Our Italian Adventure: Making Local Friends
Updated: Jan 3
How we moved to Italy. Making Friends in Italy
PART 25: It might be interesting to share how we pulled off living in Italy for part of the year. I will post some steps we took.
We are in Puglia in the summer and then back again in the winter.
Step 1: When we decided to live in Italy, we realized that it would never feel like home unless we developed meaningful relationships with others who call that place home. Coming as a tourist versus calling Italy home, even for part of the year, are two different experiences and require different approaches.
Step 2: There is no formula for making friends. Sometimes it is a matter of chance, shared interests, history, or chemistry. But I do want to share a few factors that are enabling us to develop friendships which are like family here. These factors include language, culture, openness, and risk.
Step 3: Language. There is no way around it; developing significant relationships without a common language is impossible. And I will go further: if one lives in Italy and does not learn to speak and understand Italian, one will always be the outsider, the foreigner, the visitor.
In a previous blog, we explored the why and how of learning Italian, so I will only repeat some of that here. Learning the language is not only a communication tool, but the very structure of words and phrases can give a different cultural understanding of the world than the one I carry with me. The benefit is that I learn to see the world differently, judge less, and experience more.
Some of us struggle to learn Italian because we are trying to use a learning method that doesn't work for us. If I am a visual learner, I need more than listening to tapes. If I am a kinesthetic learner, watching Italian videos won't work. If I am not a disciplined learner, studying the language only when I feel like it won't work. So I need to determine which type of learner I am and adopt the appropriate method. For me, though it is a hassle, I learn best in a classroom setting with deadlines and assignments. I wish I weren't like that, but it is what it is, and if I want to learn best, I find a class to take.
Step 4: Culture. We've seen it; maybe we have done it. The "Ugly American" (or from another country), who has one cultural perspective and disdains all others, casting judgments everywhere.
I have to confess that I have been there. When I first lived in Italy in college, I remember complaining to my American expat buddies about the practices of shopping at multiple stores to buy groceries rather than just going to a supermarket, like us. "It would save so much time!" I complained.
I still needed cultural awareness to see the benefits of a different way to shop for food. I was 18.
The expectation that other cultures and peoples think or do things in the same way as my own culture can prevent me from expanding my understanding of the world.
But how do I become more open to cultural differences? After all, I have my cultural background, and I can't get away from that.
It boils down to attitude.
If I believe that I always know best (how to do or accomplish something, for example), I will find living in another culture challenging. But if I adopt the attitude that different ways of doing things (cultural differences) make humanity interesting, I can become more open.
Living in another culture challenges my preconceptions and points of view that I bring from my world. I can learn to see multiple perspectives on education, values, the pace of life, and deadlines. I can become richer.
Or, I can complain.
The choice is mine.
Step 5: Openness. "The United States is the greatest country in the world." This phrase is a mantra we hear from politicians, and I've listened to it at school since I was in first grade. We are often educated to view the world through a lens of superiority, which can prevent us from being open to other perspectives.
Since I am an educator (just retired), I have always taught history from the perspective of travel. "When you go to Rome, you will see where this took place…in Paris, when you go, the Bastille is no longer standing, but you can find where these events took place…"
Travel can breed understanding and lead to wisdom. If I travel with openness, I see that there are many great cultures, histories, and countries; these give rise to different ways of accomplishing the same goal that may even be more effective than my own.
The choice is mine: Do I travel to learn? Learning requires openness. Or do I travel to judge?
Step 6: Risk. The direction of my life changed when I agreed to have a coffee in Rome with someone I did not know. I met a Roman man with similar interests; over coffee, he offered to show me a beautiful town outside Rome. I sat there thinking: this is a risk. I can keep going with my day and politely say no. Or I can size up the situation, be clear about expectations with this person and decide if I can trust him.
After these steps, I had a choice. Choice involves risk. This time, I took that risk.
What happened is that a story of friendship blossomed; this initial meeting took place 13 years ago, and since then, I have made other friends with this friend. Some of them were from Puglia.
Over time, I got into a beautiful relationship in California, and he, my partner, also became part of our Italian friendship.
Years later, this unforeseen series of events led us to establish our life in Puglia.
I am not saying to take unreasonable risks and to put oneself in a position to be taken advantage of. Common sense, sizing up the situation, and getting a feel for others are all involved in discerning whether trust is warranted. But stepping out of my comfort zone can also expand my horizons and my world experience.
Insights: There is no formula for making friendships with locals in Italy, but what has worked for me thus far include: language, culture, openness, and risk. I hope our friendships continue growing as we sink roots in this beautiful place. After all, in the end, relationships are what matter most.
Watch for my book coming around the 1st of the year: "Stories from Puglia: Two Californians in Southern Italy." (https://www.bookdepository.com/Stories-from-Puglia-Mark-Tedesco/9781913680640?ref=grid-view&qid=1672597384274&sr=1-1)
More next time.