Wednesday, February 18

I'd like to burst your bubble

I'd gotten pretty good at the making friends gig. Between moving from one side of the US to another, I was always reading faces, always trying to gauge a person's willingness to welcome a new friend into their lives. Sometimes it's easy. Like when starting grad school. Everyone is in the same boat and most people are open to making new friends in that situation. Moving to a new town, slightly harder, but I started having kids about that time, so that became the new ice breaker.

When we moved here, I thought, ok... I'm in Italy, so I'm going to push myself to be with Italians. What is the point of moving abroad if I'm going to socialize in an English speaking bubble?

But my mission to make Italian friends has been tough. My main mode of contact is parents of kids that the Punks go to school with. While this worked fabulously in the states, not so much here. The adults are just in their own groove and don't see much of a reason to change it up with a new American friend.

just a scene from the street

And I've noticed that, although I had the objective of making friends with the locals, most of my friends ended up being people that have traveled/lived abroad or have also moved here from somewhere else. Even if they are Italian, generally they grew up in another region and also feel somewhat out of their element here. And most of them speak English, while the average person in this part of Italy does not.

And I wonder why that is. Even with the desire to integrate, I've found myself surrounded by a group of internationalists. Like myself. Not that that's bad, I just find it curious. I can strike up a conversation with someone who's lived here their whole life (at Punkette's school 90% of the parents of the kids were born here) and it seems to peeter out quickly. Never getting beyond the weather or school activities. But yesterday, I started to talking to the woman that works at a gelateria close by (they've reopened for Carnivale!) and we chatted for over 20 minutes. I learned she is from Colombia, she has an older daughter that wants to return as soon as she is finished with high school and a son who just turned three. I learned she's lived here for 12 years and is married to an Italian. And we just had a comfortable time chatting with each other. I think I may go invite her to our next dinner party.

I guess it's not surprising that you end up hanging out with people who have common interests or experiences... I am just surprised how strong that push is. Becoming one with a new culture must be nearly impossible, because we're always in the bubble of our own experience.


  1. I have often found it difficult to integrate well and make friends with locals in our various posts because they locals know that we're short timers. They don't want to invest the time, energy and emotion into someone they feel will be leaving. :(

  2. hilarious caption on the last picture.

    I would imagine that making friends with the Italians would be tough in a way that they might be thinking you don't plan on sticking around anyway? Do people think like that? What if Italians only talk about the weather and there kids?

    I do not envy the task of making new friends. I am going thru that now and can't stand the process

  3. We've moved quite a bit in the last ten years to different parts of the country and even in the States with the shared cultural interests making new friends isn't always easy.

  4. When my daughter went to teach in Hungary she didn't speak a work of the language. It was difficult and a lonely time. But she did make warm friends at last.
    I can't imagine that Italians are not as warm as Hungarians in the end. Are you there for long term? That might make the difference.

  5. This reminds me of cultural barriers here in the US...I've similar kind of experiences trying to make friends with C's friend's parents and to some extent, neighbors too...I hate to say this but I think appearance has something to do with this... People put us/ you in a box and refuse to relax because of prejudgements. I can blame it on the shoulders of appearance as I don't find this barrier online: It's so easy to relate to somebody online only 'cos they judge you by what your thoughts're, rather than what corner of the world you're from, which is sooo refreshing, really!

  6. It gets harder to make new friendships as we get older. When you add a new culture to it it's almost impossible.
    My parents were around 40 when we moved to the US and they made friends very very slowly.

  7. My most defined experience with that was when I moved to the Twin Cities. Everyone there is very nice -- I had no trouble finding people to help move furniture or cut down trees -- but when I asked them if they'd like to catch a movie, they looked at me like I'd grown a second head. Turns out that 78% of the folks who live in Mpls-St. Paul grew up there. They've had the same friends since junior high, and don't really have room for new people. There is (or was) a Transplant Club, so that outlanders would have people to pal around with.

  8. I find that the language barrier eventually proves a problem with relationships of any kind. Which is too bad.

  9. Anonymous12:23 PM

    Hi Christine!

    I think the bubble you write about is true no matter where you are -- international or in the states. We moved to IN over 12 years ago and I still find that the natives don't have time for me. If you didn't go to preschool together, then forget it. And, i'm talking about the parents, not the kids.

    Although we like it here, it will never be home.

    It's always funny how you connect immediately with some people and never with others. The gelerita lady would probably very much like to spend an evening with you.

  10. Wow... really really great to hear all your perspectives

    Cairo Typ0... The assumption that we're short timers definitely comes up. Even with the teachers, that was one of the first questions they brought up. I noticed that too in the states when we switched from renting to owning a house. When we rented, we didn't even know our neighbors whereas when we had bought the house, people were much more willing to spend time getting to know us.

    The Panic Room... To some extent, I think it's also partly because the culture in northern Italy is not very social. It doesn't seem like people in general host parties with their friends on the weekends... weekends is more a time spent with the family.

    Grandpa... Hopefully you've found ways to break the ice... seems like it's up to the mover to do this.

    bobbie... depends on where you are in Italy I think. I found when we are in the south, people are much more open and warm.

    naperville mom... I'm sad to say, having grown up in Plainfield, that I'm not surprised that you find prejudiced people there. I had hoped with the increase in population that this might have changed things. The blog world is really nice in that respect.

    Dr. Monkey Von Monkerstein... thanks, only one of those punks is mine.

    Bella... It's definitely easier for my kids... they already feel rooted here.

    Jeanne... hahaha! I know that look.

    Amanda... for sure language is a problem for me too.

    lisa... yes, it's a shame that it takes so long sometime to really feel like you're home. I think I will ask my new friend to join us for dinner sometime ;)

  11. You're damned if you do and damned if you don't. You rightly point out how people gravitate to like groups and yet, the media will lament the compartmentalizing of society.

  12. I agree with a lot that has been said... it is tough to make new -good- friends with the local set anywhere. Even at 26, when we moved to Madison, it seemed like everyone we met either grew up there or went to school there; either way, their social calendar was already full and they didn't seem to want to add anymore people to their lives. When we lived in Austin, TX- there were so many transplants living there we made tons of friends! I think you just have to keep being friendly and open to making that first move (like a dinner invitation) and eventually something will happen. It is depressing, though, to have to wait for it. :(

  13. p.s. Have I never noticed the "bio.gram" or is that new? I love it. :)

  14. Great and true post!! I think we always seek like minded folks for friends even when in a foreign country!!!

    Your punks are priceless!!!!

  15. Your post made me think. . . how often do I seek out foreigners as friends when I am in the US? Is it just too much trouble for me? In the end, its more enriching to be friends with people who are NOT like minded, but its a lot more work.

  16. Wow! Did you really grow up in Plainfield, Illinois? That's our neighbor!

    I've to say that the prejudice is more common and maybe, even natural, earthy, if you will...I think we always doubt the intentions of somebody who doesn't look like us, fair or not...I mean like who's the 'good' stranger and who's the 'bad' one?

    I think it'll get better as the world gets smaller...It's already getting better and again, it's more to do with lack of knowledge about other cultures, so of course, I don't blame the people or take it personally...

    The topic is ever- exhaustive... Thanks for broaching it:)

  17. I love where this post has gone. Lots of food for thought.

    J Cosmo Newbery... this is what I have been thinking about. Those cliques I used to be so critical of, now sort of make sense to me. Also I think about how my circle has changed as I've traveled. Used to be students, then new parents, now it's people from all over the world, young, old, family folks and people without kids, but all transplanted here for some reason or another. It's refreshing to find a common bond with people I wouldn't normally find in my social crowd.

    Amy... That's a lot how California is... lots of transplants, and pretty easy to make friends... "bio.gram" has been there, but I recently changed what it said, glad you like it ;)

    Michelle... Very true... and I have found a few Italians I can relate to... it's not all walls and blank expressions. As for the punks... "priceless" is one word for them ;)

    Brenda... Exactly. I love my foreign friends from the states. I had an avenue in with them, being married to a foreigner, and I'm so thankful to know them now... and to see how much we've learned from each other and how much we share in common. I want MORE!

    naperville mom... shhhh! yes. really. Next time I visit my brother we'll have to see if we can get together for a coffee ;) But yes, I understand what you are saying. I feel that withdrawal in myself when I'm meeting someone new and I'm always (well, probably not always) asking myself, "what's so different here? why not reach out? you might meet someone AMAZING!" And it's happened often enough that I really feel like I'm missing out on something when I see those chances slip by.

    And I think it is getting better as people travel and change their circles up. The woman from Colombia that you might not have thought about if you'd crossed paths in California suddenly becomes someone in a very similar situation when you meet her in Europe. ;) And so we grow.

    Peace all.

  18. Thoughtful pos. Thank you & Aloha

  19. Hi! Just wandered over to your blog... its really interesting and what got me excited was your photos of the market! I went to Italy long time ago but the culture and heritage of the place is just breath-taking!
    Yeah, I know how you feel... I tried my best not to stick to my own 'clan' when I moved to the States... but somehow there was always some commonality which drew me back to the 'desi' crowd even though I now have some wonderful friends from other cultures!

  20. Love the little punkgrams!


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