Americans LOVE Italy. Love it. They are obsessed by all things Italian - or at least the things they think are Italian. (A plate of pasta with a blanket of goopy sauce is NOT Italian.)
When I tell people I lived in Italy, they respond immediately with wide-eyed "Ahhhh. Really!?!" I'm practiced at dropping this fact, pausing, and then resuming when their jaw returns to the closed position.
It doesn't matter if the person has ever even visited the country -- they ooze with love for it. If they have in fact traveled to the boot, then their eyes will glaze over as they lovingly go on (and on) about the quaint alleys they strolled, the fantastic pasta they ate, and amazing history they explored. The sun was better, the air was better, the life was better! Trust me - I get it. I also love Italy and the country effortlessly doles out life-making travel memories guaranteed.
But traveling in Italy and living in Italy are two entirely different experiences. (This can probably be said for just about any country! I'm sure.)
My cousin couldn't agree more. My belly ached with laughter after listening to *M share his "live in Italy" experiences. In only a few short months, he'd racked up quite a few.
Like, "You mean, the time I woke up to find a gypsy in my living room robbing me?!?!" Yes, the gypsy that -- despite the obstacle of a second floor apartment -- ingeniously scaled this height by way of gutters and balconies. Odd noises woke up *M, who quickly realized that something was amiss. Stumbling half-asleep but still presenting a mighty force -- he's MANY inches over 6 feet tall -- he scared the dickens out of the intruder who exited like a wildebeest outrunning a hungry prey.
No confrontation. No guns. No violence. And not even the police really cared. They showed up later and were more interested in hooking up on Facebook with the cute friend of *M's Italian brother-in-law who was acting as translator via a middle-of-the-night Skyping session. Sounds almost comical, right?
And here I was LAUGHING with my cousin about being robbed!
My husband's wry response: "You mean they get robbed in Northern Italy too!?!"
Yes, but more so in Southern Italy, particularly Naples / Napoli.
There wasn't a week or two that passed without learning of some new robbery within the American /NATO community. Just about everyone I know was impacted by crime in some form or another - bashed car windows, home invasions, pickpocketed, or just massively over-charged (e.g. friends who paid 40 Euro for a few cappuccinos in Rome).
When you mix incredibly high unemployment rates (like 35% at the time) with a massive underground black-market that thrives on stolen goods, you are left with an economy that practically expects thievery. It's almost a norm, sadly.
Of the countless stories I was privy to over 4 years, no one was ever physically harmed. (Well, I heard a few random stories, but no confirmations.) This was reassurance for me. I told myself that should someone invade my home while my husband was away (a frequent thing given his work demands), the kids and I would not be harmed. It was just stuff, right?
Ironically, I have more fear of being harmed living in America than I did in Italy, though my chances of being robbed were higher there. (Yes, we were. Car window bashed while out to dinner; house invaded while we were on vacation but the alarm we faithfully set scared them away with nothing loss but an empty, cheap purse by the front door.)
But I don't typically share this side of Italy with most people. I prefer to let them gush. Italy is dreamy, and lovely, and seductive. The visible history there is simply mind-boggling. Ancient feet have trodden every inch of that country leaving timeless footprints. It's a glorious country!
See, even I can't help but gush.