It wasn’t Italy that drew me first to Italy, it was an Italian. His eyes sparkled with the colours of the Mediterranean and before I knew it I was a Signora. Not “Signora [insert husband’s name]” mind, but “Signora [my own name thank you very much]”. Despite Italy’s hairy-chested reputation, women are very much respected on their own terms here.
Then there was just a small matter of having to learn Italian. Wouldn’t the world be an easier place if everyone just spoke English? I grouched and groaned and tried sticking an “a” onto the end of words but soon learned that this didn’t turn them automatically into Italian. Time and patience were key, and I soon came to appreciate Italians’ good-natured acceptance of foreigners murdering their language.
In any case, I could still get to know my new countrymen without knowing a word of Italian. Teaching English was the perfect job for a crash course into the culture of the country. I helped an array of characters learn English by asking them to tell me their stories. Bye-bye national stereotypes, and hello increased respect for a country where heritage and culture are worn lightly and a complex history is borne out in deeply felt differences between regions.
Differences aside, there is one common denominator that unites all Italians - they love to talk about food, and so do I.
I live in central Italy in the seaside town of Pesaro. Everyone cycles here. Not just the lycra-brigade, but little old ladies with handbags too. Mammies or daddies with piccola Maria beaming at the front of the bike, and piccolo Mario singing at the back. Local composer, Gioachino Rossini, probably started like that. Adopted local tenor, Pavarotti, just continued the tradition. Of course the rolling hills of the surrounding countryside provide a bit more challenge, but pit-stops are pleasant in the beautifully preserved medieval villages dotting local peaks like Gradara, Urbino or San Leo.
Wine happens to be great value, and kids are great value in Italy too. My maternity leave was generous, and then childcare and pre-school rates were very reasonable. My children got well-planned three-course lunches in pre-school and primary school, instilling healthy eating habits. Education-wise, the fact that half of their tests are oral really helps their verbal confidence.
The sun shines here from May to October, although last summer is remembered as being "terribile"- it must have rained five times. Everyone decamps to the beach. We're on the Adriatic, with sandy beaches sloping gently downwards to what is apparently just a big bath (at least that's what my Irish visitors say "It's a BATH!"). Dinner is eaten outside as the sun goes down, with tough choices to be made: will it be seafood tonight or just some homemade pasta?
“Having attained an excellent grasp of Italian” [sorry, cogged directly from my CV], I decided to change direction and set up as an Italian to English translator. It’s the best job I’ve ever had. Thank goodness the whole world doesn’t speak English! I’m my own boss, I can decide what I want to do and when I want to do it, and I get to translate an endlessly fascinating range of topics from tourist brochures to legal documents and marketing blurbs.
It wasn’t Italy that drew me first to Italy, but it didn’t take long for me to be drawn in.
In May, The Irish Times invited readers abroad to tell us about their relationship with the place they have made home, and why they love living there. This story is one of the entries we received. Read more here.