Not long ago, I was talking about all the ridiculous burning hoops one has to jump through to get a driving license in Italy.
Yes, I have to start at square one as though I’ve never driven. Me, who has driven since 16 (15, if counting the learner’s permit), when practically every other country’s license can be converted, from Sri Lanka to Argentina and even Great Britain, who drives on the left side. It’s okay. I’ve accepted it. I’ve been studying an hour a day for the theoretical exam, and you better believe there will be a helpful post about this whole process.
I just think that Turin’s DMV should update the info they give me so it’s not ten years out of date—or, if they don’t feel like changing a couple of sentences on an old handout, they should mention it’s out of date (a shout-out to Autoscuola Berruti who is helping me through this and pointing these things out to me!).
And an Italian said, “Don’t forget that you chose to live here.”
I stopped talking. I felt a little bit stung. Had I become one of those expats who complains about every single inconvenience as though it’s the entire country’s fault, forgetting that life everywhere has its inconveniences?
I backtracked a moment. No. I wasn’t one of those. I am very aware that I’ve chosen to live here, and I’m happy about it, whatever cultural difficulties I run into (more like bureaucratic inefficiencies, because cultural differences are good). But her comment reminded me that now that I’m here, I’m not “living in a foreign country.” I am the foreigner in their country.
It looks like a contradiction: on the one hand, Italians remain flabbergasted that I chose to live in Italy when I could be living the “American dream.” It seems like everyone would rather live in another country. On the other, if I speak a word against Italy, I’m the outsider attacking their territory. Forget how many compliments I give them about their food, history, the culture and language I love so much. Forget that yes, in fact, I have chosen to live here. I am not them, so it’s an attack.
It looks like a contradiction, and it is, but I totally get it; and I don’t begrudge that woman’s comment. Because boy, when people who aren’t from West Virginia joke that they thought it was all about incest and the movie Wrong Turn and ignorant hicks, I get more than ticked off. I defend its beautiful wilderness, the most no-strings-attached friendly people I have ever known, and what it was like to grow up there with bare feet and all that outdoors freedom. But once upon a time, I had no trouble talking with my WV friends about how I wanted to get out.
Let’s get this straight: I love living in Italy. Ever since visiting Italy in junior high school, a whirlwind ten-day vacation, I wanted to live here. For some reason, it became an underlying goal that I didn’t even realize was guiding me through the choices I made, ending up with me studying then working and living here.
But like living anywhere in the world, it has its daily inconveniences. When I was talking about said burning hoops to jump through, I was not complaining about Italy as a whole. I was railing on a particular thing that happened to me, as anyone does during the course of the week when they run into obstacles at work, in line at the grocery store, or at the Post Office.
When all is said and done, however: “Remember, you chose to live here.” Being the foreigner in town means I have certain guidelines to follow.
That comment reminded me that living as a foreigner in another country, or simply being the outsider to anything, you revoke your rights to that sort of complaining if you don’t want to come off as spiteful, spoiled, or generally unworthy and ungrateful of someone’s else’s country. And of course, complaining to friends back at home doesn’t get you loads of sympathy. “Yeah, whine all you want while you drink wine and eat awesome food while sitting at a bar in the piazza outside of some medieval castle.” Heh, ok. So maybe they can help put it all back in perspective.
So as a foreigner in another country, share your negative thoughts sparingly (tip: usually other expats are 100% sympathetic!). Actually, that’s a good habit to do in general.