Miserable In The Mezzogiorno

Hello, dear Reader. You may remember that last week I discussed the many things I love about Italy – a post reinforcing plenty of romantic ideals. But now, if you please, allow me to remove those rose colored glasses….

While you were picturing my life under the Tuscan sun, I’ve actually been living in Campania, the Appalachia of Italy. Economically depressed, traditional (almost to the point of being backwards), and poorly educated. We won’t even talk about the Camorra! (But if you’re interested in the history of the mafia, Saviano’s tell-all is required reading). Part of me is hesitant to perpetuate these stereotypes since certainly, there are bigger social and economic influences at play. And yet, there’s no denying that daily life in “the armpit of Europe” is a grind. Here’s my list of grievances:

Being a bella donna. Being a woman is a tough gig anywhere but in Italy, the struggle is real. The options are limited: you can be a sex object or a mom (and don’t you even think about trying to be both!). Sure, I’m simplifying, but a woman’s worth in Italy is based almost entirely on her ability to land a man and procreate. The “appreciative” gazes and indecent proposals are exhausting. Anything I say to a man is dismissed, leaving me with the odd sensation of being highly visible and simultaneously irrelevant. Ruth Orkin’s “An American Girl in Italy” (below) is no exaggeration.

Eating out. There’s a lot of hype about Italian food but, on the whole, my experiences dining out have been lackluster. The carb-heavy menu is the same everywhere you go: no substitutions, no modern twists, and no ambiance. And foreign food? Bahahaha! Just no. Impossibile! *The exception to this rule was Puglia, where every meal I ate was transcendent! Sicilia is a very close second.

Technical difficulties. Plugs don’t fit into outlets. Voltage adapters blow shit up. Devices administer shocks when plugged into the wall. The dryer doesn’t dry and the washer backs up into the shower. The fridge has ice build-up but the freezer is warm. The wifi works but only intermittently. Click Wifi OFF/Wifi ON in order to get a moment of internet access. Repeat process as needed.

The beauty scene. It’s ugly, people. Certified beauty professionals aren’t really a “thing” here so there’s no guarantee your hairstylist/manicurist/waxer has any formal training. Also, they’re limited in the products they can obtain, resulting in the use of whatever is on hand to get you that bayalage that’s trending right now. Most services are offered in your home which, though it sounds luxurious, feels haphazard (and awkward) at best. The bill is a fourth of what it is in the States, but you’re also about a fourth as attractive as you used to be – what you save in euro, you pay for in self-esteem. WOOF!

Useless napkins. In every caffè bar you will find small napkins with a waxy, non-absorbent finish. Why would you give me a napkin that doesn’t absorb moisture? What sort of sick mind game is this!?

The apathy. Naples, once the Kingdom of Naples, has been conquered, occupied, and razed by war and natural disaster several times over. It is my opinion that Neapolitans have developed a strong sense of apathy as a form of self-preservation. Come what may, they’ll simply ignore it and continue to scoot around and make pizza. But I think it’s time Neapolitans got good and angry. Angry about the trash-strewn highways, angry about the Camorra dumping illegally in their communities, angry about their kids having to leave the country in order to find good jobs. Raise up!

ruth orkin

Limoncello. It’s gross. Stop giving it to me.

FurbiziaItalians have a sense of pride in being clever, or rather, sneaky. Whether it’s cutting off an entire lane of traffic or selling something at an inflated price, you get the sense the mantra is have or be had. Sly bastards.

Cash only. You may have unlimited credit and $5,000 in your pocket but unless you’re carrying very small bills (and coins), you have no purchasing power in Italy. Guys, I’m no Alan Greenspan, but I’m fairly certain the economy would benefit if it were easier for people to spend money here. Just sayin’…..

Temperature control. None of the buildings have insulation so my brain melts out of my ears in the summer and I’m chilled to the bone in winter. Why do I always feel like I’m living outdoors?

Close-mindedness. If Americans are forward-thinking opportunists, Italians are drunk on nostalgia. Tradition reigns. Whether it’s when to drink cappuccino (only before noon) or tolerating ineffective governments (after all, the evil you know is better than the one you don’t), there’s no room for new ideas or cultures. Nevermind things like birth control, divorce, and LGBT rights.

Italian pride. There’s nothing wrong with being proud but the Italians border on delusional. They condemn all foreign cuisine and are still bragging about the Roman Empire like it didn’t fall a gazillion years ago. Italy’s influence is undeniable and its mozz is tops, but it might be time to focus on the future instead of resting on its laurels. Not to be all what-have-you-done-for-me-lately but… what have you done lately?

Hustlers. (Or entrepreneurs). The economy is crap which results in people getting… innovative. When you park your car downtown there is often a guy standing nearby looking sketchy. He’s not an official parking attendant but he’s expecting you to pay him, though the service offered is unclear: are you paying him to watch your car? Are you paying him to not break into your car? For only 2 euro, it’s a solid investment either way.

Italian traditional liqueur limoncello with lemon

Nonnas. Don’t let the glasses and orthopedic shoes fool you, these little old ladies are bullies! Frequently seen walking arm in arm, they flood the local grocer in pairs and never fail to push past me in line. They terrorize the staff by meticulously inspecting the produce, asking for details about the morning’s cheese delivery, and scrutinizing the width of the butcher’s meat cuts.

Lack of civic responsibility. Considering the generosity and warmth of Italians in the private sphere, it’s interesting to see a universal disregard for the community at large. For all the talk of famiglia, it’s every man for himself! Indeed, tax evasion is the norm. Although, I’m willing to cut the Italians some slack on this one. Italy has one of the highest taxes in Europe (50%!!!) and after years of corrupt government spending, I understand the reluctance to cough it up. But! It’s also no wonder the roads are a disaster, there’s trash everywhere, and the local high school looks like a maximum security prison.

Inefficiency. Take produce shopping for instance, it’s a 20 minute affair! In Italy you cannot bag your own produce. Instead, you tell the grocer what item you need and he walks over to select the fruit, then he bags it, weighs it, and puts a price sticker on it before asking you, “E poi?/And then?”  Don’t try to rush the process by outlining your whole list either. No, no. You ask for one item at a time. Meanwhile, the grocer is chatting you up about the weekend, what’s for dinner (“you’re making that again?”), and how you feel about life lately because you seem a little sad or tired or something…. *Confession: Sometimes I drive an hour to the American base so I can bag my own produce in under 3 minutes while having zero human interaction. It’s glorious.

Customer service. It’s severely lacking – not always, but often! The quickest, cheapest, least labor-intensive solution is employed every time. Instead of properly filling a large pothole near our house, it was repeatedly packed with sand for months. Really? This from the minds that brought us the Renaissance?

Not enough peanut butter.

Animal-lovers beware. Dead cats and dogs litter the highways and during Ferragosto many pet owners turn their animals loose while they join the rest of Italy on the beach. Ugh!

Italians abroad. Italians, I love you guys, I really do. But please try not to be such a loud, disorganized mess in front of my new, totally chill (and reserved) Danish friends. Just… be cool. 🙂

Phew! There you have it. It was both cathartic and challenging to write this post. Though I’ve had many positive experiences living abroad, it would be disingenuous to share only the chic coastal getaways and easy jaunts across the Continent. Besides, you know I keep it real with you, dear Reader.


2 comments on “Miserable In The Mezzogiorno”
  1. Bill Rosado says:

    I enjoyed this read

    1. Malia says:

      It’s a crazy place! Looking forward to going back this summer with Billy and Mom.

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