Crazy to think I’ve been in Abruzzo for a year now. Signal corks going off and confetti falling from the sky across the nation!
When I think back to my working life in London, the predominant memories are of being constantly stressed and harried. Some lovely bosses, some hateful, but always filtered around the constant drum of office politics, mind boggling deadlines and beeping traffic…ugh! Of course I still get a bit stressed here, particularly when the power or water go off, or the boiler decides not to work because it’s a Tuesday. Being snowed in for three weeks was something I don’t fancy repeating in a hurry. But the deadlines and bosses are gone, the traffic is non existent most of the time, and what’s left is a sense of quiet contentment at what has been achieved so far. Am doing my usual prevarication re online Italian lessons, but a few words are slowly sinking in to the old grey matter. The house is starting to look great, and when things do go wrong, I have a bit of a screaming session and then chill, knowing it will all get sorted. Oh how my blood pressure is thanking me.
So, on this, my first anniversary, what are my observations on Abruzzo Dreaming solo style?
1. Make as many friends as you can. Expats can be a funny (strange) lot and just because they are from ‘home’ and speak English doesn’t mean you’d be friends with them there. Remember your first weeks at a new school? The same. And you almost certainly won’t end up with the same friends you started with. You need to separate the wheat from the chaff, to know who you can rely on in a crisis and whose company you just really enjoy. When you’re doing something like this on your own, it’s good to know someone has your back – at least, until I can teach the cats how to fix the boiler.
2. Be brave. Explore. Talk to people, even if it’s just to ask where the loo is. I still struggle with talking to my neighbours because I’m embarrassed that I won’t understand them. Not many people speak English here – and why should they? But at least you’re breaking the ice, and they know you’re trying to be part of the community, even if you are a bit odd.
3. Be prepared to take things slowly with your community. This is not a two week vacation on the Amalfi Coast where you become best friends with the hotelier over 12 glasses of red and just know you could live here for ever. It’s living day to day in a small town in Abruzzo, where people are working hard and where their entire focus is their families. An older-ish single woman with cats is not going to fit in to that lifestyle automatically, and can be viewed with suspicion, because the way you live will be very different to theirs. Some women here have never left the town in their entire lives, something I find quite gobsmacking – so just imagine how they see me. So, give it time. Think like Otter, rather than Toad of Toad Hole. Less toot toot, more “piano piano”!
4. Adapt to the local shops and find alternatives to the things you are used to buying in the UK. Of course there are exceptions – Italians don’t do tea, and I’m an extra strong tea gal myself. It’s a medical necessity, I am incapable of forming sentences without at least one mug of tannin heavy, teeth staining brew first thing, so I do buy that online – but for most other things, I’ve tried out local products and lived. And if you’re not a naturally patient person, then learn – because a trip to the post office to pay one bill may well take you an hour.
5. Have fun! But also try to get into a routine of sorts, and schedule lunches, errands and home jobs. Otherwise you’ll spend all your time sitting around in four day old sweat pants, dribbling vino and flicking through reruns of The Big Bang Theory. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, but it does seem a waste of perfectly good sunshine.
So there it is, folks – My Year in Abruzzo. None of this is new to people who already live here, just my own experiences. Can’t wait for what 2017 brings!