When you pack your life to move abroad there are many questions with no easy answers haunting you in the weeks before you become officially an expat. The biggest and perhaps the scariest one of those is:
‘Where am I going to live?’
It is a question with many ramifications. You need to pick the right neighbourhood and the right house and make sure that the right amenities are present in both so that in your new life you can enjoy as many of your habitual home comforts as your hosting country allows.
And this can feel like such a gigantic and difficult task!
No sooner had my husband accepted a job in Italy than we had started looking through Italian rental websites trying to spot our new dream place to call home for a couple of years or three. Browsing through the ads we were left baffled by the tiny pictures they were coupled with. Nothing like the huge and detailed fish eye photos which are all the rage on British property websites nowadays. We were faced with minuscule images taken from obscure angles.
The only clear thing which we could grasp from them was the proverbial truth that most Italian properties are rented out ‘kitchen-free’. In other words, the room where the kitchen is supposed to be is completely bare – there are no units, no surfaces, no oven, no fridge and not even a sink. Go figure!
With a small child and no budget to invest in a whole new kitchen, we had to re-think our approach. Eventually, my husband flew out to Vicenza and spent three days traipsing round all rental agencies in town managing to see 15 or so properties. On the plane back to the UK he whittled them down to four.
And then we spent three days wrangling over the top two of the list, before, exhausted, making our minds.
We moved in. Our Italian adventure began! Settling into our new home, soon I made a startling discovery.
I realised that no matter how much time you spend choosing the location of your new home and shortlisting properties based on the strict requirements and the finances you have, there are bound to be one or more surprises for you in store once you move in.
Even if you are aware of some of the discrepances between your native and your host countries’ approach to real estate and home life, the real learning process and adaptation begin only when you move in.
So, based on this, here are in no particular order the eighteen main differences between my Italian and my British homes. I thought I should list them, as I would have loved to know all or some of these things before our move. Here they are hoping that they will be of use to some of you and will make others either smile, appreciate even more their habitual home comforts or develop a yearning for life in Italy and a desire to move here right now.
1. Window Shutters
You haven’t had a good night’s sleep until you have spent the night in a room with fully closed shutters. These fabulous devices completely block the light from outside and are conducive to a state of total relaxation. During our first couple of weeks in Italy we constantly overslept as we enjoyed a very deep sleep with no light pollution and other such distractions. Once fully closed, the shutters also greatly reduce the noise from the outside. Plus, on really hot and bright days (like today we have been melting in 34 degrees Celsius), I can pull the shutters down so as that the rooms remain cool, dark and breezy.
2. Mosquito Nets
On my very first night in Vicenza I was savagely bitten by some of the most bloodthirsty mosquitoes I have ever come across. Mosquitoes are everywhere in Italy. As soon as the weather gets a bit warm and here they are, wheezing their way across gardens and streets, biting everyone in their sight. Supermarkets have whole sections dedicated to anti-mosquito products. Green areas and gardens are regularly sprayed to neutralise them. So, mosquito nets on the windows are a godsend. We just need to make sure that they are fully pulled down and that the net hasn’t come out of its frame. Then we are safe. At least at home.
3. Three-Quarter Length Bath
I miss my British bath. I could fit in it. Bathrooms in Italian homes tend to be smaller, hence quite often the bath installed in them is a three-quarter length one. I know it is supposed to be three-quarters of a normal size bath, but it looks more like a half bath to me. It is tiny! I guess you waste less water filling it in, which can’t be a bad thing, but still it is small.
4. Postal Box
Instead of a slot in the front door for the postman to push through our mail, we have an actual postal box for the postman to stuff it in. Said postal box, as the local custom dictates it, is attached to the outside wall of the house. Anyone who passes by can lift its lid and see what’s inside. They can even pick it, as the postal boxes tend to be small and a thick large envelope would be difficult to fit in. Add to this the fact that the boots of the scooters used by the Italian postmen often are not locked, are overflowing with mail and are sometimes left unsupervised while the postie delivers the correspondence and you could start to understand some of the reasons why the Italian postal services often get a bad rap. In all honesty, so far we have never had an issue with missing mail, touch wood. However, since I saw a lizard crawl out of a postal box, I never check ours anymore. And to top it all, when it rains, it is quite easy for the postal box to flood. We have had to dry birthday cards and bank statements on the radiator a couple of times.
5. Temperamental Electrics
The electrical current seems to be moody at times. Some plugs in the house sometimes charge my mobile within a record amount of time. Other times they seem to change their mind and drag the whole charging operation for hours on end. Plus if you have certain electrical appliances on at the same time, the fuse trips and cuts the electricity off to the whole flat. For example, we can’t have the oven, the kettle and a charging mobile on at the same time. We have gathered from conversations with Italian people and other expats that this is something common here, so, when it happens, we just need to go downstairs and flip the fuse switch back up again. Annoying, but what to do?!
6. Washing Machine in the Garage
Yes, I know. Most Italian homes, it seems, don’t have enough space in the kitchen and the washing machine is often installed in the bathroom. If the bathroom can’t take it, then alternative locations are explored. In our case, this is the garage. We have honed it now to a fine family task. I sort the laundry and fill up a basket for the wash. My husband takes it down to the garage and two hours afterwards goes down again to bring back the load. Then I put it on the balcony to dry. Teamwork, people, that’s all it takes! Plus, we don’t have to listen to the washing machine when, in full cycle, it does its little dance on the floor.
7. Summer Kitchen
We may need to keep the washing machine in the garage, but we happen to have a summer kitchen! I don’t know how typical this is for Italian homes. We haven’t used ours yet, but it is nice to know that we have the ability to host 12 people in the heat of the summer serving cold appetisers and ice-cold drinks.
8. High Ceilings
This is one of my favourite things in my Italian home. I can stretch without worrying that my fingertips will smash against the ceiling. Quite a lot of British homes tend to have lower ceilings. I don’t know if they were introduced to help save from heating bills. I have always found them quite suffocating, especially when the weather outside was gloomy and grey.
9. Marble and Tiled Floors
It sounds so grand to say that you have marble floors at home. But it is quite normal in Italy and it seems to be a necessity rather than an extravagance. They keep the house cool during the hot months. In winter I am not so keen on them and I miss my laminated floors from my British home.
10. Outdoor Barbecue
Yes, this list is in no particular order, otherwise I would have placed this entry straight after the Summer Kitchen one. Still, in the smallish garden we have a huge barbecue. We haven’t used it yet, but it is nice to know that if we ever need to grill a whole lamb or pig, we can certainly do it. A smell of barbecued meats often wafts through our windows, so it seems Italians love to barbecue.
The typical British house doesn’t have a balcony. So, we enjoy as much as we can the one we have here in Italy. Balconies here are often covered in blooming plants and resemble veritable hanging gardens. People around us often sunbathe on theirs or while away the afternoon doing a bit of crocheting or other crafts.
You press a button and a huge awning comes down almost completely covering your balcony and providing an extra layer of protection against the powerful sun. I love awnings. I remember travelling to Syria and then to Portugal as a child and the awnings above the balconies became like a symbol in my mind of a life in the sun.
13. Air Conditioning
It can get really hot here in Vicenza. We had been told this time and time again, but now we are experiencing it ourselves and, yes, it is meltingly hot with a sun so bright it dazzles you when you look outside. It was 34 degrees today and, apparently, it is going to reach 38 tomorrow, so the air conditioning unit in the flat comes handy after all. We don’t use it often, as I, being Bulgarian, am afraid of drafts. Still, it is great that we have it, as 38 degrees Celsius is too much, even for me.
14. Rubbish and Recycling Bins
The rubbish and the recycling bins are communal. There are no collections like in England, when everybody would leave their black bin bags and recycling on the streets in front of their houses on a specific day of the week. Here, you just take your stuff to the communal bins and dispose of it in them. The bins are large and emptied at regular intervals, so that unpleasant smells and spillages are kept to a minimum.
15. Two-Pin Sockets and Plugs
We use lots of adapters for stuff like our hoover (yes, we brought our Hettie with us!) and my mobile phone. I am used to the two-pin system from Bulgaria though, where it is also used.
16. Wooden Grills on the Radiators
The radiators are covered with intricate wooden grills. I think this is because the radiators are quite old style and they get super hot when on. The grills do get in the way a bit when hoovering needs to be done, but they are easy to remove and put back up again.
17. Humidifiers on the Radiators
When we moved in, we found little ceramic pots hanging from each radiator. In winter, we would fill them with water so as to maintain some moisture in the air when the heating was on non-stop.
18. No Drying Machine
Drying machines are not really popular in Italy, as they consume a lot of electricity and are not considered environmentally friendly. The good thing is that, when it is warm, the clothes dry really quick on the balcony. People use large clothes horses for their wet laundry and, of course, we also went and bought one as soon as we arrived. It works really well and I don’t miss my drying machine which got left behind in the UK.
So, here you have them! The eighteen differences I have spotted between my Italian and British homes. Even though they are not really that dramatic or extreme, it was exciting noticing them and adapting to them during my first nine months in Italy. It made me feel more connected to the country and its way of life.
If you have moved to Italy too, what differences would you add to this list? Or, if you have relocated to a different country, share with me the differences between homes there and the place where you are originally from.