Florence Hotels Articles

August 1, 2010

Travel advice: Help for Americans living abroad

Entering into another culture is exciting, sometimes happy, sometimes exasperating. Mostly, though, it allows us “to boldly go”… where we’ve never been before. “A Friend in Lucca” (www.afriendinlucca.com/eng) offers advice and assistance to help make the experience more positive in every way and shares the adventures of new arrivals.

Tuscany is a dream that sometimes goes sour. It begins with romantic scenery, romantic encounters, delicious food and abundant sunshine. It may end with bureaucratic nightmares, financial disaster and less-than-romantic relationships. After the first few weeks or months, Americans may lament the “Mediterranean diet,” plead for fast food, milkshakes, hamburgers, criticize the traffic, taxes and myriad other features of this new and different world. To say nothing of the language! Without making an effort to be understand, Americans can end up in verbal isolation. This may occur immediately in some countries, or more slowly in other countries. But it is easily identifiable when groups of foreigners create “clubs” or “circles” to discuss or collect books and films in the “original” language – in our case, English. Such clubs may degenerate into “mutual lamentation societies” or they may be an essential source of support and sharing.

Whether to remain with one’s own or to “go native” is a difficult question. This may depend on motives for traveling or on the family support system – a family with children for example may be happy to maintain their linguistic and cultural traditions, while a single person may have less desire or need to do so. Thanksgiving yes or no? My first year in Florence, as a 19-year-old student, I searched for a restaurant that would serve a bird – any bird. To my surprise, I was served a plate of tiny crunchy birds with their heads on – not at all what I had in mind! Now almost 30 years later, I can order my own turkey from a local butcher and prepare it for family and friends. Times and traditions change, and not only in America.

Halloween is an American holiday that has invaded parts of Italy! Whether this is good or bad depends on individual taste. However, newcomers should realize that October 31st is only one day before November 1st, the Day of the Dead. In a country like Italy, this is a solemn occasion on which most people visit cemeteries with flowers (chrysanthemums) for their relatives. For more traditional Italians, the co-existence of Halloween and the Day of the Dead is an uneasy truce, not immediately understandable. Italian children, on the other hand, dress in costumes and throw confetti during Carnival, in the weeks leading up to Easter.

There are so many cultural similarities and differences, some masked by language, some revealed by language. It may be as “simple” as installing a phone. When I arrived in Lucca 12 years ago and asked for a telephone, for example, the telephone company expected me to have a grandmother or aunt at home to receive their technician. They couldn’t imagine an employed woman without a home manager of some kind. Eventually they agreed to give me “special treatment” – however, the link between modernity (everything handled impersonally by computerized appointments) and traditionalism (having someone wait at home all day for the technician, who of course couldn’t make a precise appointment) was a unique balance and a precious learning experience.

These few examples are offered as a suggestion to readers – if you need a helping hand, ask for it. If, on the other hand, you are the type of person who would bungee jump off a high bridge and enjoy the rush – go on, do it alone!

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