I’ve been in Milan for two weeks now. The first week seemed like a month, but the second week flew by. Sure, I’ve been in Italy longer on previous trips - much longer, actually – but always as a tourist, not stationary, with a “time to settle in and see what life is like” mindset. It’s strange to think that such a small change of attitude could make such a big difference, but it definitely does.
So what have I learned? Well…
1) Pear juice is quite simply the BEST. THING. EVER.
2) How not to wash my clothes with fabric softener. Turns out there’s this thing called a “pre-wash” (that I had never heard of before in my life) and there’s a soap slot for it marked with a “I”. Fabric softener goes in the little slot marked with a flower and then regular soap goes into a slot marked with a “II”.
3) There are no baking sheets. The oven racks themselves are solid and you’re supposed to line them with parchment or aluminum foil and use those.
4) I hate – and I do mean HATE – Italian yeast.
5) You have to (or should) bring your own bag to the grocery store or they charge you for one (just like in LA), but nowhere else.
6) Salaries here are incredibly low when compared to large cities in the US. I’m still not sure exactly how one manages a household budget. That’s something I still need to figure out…
7) American things in Milan are ever-present and yet curiously absent. There’s a “California Bakery” near a place that claims to be “Americans’ Favourite” (notice the spelling) Bagel Company. The “Manhattan” bar is ironically just a few steps away from another called “Long Island”. There’s no Starbucks, but Arnold’s claims to be an “American Coffee Bar”. You’d think these things would make one feel more at home, but in fact its the little differences that you notice instead and those make you feel even more separated from it all than if these places didn’t exist at all. Because you know that Arnold’s is nothing like Starbucks, that American’s don’t put a “u” in “favorite”, that in many parts of California everyone is too carb-conscious to sustain a bakery.
8) Even though I’ve never liked cappuccino in the US, somehow I’m a huge fan of them in Italy.
9) Not all aperitivi are created equal. With some you are served a few snacks on a plate – sometimes appetizing, sometimes… well, not – and with others you can help yourself to an unlimited buffet of goodies, all for the price of a drink.
10) Inexpensive, drug-store products from the US are crazy expensive here. I went into a farmacia the first day I got here asking for a good moisturizer. The pharmacist recommended Cetaphil. The same bottle that I could get for around $10 at CVS or Target would’ve cost me €24 in Milan!! I opted for something more “local”…
11) Though I had this romantic vision of going to the butcher, the baker and the candlestick maker, supermarkets are still many times cheaper and always more convenient than running around to ten different stores.
12) A lot of people seem to move to Milan not speaking any Italian at all. That shocked me.
13) What shocked me even more was meeting American expats who have lived here two years or more and still don’t speak Italian. Sure, they know the pleasantries - “hello”, “please” and “thank you”, “I’m American and I don’t speak Italian” – but they’ll admit outright that they don’t speak the language of the country that has adopted them.
14) The time difference is a lot harder to manage than I expected. It’s easier to keep in touch with friends and family on the East coast, but for some reason the 9-hour time difference with Los Angeles is just enough so that when I have a break in my day, Angelinos are busy or sleeping and when they have time, I’m either in the middle of dinner or similarly sleeping. It’s very frustrating.
15) I don’t know where Italians get their energy. Six days a week (Monday seems to be a day of reprieve), the bars under my apartment are packed with extremely loud Italians until 4am.
16) Waking up to church bells is rather quite nice… though I have a feeling it might soon get old.
I know I’ve only scratched the surface of daily life in another country, but I’m already exhausted. Two weeks into this experiment, ten weeks to go. The end verdict is still unclear, but one thing’s for certain: it’s going to be one hell of a ride.
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