Living in Italy: The Real Deal – How to Survive the Good Life

by Stef Smulders
translated by Emese Mayhew
Babelcube Publishers

"When we bought our home nine months ago it was ready to move into. And now? We are shipwrecked in the kitchen of the downstairs apartment. A single sheet of plastic between the hall and the sitting room is the only thing that protects us from the heavy dust of the building site. All day, we are assaulted by the sound of workmen shouting, drilling and hammering."

After Stef Smulders and his husband Nico spent some time in Italy, they decided to move there from The Netherlands. A simple plan, they thought, purchase a small villa with an extra apartment for rental to tourists. But they gradually discovered that Italy’s bureaucracy combined with the Italian hurry-up-and-wait business style would gum up every aspect of their plans. Smulders faithfully and, with notable good humor, describes myriad mishaps that made occupying their dream home often seem like a nightmare. Even the simplest transaction took days of standing in long undulating queues. Speaking Italian is useless without an understanding of hand gestures. Installing new windows caused wet spots to appear on the walls. Electricity was erratic, plumbing was a nightmare, and the builder never kept to any schedule, even his own. But in the end, it all worked out. The two learned to cook local cuisine and found a nearby vineyard where they could pick and stomp their own grapes and bottle their own “brand,” I Dui Padroni—“the two owners”—the same name they chose for the villa that eventually came to feel like home despite the chaos.

Translated from Dutch into beautifully nuanced English by Emese Mayhew, Smulder’s hilarious recollections bespeak a great humorist no matter what the language. He gives us a close-up view of what it’s like to confront not just any new culture but especially the laid-back southern European society that is in many ways the polar opposite of where he was from. He does this with style and grace, offering a glossary of Italian terms to clarify—or further obfuscate—our understanding. Living in Italy is a series of amusing cross-cultural vignettes that will be highly recognizable to world travelers and very useful to those embarking on a similar change of place.

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