Unexpected Connections

The other day I was at the gym, completely absorbed in my own thoughts, when suddenly I heard something very surprising and wonderfully familiar. Two women nearby were talking to each other in Italian. My neighborhood is not a particularly Italian one, so I had never thought to meet Italians at my local gym. I stuffed any shyness I felt into the nearest locker and asked them, in Italian, where they were from.

We had been chatting for a few minutes when another voice piped up from the far side of the room, “Scusate, siete tutte italiane?” It turned out she was Italo-Australian. Before we went our separate ways, I told all of them about the Italian Professionals of Philadelphia, our local expat organization, because I know how hard it can be to find community. Sometimes you just need to be with other people who know the songs you listened to when you were a teenager, the cartoons you watched when you were a kid, the books you read in college, your favorite actors, authors… the list goes on.

Nevertheless, connections don’t have be based on shared cultural experience. For me, the greatest part of the story happened a couple of days later, the next time I was back at the gym. A woman I hadn’t spoken to before came up to me and said, “Excuse me, I just wanted to ask, what was that language you and those other women were speaking the other day? It was so beautiful.”

“Italian,” I told her, “and it is beautiful, isn’t it?”

In a moment, she had reminded me of the first time I’d heard Italian and the reason why I’d wanted to learn it in the first place. She didn’t speak Italian or have those Italian experiences to share, but it didn’t matter. We had both shared that moment of recognizing the same beautiful thing––and that, right there, was an experience in common. I felt more at home, suddenly, just for having shared it. It reminded me that I don’t have to go looking for community. It’s all around me, including in unexpected places––I just have to reach out and make myself a part of it. That is how any expat can make a home.

p.s. As usual, you can find this post on the PI-Philly Facebook page as well (see link above). 

So far, and yet…

Welcome back, dear Readers! 

As promised, beginning with the first post of 2017, the musings on the expat life that I’ve been writing for the organization of Italian Professionals in Philadelphia will be published in tandem here on my blog. Here is the first of the year!

Although some of the details may be specific to the Italian-in-America (or American-in-Italy) experience, their themes are universal. I hope you will all enjoy them, wherever you come from and whichever the place(s) you call home.

I was hard at work the other afternoon when my phone rang. A FaceTime call was coming in from Switzerland. A chorus of shouts and hellos greeted me as soon as I picked up, and there were all my Italian and Swiss-Italian friends from the Italian expat group I was a part of when I lived in Romania (they all live in Switzerland now). We used to have so much fun! We would seek out Italian pizzerias there (the pizzaiolo who worked at “Il Calcio” in Bucharest had learned his craft in Italy and made the most genuine pizza I’d ever had outside of il belpaese) and go to the theater… There was so much culture to be had in Bucharest, between opera, ballet and concerts. However, our favorite thing was when, at the Italian Cultural Center, they used to show DVDs of Zingaretti as Montalbano every Tuesday night. We never missed it.

I hadn’t seem some of that group of friends in 10 years, but they’d been making la raclette (that’s Swiss fondue, for those of you who have never been fortunate enough to taste it) together in Geneva and thinking of the time when we all made it together in an apartment block in Bucharest, so they thought they’d call to say hello.

Anyone who’s ever been an expat knows that, wherever you are on any given day, whether in your homeland or your adopted home, there will always be an ocean between you and at least some of the people you love. I am simply thankful that we have all this marvelous technology that means that we are never farther away from our friends and family than a thought and the time it takes to pick up our phones.

The last few months of 2016 were not easy ones for Italy or America, and the coming months are certain to be full of upheavals and changes, some for the worse… but some things, like our friends and the good times we spend with them, whether in person or on the displays of our phones across the miles, never change––and no matter what 2017 may bring, that is a beautiful thing.