keep my feet from itching too much. When you’ve spent your formative years all over the place, settling down anywhere, no matter how wonderful, is very hard.
So I don’t expect this settled phase to last much beyond my daughter’s reaching adulthood. I’ll keep Italy as a home base, but I’ll need to get out, way out, sometimes.
Funny thing is, my daughter, who has had a very stable home life in Milan for 12 years (we’ve just moved 50 km to Lecco), also can’t wait to get out. “I’m not staying in Italy when I’m grown up,” she says. “It’s boring.”