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From Ireland to Italy: Trying to do a ‘big shop’ in the local supermarket was when we really noticed the differences

Claudia Smith loves life in Parma and has embraced the food culture: ‘Enjoying Lambrusco is a good test as to whether you will enjoy Parmesan life’

Working in Italy was a dream I never dared to imagine would come true.

My year of exploring the Tuscan city of Siena during my Erasmus year had left an indelible mark on me, and I treasured every moment.

In April of 2023, during a holiday in Italy, my partner and I jokingly entertained the idea that we loved the country so much we might never return home.

It was around this time that I stumbled upon an enticing job opportunity at the European Food Safety Authority. While the job sounded interesting, it was the location of Parma, Italy that drew my attention.


I applied in May, did the interview in June and was delighted to be offered the job in July.

With a contract start date of October 1st, I found myself with limited time to make a decision regarding both the job and the relocation. However, the allure of living in Italy was very appealing for both my partner Daniel and I, and we decided to take the leap.

In late September, we embarked on our journey to Parma. We said tearful goodbyes to family and friends, receiving many enthusiastic promises of visits.

Touching down in Milan, the wave of heat that hit us was impossible to ignore. The sunshine greeting us at our new home alleviated some of our homesickness, filling us with excitement to begin exploring the area.

The city of Parma is small and quaint, characterised by the pastel-coloured buildings and twinkling lights illuminating the streets.

Arriving a few days before my new job officially began, we had the chance to explore the city and adapt to our new surroundings. During this time, we wholeheartedly embraced Parma’s renowned food culture, devouring tagliere, delicious platters of local meats and cheeses, sipping a variety of wines and savouring the diverse array of stuffed pastas at dinner.

This indulgent lifestyle felt like an extended holiday, although we soon realised that, unfortunately, it could not be our everyday routine.

Our new reality unfolded on a Sunday, as we prepared for our first visit to the supermarket.

Armed with a comprehensive shopping list, and two sizeable backpacks, we made our way to the local supermarket. It was at this point that we began to notice the differences between Ireland and our new home.

Our attempt to complete the “big shop” in one outlet was not successful. While we easily filled our cart with a variety of pastas, cheeses and fresh produce, we encountered challenges elsewhere.

We struggled to find a place where we could purchase non-Italian dinner ingredients, including those required for some of our favourite dishes, like curries and stir-fries.

Our unusual culinary experiences in Italy did not end there.

While preparing our first dinner in our new apartment, we were taken aback when the electricity suddenly cut out, plunging us into darkness. Daniel managed to restore the power by flipping the switch in the cold, creepy basement of our apartment building, and we went on to enjoy our first meal in our new home.

To our surprise, the same issue occurred the very next day. Concerned, we contacted our landlady, who had been so helpful to us during our move. She contacted the electricity company, and they informed her that the apartment’s electrical supply had been overwhelmed as we tried to use both the oven and the hob simultaneously.

Following negotiations with the company, she assured us that the electricity would be upgraded, allowing us to cook without disruption. Since then, we have been very cautious with our electricity usage.

Embracing a new culture has presented us with challenges, but there have been a number of aspects of the culinary culture that have been easy to adopt.

A new favourite is aperitivo, where we visit local bars to enjoy a pre-dinner drink accompanied by a complimentary selection of snacks and nibbles.

The Nespresso machine has remained in Ireland, and we have opted for a Bialetti, a stove-top coffee pot, to brew our daily coffee.

We have also loved savouring local wines, including Lambrusco, a sparkling red wine, which has been very different from any wine we sampled before our arrival in Parma. It is an unusual wine, with savoury notes, and a dry finish, but still filled with bubbles.

A co-worker explained to me that Lambrusco is a good test to tell if someone will enjoy Parmesan life. Luckily both of us have enjoyed it – a promising sign for our new life in Parma.

  • Claudia Smith is from Newbridge, Co Kildare. She graduated with a degree in history from Trinity College Dublin. After college she worked as a policy adviser in the Irish Civil Service. She is now working at the European Food Safety Authority in Parma. Her partner, Daniel Carroll from Co Kerry, works in the tech sector.
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