One of my favorite blog sections is back and I couldn’t be happier!
Last month, I decided to start a new blog series, interviewing expats to hear their point of view about living in Italy and getting used to Italian culture and way of life.
I love this series because it is a great way to see Italy from another point of view, to get a new perspective and learn new things. And I love learning new things! Moreover, I do think this series is really useful for you because it is always full of tips and suggestions from someone who has come to Italy as a foreigner and had to come to terms with a new way of living.
Last month, I talked with Linda Tieu, who moved from L.A. to beautiful Tuscany. Today it’s the turn of Caridad Isabel Barragan, another Californian who lives in Umbria – one of the most beautiful regions in Italy. She is a painter and there’s a lot of Italy into her work, which I really love.
She’s been in Italy for a while now, and I was really curious to hear what she has to say about my country. As usual, reading her answers has been sometimes fun – I DO shower every day, please believe me – and very interesting overall.
But it’s time to let her speak!
Hello, Caridad! Thank you so much for this interview. First of all, would you like to introduce yourself and tell us a bit about your life and work?
Hi Cinzia, thank you for having me! I was born and raised in Southern California where I studied Drawing & Painting. I’ve been living and painting in Italy for 25 years and sell my Umbrian landscapes & still life on Artfinder and custom wedding/anniversary paintings on Etsy.
This year I’m launching a new service: Live Event Painting for destination weddings in Italy and Europe. It’s a unique and magical way of capturing your wedding on canvas right before your guests’ eyes. Have a look at my website for more info.
You’ve been in Italy for a while now. What was your first impression of Italy and how has your opinion of the country changed throughout the years?
I moved to Veneto, precisely Cittadella in 1991 and lived there for 15 years. I suppose I had a stereotype of what Italy looked like: rolling hills, Roman ruins and was surprised by the flatness of the Pianura Padana.
Another thing that made a real impression on me was the fact that the majority of the people in that area didn’t speak Italian, rather the Veneto dialect which is really quite different. I gradually started to decipher it and even studied the grammar and read some storybooks in dialect and became perfectly fluent after about a year and a half.
Having lived here for 25 years I am continuously fascinated by the cultural diversity found in each region: dialects, culinary traditions, and history change drastically from North to South. This is what makes Italy so fun to explore!
Was it easy to get used to living here? What about the work environment?
I was 23 years old when I moved to Italy and wanted to live abroad so it was pretty easy for me to adjust to my new life. Things changed a little after my daughter was born in 1995 and I began having more contact with the provincial northern Italian society which I found to be a little, well, provincial. Luckily I created friendships with other foreigners or Italians from other regions.
I’ve always worked as a freelancer initially teaching English as many expats do which often meant coming and going from places. I’ve always worked for good people. The only thing I continue to have difficulty with are the dreaded tax returns which to this day remain a mystery to me.
What is the biggest culture shock you experienced?
Personal hygiene. Many, not all Italians, didn’t shower daily. Instead, they washed what I call the “golden triangle”: 2 armpits + intimate parts. Living in the province means that the majority of people didn’t have running water or toilets in their homes until the ’50s or ’60s.
Bathing was an activity that happened once a week, usually on Sundays and I imagine to this day many people are just simply not accustomed to showering.
Is there something you still cannot get used to?
Yes, the way people queue in line or drive in traffic in a city. Is it really that difficult to get behind one another?
What would you recommend to people visiting Italy for the first time, so that they can make the most of it?
Visit 2 big cities and then head out to the countryside. That’s where the real Italy is. I live in Umbria which is just north of Rome. If you pick the small town of Todi as your home base you can manage to see so many beautiful places within 30-45 minutes distance: Perugia, Assisi, Montefalco (don’t get me going on the wines!), Spoleto while taking in the local arts & culinary culture and living the small Italian town lifestyle. My dear friend Alessandra at Discovering Umbria can eventually help you out.
If a foreign tourist had to pick just one type of Italian food to get the best experience of Italy, what would you recommend?
Now THAT is an excellent question! I would say: you can’t! Italian food is predominantly regional. Each region has it’s #1 dish. If you know where you’re going to be visiting, I suggest you do a little research into typical dishes of that area.
Elizabeth Minchilli has wonderful free apps that you can download to eat your way through Rome, Venice, Milan, and Turin called EatRome etc.
What was your experience with learning Italian? Can you tell us more about your learning process and maybe suggest some tips for people struggling with learning the language?
I’m not your typical language learner because I grew up in a bilingual home. My parents are Cuban and Mexican so Spanish was the language spoken at home and English was spoken at school.
However, I do suggest the following:
- surround yourself with Italian speaking friends, just 1-2
- read newspapers and magazines or websites of your choice in Italian
- do 30 minutes of Italian grammar/reading/listening exercises every day for 30 days in order to create a habit.
- change the language on your phone and all devices to Italian. You’d be surprised to see how many new words you pick up on.
Thanks, Caridad for your interesting and super useful answers and for sharing with us your experience!