Five Years in, Were we Right to Move to Italy?

Out on the terrace, the sun dips into a velvet night. The only sounds are the wind in the trees, the birds, and the wine swishing about in my glass—the perfect end to a perfect day.

My wife, Shonna, and I have been living in Rieti, Italy for five years, now. I wish we’d come earlier.

Then again, plenty of people can never make up their minds to the move at all. They overthink all the small details until they wind up clutching a stiff drink in a deep armchair.

When I was 10, my family spent two years in Italy. The travel itch never left me. As for Shonna, her yearning for travel and adventure began when she spent time in Denmark as a student.

We made the decision to move in 2016, on a road trip through Italy, from Venice in the north all the way down to Bari in the far south.

We got back to the States, but the itch got worse. It was time to commit. Shonna and I left the U.S. and landed in Rome with five bags and our dog, Frankie.

Our new lives in Italy began on October 4, 2017.

We spent the first four months learning how and where to buy groceries, get cellphones, internet, insurance, doctors, and all the things we took for granted at home.

Returning home from shopping, having succeeded at buying what I wanted rather than just whatever happened to be within pointing range, I would holler “Vincero!” (the Italian word for “victory”) at the top of my lungs. We celebrated every success.

In those early days, we made plenty of mistakes. Like the time that I offered visitors a glass of wine without food. Oops! That’s just not done in Italy. Food first. Or getting impatient while the lady in front of me stood and talked to the cashier for five minutes.

I soon learned. In Italy, time isn’t money. Time is the relationship with people around you.You guys look different. You look happy!Indeed, our friendships here are among the strongest in our lives. Seldom a day goes by without a neighborly pop-in “just to check in,” as you might do with a family member. More and more, we get asked if we plan on becoming Italian citizens. I have no answer at the moment.

Nor are relationships in Italy confined to the strictly interpersonal. In November 2020, we did our first olive harvest on our property here in Rieti, in Italy’s central highlands.

That day, as we toiled under the olive trees alongside our neighbors, participating in a tradition dating back thousands of years, we got to know the soul—la anima as they say—of the land itself.

We often visit friends and wind up discussing the U.S./Italian relationship. There is a kinship, a closeness, a shared belief in the future.

As an Italian friend put it this week: When you fear for your future, we fear for ours. When you rejoice, so do we! Italian TV devoted a lot of time to the 20th anniversary of 9/11. When we hurt, so do the Italians.

A friend of Shonna’s, whom we hadn’t seen in a while, came over to the house. After an hour or so, over coffee, she said, “You guys are both so relaxed. You look different. You look happy.”

In that statement is the endorsement of our decision.

Shonna and I are U.S. citizens born and bred. America gave us our culture, our education, and our belief system. We are Americans, with all that means, and that will never change.

But while we are Americans in our backgrounds and habits, there is a new place in our hearts for Italy.

Italy is where we live, where we belong, and where we want to stay!

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