Our Italian Adventure: Friendships in Two Countries
Updated: Mar 26
PART 26: 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: Since we have decided, at least for now, to live in Puglia, Italy, for about half of the year and in California for the other half, how can we navigate keeping and cultivating our friendships in both places? What happens if we are in one country, and a friend or relative in the other region passes away, gets married, or gets sick? How do we respond to friends who ask, "Can we come to visit you?"
Step 2: Making friends: Please see last week's post on making local friends. Hint: Language, Openness, Risk, Culture.
Step 3: Keeping friends. Many years ago, a friend said that "friendships are like investments. They require time and energy to get a return." I like to think of friendships like houseplants; they need care to grow. Having friends in two countries requires more attention.
While in Italy:
I used to bombard my friends back in California with photos of our incredible time in Italy. When some didn't respond to my photo albums, I sent more. It took me a while to realize that only some people want to follow our Italian adventures from afar. Not everyone wants to be constantly reminded that we are living in Italy while they are living their own lives back in the US. So now I only share photos with the few who ask.
Keeping up with friendships with the same consistency as back in California works for me. If I chat with a friend once a week, I keep the same routine no matter where I am.
Keeping the focus on friendship rather than what I did that day is also essential. I want to hear what is going on in my friends' lives rather than simply blabbing about our latest European adventures. Friendship is a give and take, and the intimacy of a quality friendship can become dominated by a monologue about what we are doing in Italy if I am not attentive.
Friends can talk about feelings as well as thoughts, insights as well as events and struggles as well as adventures.
I am striving to keep this in mind, to keep friendship at the center.
While in California:
Sometimes, after 90 days in Italy, returning to California seems like going to a different planet. We immediately become absorbed in life there. Work, errands, house, writing, local friends, sports, gym, food prep, yard work; you name it.
But neglecting our friendships in Italy and separating our lives in Puglia and California into two different worlds can diminish our experience.
Keeping up with and deepening our Italian friendships while we are in California is still a work in progress, but we connect weekly, even to say, "Ciao, I am thinking of you." We also sometimes do group Zoom calls, which feel more personal than a text or phone call. We also have a policy of "our house is your house" with our friends in Italy, and some have already come to stay with us.
Our goal is to deepen our friendships in Italy to the point that they are family. We are learning how to do this day by day.
Step 4: Hospitality for friends. You have heard it, as we have. "I want to come to Italy while you are there." Friends visiting us in Puglia is beautiful, and we encourage them to come to visit. But what about boundaries?
Through trial and error, we have learned to set expectations for friends who want to visit us. Yours will be different, but these are ours:
Happy: We are delighted you are coming and can explore Puglia with us and on your own.
Housing: We are not set up for house guests, so please rent a place in or near our town. We can give you some leads.
Car: We are renting a small car, so we are not set up to bring guests around. We can help you find a rental.
Independence: Some days, we have obligations, so please feel free to be independent. We can provide a prepared sightseeing list, with suggestions and addresses.
We have found that welcoming friends while maintaining some independence works best for both parties.
Step 4: Emergencies. Setting expectations. It happens: somebody is born, somebody passes away, and somebody is getting married. What do I do in Italy when this happens in California, or vice versa?
Each one will need to come up with their responses to these and other scenarios, but I have found that what reduces much tension and misunderstanding is: setting expectations beforehand.
I have made it clear to my family and friends in California under which circumstances I would fly back if we were in Italy. In my case, only a grave situation affecting an immediate family member will bring me back to California if we are in Italy during that time.
Setting clear expectations before one moves to Italy will not avoid all family disagreements but will diminish the back and forth when circumstances arise.
Setting clear boundaries and sticking to them is key.
Insights: As I move forward in life, I realize that, in the end, what matters are relationships. Sometimes I cannot remember in which town or city I saw a particular church or work of art, but I do recall the human encounters. So cultivating my friendships while living in two countries is important to me. This "cultivation" involves forethought, time, and energy, but the payoff is worth it.
Watch for my book coming around the 1st of the year: "Stories from Puglia: Two Californians in Southern Italy." (https://www.amazon.co.uk/Stories-Puglia-Californians-Southern-Italy/dp/1913680649/ref=sr_1_10?keywords=puglia&qid=1673203363&sr=8-10).
More next time.