6 things I’ve Learned from 6 years in Italy

I moved to Rome on September 28, 2010.

I had a heinous direct flight from Los Angeles, then booked a weird group transfer van from the airport, and met my landlord at an apartment that I had rented sight unseen.

I managed to stay awake until 7:30 pm, before falling asleep until 3 am and setting myself up for a week of jet lag.

I knew no Italian. I had never lived in another state, let alone another country, and I had exactly zero friends or acquaintances in Rome.

Moving to Italy has been the best and most difficult thing I have ever done. I still discover something new almost every day, but when I look back I realize just how far I have come.

In honor of my Rome-aversary, here are 6 things I have learned after 6 years in Italy.

1. Nothing is impossible. You will be told countless times that this or the other is impossible. Non è posibile, you will hear again and again. It will be repeatedly definitively, with impassive looks, but don’t walk away.

Ask why it’s not possible. Understand what you need to do to make it possible (because there is ALWAYS a way to make it possible). 6 years in Italy has taught me not to give up.


2. Your timeline doesn’t matter to anyone else. While nothing is impossible, you are going to have to learn patience to last long in Italy.

Locked out of your house on a Friday? Well you can either pay 300 euro, because the fabbro’s Friday evening time is valuable, or you can wait until Monday to have your door fixed.

Alternatively, the fact that you left your visa application until the last minute matters to absolutely no one but you.

Build a lot of flexibility into your plans (and your outlook).

How to get to sirmione italy

3. How to appreciate what I have. When something breaks in Italy, you don’t throw it away – you repair it. Furniture, and even entire homes, are passed down through generations. Stagnating wages mean Italian families are experts in life’s small joys.  I have had to let go of where I thought I would be financially at this point, and focus on the type of life I want to build rather than the bank balance I want to have.


4. The true cost of things. Walk down Rome’s streets and you will stroll past shops of independent artisans and craftsman. While these are slowly  disappearing, seemingly replaced by the ever-present Tiger stores, I still have people I call for specific tasks. Need a frame? I go to Paolo’s shop rather than Aaron Brothers. Shoes? I’m saving up for a pair from Francesca and Giovanna.  For these, I sometimes pay more than I would at a big store, but I know that the person behind them is charging me the true cost of the item and their time to create it.

Da Artenio Testaccio market

5. How to say yes and when to say no. Moving somewhere new takes a leap of faith that requires you to say yes to yourself, in a way. From there, you have to keep saying yes to the unknown.

Do I want to walk with you through this locked gate to check out an ancient olive grove? Sure.

Do I want to take a Vespa tour even though I have never been on a scooter? Ok.

Do I want to give up the lease on my apartment early because it would be more convenient for someone else? Nope.

I have had to learn to be open to new things, but also to draw the line when it comes to how far I will go to show my willingness to adapt.

Also, nonna? You can totally cut in front of me in line at the supermarket… but if you have a cart full of stuff and I have been stuck waiting for 10 minutes? Then you can cut in line BEHIND me. Thanks.

ditta artigianale coffee shop

6. How to make some awesome homemade pasta. It turns out that making pasta from scratch really is as easy as everyone claims! I sometimes now decide that it would be easier to make it myself than to walk to the store, wait in line, and walk home again.

My favorite book to learn from was Pasta: Recipes from the Kitchen of the American Academy in Rome, Rome Sustainable Food Project both for the clear instructions and the explanations of the stories behind each kind of pasta. In person, I perfected my technique with Paola’s cooking class.

Where to learn Italian cooking in Rome

So remember: nothing is impossible as long as you are flexible.  You will appreciate what you have more once you realize the true cost of things.  Life is all about knowing when to say yes, and how to hold your ground when needed. And when in doubt… double down on the pasta!

19 thoughts on “6 things I’ve Learned from 6 years in Italy

  1. Danielle says:

    Congratulations on your 6 years in Rome! We are in the long process of making our home in Italy and have already learned to be patient, and to just enjoy the ride!

  2. Elizabeth Carrico says:

    Hi Natalie…..I’m Jealous….its my dream to live in Italy for a year. My mothers parents were from Italy(Abruzzo & Naples) I have visited 2 times. How did you get a Visa for 6 years? & Congrats on 6 years. Thank You

    • Natalie says:

      Hi Elizabeth! I am not sure there is such a thing… I always (and still do) have a 1 year visa at time. Now that I am married to an EU citizen, this is a bit different, but I write more about it under “Practical Expat Information.”

      Where there is a will, there’s a way, so I hope you find the right visa for you!

    • Natalie says:

      In a way, I also can’t believe it has been 6 years. It was weird to write!

      Let me know if you need any tips for the next trip!

  3. Jane says:

    im having another “how long do i give italy before i give up weepy moment” i googled advice or when to give up or something and found this post..thanks.. i really like your straight forward and objective tips.. in particular where you wrote about forgetting about where you thought you’d be financially and focusing on how you live your life. Apart from the homesickness and the difficulty of earning a living are really grinding me down. Congratulations on 6 years a massive achievement 🙂

    • Natalie says:

      Hi Jane – oh oh oh. Italy can be like that, can’t it? Don’t give up. It takes time to build a life in a new place. Wishing you the best of luck in finding it!

  4. Mark says:

    You moved to Italy in the middle of its worst financial crisis without knowing Italian or any connections…how on earth did you get a job?

    • Natalie says:

      I work in a very niche industry! And I don’t work for an Italian company. So, I fully recognize it is not a typical experience but very grateful for it.

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