Our weekend began with Raffy running a few for two days, Saturday morning we went to the Urgicare to get him checked out. It was an ear infection and he was feeling almost back to normal by the end of the day.
After we went home and rested awhile, Raffy was insistent that he wanted to go to the local town fair’s parade, I hoped he would want to stay home and rest more, especially because the heat index was 108. We decided to go because these glimpses of Midwest American Culture are rare for them and we want to make the most of our time here. It was very hot, Raffy was over getting candy and watching the parade after 20 minutes but Felicity didn’t complain about the heat and wanted to stay. We stayed til the end then went home quickly with bags full of candy.
On Sunday we had cousins over in the morning and then we met my godparents at the town fair to ride the rides. It was very hot but the kids had a lot of fun despite the heat, keeping cool with sno-cones and lemonade. We jumped in the pool as soon as we got home to cool off.
The kids went back to camp on Monday for their last week of camp in the US. My mom and I took the advantage of the kid-free time to get matching mother-daughter tattoos that we had been planning on for awhile but needed to go without the kids.
Parenting varies greatly from country to country, even from family to family. I believe though countries can be more or less generalized into a particular parenting style, even if it varies from family to family. Cultures share certain traits and mindsets and create general charecteristics of how the society acts in situations. To say, I don’t think all Italian parents act this way nor do all American parents act in a certain way.
That being said, the general act of parenting in Italy is vastly different than what I have experienced in the US. Italians, in my experience, disregard safe sleeping guidelines that have been so important in the US in the past 25 years. Babies still sleep in cribs with large, cushioned bumpers, small pillows and large amounts of blankets. In the US we are told how unsafe this is and babies should sleep in cribs with no bumpers, no pillows, and babies should wear sleep sacks until they are a little over one or be swaddled until they are usually around three months old. Babies in Italy are also pushed in large prams, all decked out in blankets even in the hot summer months, while US parents are warned of overheating babies and they should be always dressed appropriately. Many Italians are a
Living abroad always has some side of it that is awesome and another side that can be very awkward when you are not used to it!
Italy has its flaws but it also does have some things that are awesome. One “awesome” thing about Italy (at least where I am) is the affordability of skin and beauty products or treatments. Highlights, even the most expensive balyage or ombre rarely cost more than €100. Gel nails “reconstruction” costs usually around €25. Eyebrow waxes can be €2 or €3. One for one eyelash extensions are €35-€40. Professional hair extensions range from €200 to
Italy has its flaws but it also does have some things that are awesome. One “awesome” thing about Italy (at least where I am) is the affordability of skin and beauty products or treatments. Highlights, even the most expensive balyage or ombre rarely cost more than €100. Gel nails “reconstruction” costs usually around €25. Eyebrow waxes can be €2 or €3. One for one eyelash extensions are €35-€40. Professional hair extensions range from €200 to €250. These prices in the US are doubled or more. I prefer to do my hair or nails in Italy because the price is obviously more affordable.
There is always something awkward though. The most awkward experience for a woman that I have experienced is the gynecologist’s office (this is not limited to only Italy, I experienced something similar Switzerland!). At the gynecologist in the US, you are given a private area to undress and a gown or cover to cover yourself during the exam. In Italy, you are most likely, just going to take off your pants and perhaps your shirt and lie on an examining bed without anything to cover. It’s awkward at first but I just remind myself it’s a doctor’s office and now I am used to this but the first time was a shock! But it’s practically free, (if you go public), so maybe you can get past laying practically naked in front of the doctor you have never met!
I recently ran into another expat from my hometown. We were both visiting “home” and were with our kids at the local library. Our moms were best friends in high school but we had never met but we knew of each other through our moms. We were surprised to run into each other, to be “home” at the same time and to also be considering a move back to the US. We didn’t have much time to chat but decided to meet up for a coffee later and talk about our “concerns” about moving “home”.
A few weeks later we finally met for a kid-free coffee and talked for hours about our concerns about moving home. They were not surprisingly the same. We both have kids around the same age and are concerned about gun violence, especially school shootings. Southern Italy isn’t a place I love and most days, even like. It’s a world away from the US. But my children’s safety in school or anywhere is the most important thing for me and the gun violence is the first thing I think of when I think of moving back to the US. It is the part of living in the US that worries me the most.
Another issue we both felt concerned about is the healthcare situation in the US. The US has the most important hospitals in the world, probably the best healthcare research and development in the world but on the other hand, also has the most expensive and complicated health care system in the world. There’s no guarantee we would find jobs providing good health insurance. We both live in countries with universal healthcare, cheap prescription medication and never having to worry about “good insurance” or what medications the insurance will pay for. There’s also no guarantee on where women’s reproductive health is headed in the future. We worry about the future of women’s health coverage. The overturn of Roe V. Wade seemed to come out of nowhere and overnight abortions became illegal in certain states, even if if the mother’s life was at risk. A hospital in Missouri even refused to give morning after pills. What is next, contraceptives becoming illegal? Will our daughters not have the right to decide for their own bodies in the future? The US seems to be heading into a dark time politically, limiting the rights of women especially.
The problems of living in Italy often feel “smaller” than the “huge” problems of the US. Despite the issues of the US, we both still want to move back. We miss our families, we miss the American “way”. We want our kids to experience how our high schools incorporate sports and clubs into the school and into the community creating a sense of local pride that neither of us see in our expat countries (she is in Australia). We miss the “you can do anything” attitude you only seem to find in the US. So who wins? How do we decide? We both decided we needed to go back to “expat” countries and weigh our options and that this is a decision that shouldn’t be made quickly.
One of my more recent posts, I posted that I went back to work and was very happy with the decision. We faced the same problem though that most working parents face with young children, child care. We couldn’t establish childcare we both felt comfortable with. In the end, we decided the best decision for our family was if I stayed at home. I am sad to not work but I know this is the best decision for us and I felt like I had a weight lifted off of my shoulders knowing we wouldn’t need to worry about child care.
Staying at home though for me, can be isolating. One thing I have learned from my month of working in the spring was that organization is key and will continue to be key even if I am not working. For this season of life, this is where we are. When the children are bigger and more independent, it will be another season of life.
Yesterday, we spent the day at the St.Louis Zoo. We haven’t been to a zoo since last summer and I was so surprised how much more excited the kids were to see the animals this time! We spent all afternoon and left around 6. The weather in St.Louis in the summer is usually too hot or humid to visit the zoo but yesterday there was finally a break in the heat and humidity and we quickly decided to go to the zoo. Raffi said his favorite animal was the anaconda snake and stingrays and Felicity’s was the flamingo.
We flew back to the US a little over two weeks ago after two weeks of having my mom visit us in Italy. The two weeks we spent with my mom in Italy were so much fun. We visited the island of Capri for four days. Capri was beautiful and we had a great time swimming at Marina Piccola. The town of Capri was also a fun evening full of restaurants, shops and a busy central piazza. Capri is expensive though, too expensive. The prices of food and beach rentals are double or triple of the mainland, it is even more expensive than the Amalfi Coast. It is is also filled with tourists, which obviously rises the prices. We had a great time though and would recommend it if you are visiting Naples in the summer, even for a day visit. The rocky beaches create beautiful clear, turquoise water.
After we left Capri we spent four days in Calabaia, Calabria, where we’ve visited for the past three years. The water in Calabria is beautiful as well, but this year we were greeted with blooms of large jelly fish. The kids were scared at first but eventually got over it and played in the water after it seemed like the jelly fish weren’t coming in anymore. We had a great four days but were happy to get out of the sun for a few days. After we left Calabria, we had a day at home before flying home to the US.
Our trip to the US was complicated, there were long flight delays, missed flights, an unexpected overnight in Dallas, a lost phone, sitting on the runway after finally landing in St.Louis, for an hour and half due to storms and the ramp being closed and finally at the end, catching Covid. A few days after landing in St.Louis, the Covid symptoms showed up and I tested positive Tuesday morning. This led to nearly a week of chills, exhaustion, and a bad cough that is still hanging around despite now testing negative. The kids made it out with barely any symptoms, luckily.
We ended up cancelling our trip to Florida and rescheduling Disney for the next year due to Covid, we booked a trip to Great Wolf Lodge instead, where we are now.
Beaches in Italy are very different than those in the US. The water is usually clear and not many waves, very different than that of the Atlantic Coast of Florida or Georgia. Each beach is usually lined with “lidos”, or pay beaches. The “lido” will usually have a snack bar or restaurant serving everything from ice cream, sandwiches and drinks to freshly made lasagna or pasta with seafood (lasagna in a bikini in 100 degree weather is always something I want to do). You pay for a lounge chair and umbrella. The chairs and umbrellas are lined up in neat, perfect rows and you will be shown to yours. Lidos also come back with showers, bathrooms, and changing rooms.
Sundays are often so busy, you might not find a lido with available chairs along the whole beach, leaving you to go to the “spiaggia libera”, or the free beach. A lido usually has a parking lot, unless you are somewhere like the Amalfi Coast, where it will not have a parking lot. Lidos at the Amalfi Coast can cost upwards of €30 for two sun beds and an umbrella and then another €20 to €30 for parking.
Besides the “lido” concept, there are many other cultural differences than you would find in the US. Many people do eat a full, hot lunch at the lido restaurant in the 95 degree heat, not being able to let go of the tradition of pasta for lunch. Many men and boys wear Speedo style swimsuits. It is so normal here that I don’t even notice it anymore. Between my friends and I, we do joke, that there’s no way we would let our husbands wear those! Many young girls do not wear bathing suit tops, also so common, I barely notice it anymore.
Italians love to talk about if the water is “clean”. Clean meaning there’s no seaweed, sediment or trash that’s been pulled ashore. They are very particular about the water being “clean” and won’t go to many beaches because it isn’t as crystal clear as they like. This is a bit ridiculous sounding coming from someone who grew up going to the beaches on the Mid-Florida Atlantic Coast. Would that water not be considered “clean”? It isn’t filled with trash, but it is not clear due to the sediment that is poured into it upstream. I don’t think the Space Coast of Florida would be up to an Italian’s standards!
People sell things on the beach, anything from jewelry to bathing suits, purses, kids beach toys, cold coconut and granite. You could do some serious shopping just from your lido sun chair.
Living in Europe, comes with its obvious cultural differences but there are other differences us expats have learned to live with. Household appliances that Americans are used to are much fewer and far between here. This is true in Italy, as it is true in many other European countries. The appliance I miss the most, is a dryer. I would love to have a clothes dryer again in my life. It is a tedious chore to remove the wet clothes from the washing machine and hang them to dry. Luckily, in Naples, it is customary to hang your laundry on lines from your balcony or even in the city of Naples, lines that extend from window to window across streets.
Clothes here dry fast in the ever present sun, but it comes with the downside of catching the pollution of cars and motorcycles and the burning of whatever in a nearby field that is constantly present. When it rains, we must bring the laundry inside to dry, which can take up two days to dry. Washing bed sheets or towels when it rains is useless, there’s nowhere to hang them and it would take days to dry inside. I miss the efficiency of washing your clothes, throwing them in the dryer (and also getting wrinkles out quicker!), and folding them all in a quick few hours.
Besides dryers, central air conditioning. We have a wall unit, which provides enough cold air to keep our living room very cold and the rest of the house “cool”. Italians often believe that air conditioning causes a whole variety of illnesses and ailments so many are afraid to turn on the air conditioning, if they have it, though I have noticed with temperatures only rising each year, many have seemed to have forgotten the dreaded illnesses that are caused by the air con and have been turning them on. The lack of air conditioning makes it impossible to stay at home during the summer months, you are always searching for a way out of the house and somewhere cool to go. The heat can be unbearable in Naples. The school I work in has a few air conditioned rooms but our classroom is not in the air conditioning, the last few days were miserable without cool air.
I have previously alluded to the challenges of living here as an American. Where I live, on the outskirts of Naples, the country is frozen in time in many ways. Many or most women do not work. They are expected to have children and stay home and raise their children, cook, clean and care for the house. Most do not seem to form friendships outside of the relationships they have with their extended families, often a sister or sister-in-law is the closest friend. The society can be very closed and difficult for an outsider to enter and make friendships. Friends are your backbone, your community, especially when you live away from your family and when it is nearly impossible to form these friendships, life can feel very isolating.
I have made friends with other expats, but none are close enough to just stop by for a cup of coffee or meet for lunch. I have worked in schools closer to home, but the women who work in the schools in my area, are essentially products of their environments, not looking for friends more than they already have. I was also treated like an outsider because of the language barrier and was given very little confidence in my work and abilities by my Italian counterparts.
The school I began working for this past month and will continue to work at in September employs other only native English speakers or women who speak English fluently. Most of these women have spent time outside of Italy and are open minded as well. We share the same goals. Going back to the school was like a breath of fresh air. Fresh air to get out of the small town on the wrong side of Mt.Vesuvius, fresh air to talk with others, fresh air to be accepted into a community.
When I started working I was told that I wouldn’t be able to do it “all”, “all” being cleaning and caring for the house, caring for my children and working. At first I was annoyed with this very typical response from a society that values women staying at home with showroom pristine houses. I decided to take it as a challenge though, I can do it all. On top of those “women” responsibilities, I have been working on a business degree which still has weekly assignments and research projects. I began to listen to podcasts and watch YouTube channels of women who do it “all” for motivation. I woke up earlier, I bought a new planner and time blocked my schedule, I spent my long commute listening to motivating and empowering podcasts about women who want to do it “all”. It has been life changing, my grades in my online courses actually went up from the grades I had when I wasn’t working!
Take the time each to be grateful and reflect on what you are grateful for and what you can do to be happy.
This blog has evolved from my original intention of writing about the recipes we’ve tried from around the world. The challenge was fun and introduced to so many cultures and food that I would never consider trying before the challenge. The challenge got difficult though in the sense that I found it to be very wasteful of food, since I was buying ingredients I would most likely never use again and finding the ingredients could be very time consuming and expensive, usually in the end I had to buy ingredients from Amazon. I wanted to continue with the challenge though by trying only two countries a week but I was offered a job I couldn’t pass up. The commute is long and I don’t have the energy to cook elaborate meals in the evening any more, so for now I have put the challenge on hold.
The new job is actually an old job I had my first year of living here, I mentioned it in a previous post, saying it was the best place I worked here. The problem was always the commute, it was very tiring when my kids were smaller. Now they are bigger and sleep better, so waking up early for the drive isn’t leaving me as exhausted before. Also after experiencing the brutality of working in Naples, I know now that was by far the best place to work, especially because the other women that work there make it a warm and welcoming place to work, a break in the daily life of Naples.
Today though is my last day until September but during this month that I have been there I have though many times about starting a blog and Instragram stories and reels about what is like to live and work in Naples from an expat’s point of view and especially as a women. It is a world so different than the rest of Europe and the West. It’s a place almost frozen in time for many things, but for many things its also modern. Living here has its challenges already, but being a working mom here brings on more challenges and lots of cultural differences.
So stick around and I will update here and as well as on my Instagram, (k.gradinetti), about how different it is to live here, the struggles and the good (its not all bad, I promise!).