I cannot tell you how happy I am to be able to interview expats living in Italy.
Every time, it is an opportunity for me to learn more and to see life in Italy through different eyes. When I began interviewing expats, it was because I didn’t want this blog to be too focused on my personal Italian-native experience and I wanted to offer a more accurate view of Italian life.
With time, this section has given me multiple opportunities to see how it is to really live in Italy as a foreigner and also to have a better understanding of Italian culture. It’s been a chance for me to reflect on how we Italians are but I hope it has also been a useful tool for people thinking – or maybe dreaming – of moving to Italy one day.
Every interview is special and has a very meaningful and unique message and this is why I am always very honored to be able to share people’s lives and experiences. Today, I have the chance of speaking with Sam Rich, an American flight attendant who is now in Italy living with her boyfriend.
She has a very interesting YouTube channel called Aperilife, where she shares her thoughts about Italian life and culture and where she also interviews other foreigners living in the country. She also has an equally cool Instagram profile, where she is very active sharing snippets of her daily life.
I am very happy to have her here because she has lots of interesting stories about living here as a foreigner and as an African-American, especially. Unfortunately, Italy is not very diverse and multiracial and I feel it can be difficult for non-white people to feel at home here, so it was important for me to read what she has to say.
On a lighter note, I completely agree with her on the fact that it’s a real problem that you can’t find good international food in Italy. As much as I love pizza and pasta, sometimes I’d love to be able to eat something different and taste different flavors!
But it’s time to let her speak, now.
Hello Sam! Thank you so much for taking the time to answer my questions. First of all, would you like to introduce yourself and tell us a bit about your life and work?
Ciao tutti! My name is Samone, but I go by Sam. I am originally from South Florida and for the last 4 years, I have been living between Queens NYC and Florence Italy. Since I was a young girl I have been in love with other cultures and people different from myself. When I was 17, I moved to the South of Brasil, as an exchange student and after that experience, I was hooked on travel.
At the age of 19, I started to work as a Flight Attendant for a small company in the States and around 25 I left that company for a bigger one that would allow me to see more of the world. Like many foreign women living in Italy, falling in love with a person is what has brought me here. Love of the country is what has made me stay.
You have been living in Italy for a while now. What has brought you here? And was it easy to get used to living here?
Yes, I have been in Italy for several years now but I have a unique situation. Because of my job, I have been able to live between both countries, existing just as a “tourist” when I’m in Italy. This has many positives and many negatives, the biggest negative being that I found myself stuck in the States during the first half of the pandemic.
But to answer your question, love is what brought me here. I met my boyfriend in one of the most organic ways and most people don’t believe it when they hear our story. It’s been quite the emotional rollercoaster, especially with adjusting to cultural habits that are one level below religion here. Italians are very loyal to things that are “Italian” and conversations on compromise are often had. It hasn’t been easy, but thus far it has been worth it.
What was your impression when you visited Italy for the first time? Has that first impression changed after living here for a few years?
The first time I visited Italy I was alone and it was the first European country I had been to. I’ll never forget waiting on my couch surfing host at the Mcdonalds, outside of Termini in Rome. Not knowing that he was waiting for me at the Mcdonalds inside of the station. What a nervous wreck I was that day.
Once I settled in, my first impression was that everything was so big and so beautiful. Doors were big, columns were big, the beautiful detail on the smallest part of the buildings, everything was just breathtaking and I was wide-eyed the entire time. I still think this about Italy, but with a more informed and familiar mindset. Instead of the “Wow that is just so big!,” I now jokingly say to myself “ Italians are such show-offs.”
Regarding Italian culture in general, what is the biggest culture shock you experienced? Is there something you know you will never get used to, even if you’ll live here for the rest of your life?
The biggest cultural shock has been the family meal experience, where everyone has to sit at the table and attend. Where everyone has their own thing going on and they stop what they are doing to come to the table. This is cool, but sometimes I feel it is forced and the guilt trip people are subjected to if they don’t participate is real.
Just to put into context what I mean; I am very close to my family, but we are rather relaxed. We don’t feel the need to sit at a set table, every day when we are in the same city. Same thing with having phone conversations. We don’t feel that speaking on the phone every day means we love the person any more or less. We believe in giving each other space, so when we have those sit down meals or phone conversations they have more meaning. They last longer and we dig deeper than surface level.
I guess if I had to describe it I would say the lack of personal space and smothering from the Italian adults, is what was shocking to me. I am still getting used to that.
You are African-American and Italy is not exactly a multicultural and multiracial country. Have you had problems? Have you ever experienced racism?
My boyfriend is much older than I am, which has a lot of perks. One, his presence demands respect. So people respect me because of him. But I hear the whispers. People thinking I am a “nice prostitute,” friends of his and colleagues keeping a distance from me because they didn’t have an interest in getting to know me.
Gas lit conversations, where Italians will bring up controversial topics that deal with black culture and problems, and then they will be surprised when my responses are educated and in defense of my people. Being followed in stores, is a common one. Especially makeup stores. I haven’t flat out been called out of my name, but Italians have an ignorance that they choose to live in.
In my experience, Italians will know something is offensive but then try to explain to you that it isn’t and then tell you you’re being dramatic. Instead of finding solutions, Italians make excuses, especially when it comes to race. Also to note; in Italy, the African American experience is different from the African experience.
You have an awesome series of videos up on YouTube about living as a minority in Italy, where you interview people who are experience life in Italy as a non-white person. Is there something that unifies those experiences? Common struggles? Shared thoughts?
My Youtube channel covers many Italian things. With the interviews, my goal is not to share the story of non-white people living in Italy but of the experience of the non-Italian, phenotype included, people.
People who are first-generation Italian American, who have returned to the country their family left. People who are of African descent, that are first generation born and raised in Italy who tend to not be accepted as Italian. People who are here because they married an Italian or are temporarily here because of work. These are the stories that I need to be heard and that I want to share.
One of the common issues the people who I’ve interviewed have mentioned, is the constant judgment they receive from Italians. The lack of opportunities when you don’t fit “the model” or look “the part.” I think anyone would be frustrated their opportunities were taken from them before they even get the chance to present what they have to offer.
Living far away from your home country must be hard. What do you miss the most about the USA (apart from friends and family, of course)? And what is the one thing about Italy you miss the most when you’re abroad?
Food has to be one of the things I miss the most from the States. Because I’ve spent most of my adulthood in NYC, I have a rather diverse palate. Nothing like being able to have Korean BBQ or Hibachi with friends, Congee on a cold winter day, or just an authentic Thai meal where you pay more if you DON’T eat everything you take from the buffet and put on your plate. It’s an experience.
The extensive cuisine options is something I miss a lot. So much so that I started to experiment with recipes here in our Italian home. I am now experimenting, by cooking my favorite meals from the US which is nice. I doubt I would’ve ever attempted to cook the things I’ve cooked had I still been on US soil.
Lots of people dream of moving to Italy and sometimes they have a stereotyped image of the country. What are your recommendations for people dreaming of living in Italy? Is there something they should do before making the move?
I think it’s best to do your own research beforehand. It costs zero dollars and zero cents to search social media, or the web, for people who have done the same thing you are wanting to do. Invest your time into listening to people, reach out for an honest opinion.
If you don’t feel comfortable reaching out, then you can just start to follow people who are living how you think you want to live. You at least need to observe and absorb their experiences. Everyone’s journey is different. The “vita” is “dolce” but not all the time.
You live in beautiful Florence. Everybody knows the main sites, so can you suggest some off-the-beaten-track yet amazing places in the city?
I wish I could. I feel as if I am just getting the chance to learn and appreciate Florence myself, this is the first time I have been able to be here for an extended amount of time.
One thing I’ve done that has allowed me to see some pretty cool things in Italy, things that I probably would’ve never known existed, is if it’s early in the day, I will get on the bus or tram and just ride it till the end. I will then take the same tram/bus route back. I have been able to familiarize myself with so many places “off-the-beaten-track” this way.
Do you speak Italian? If you do, what is your relationship with the language? Is it hard to learn it? Or, is it hard to live in Italy without knowing the language?
Because I am currently in Italy and have the time, I am now taking Italian lessons. I have had the advantage of picking up some of the language during my time with my boyfriend’s family, which has helped me during my lessons, but it is still hard. If you are planning to move to Italy, it definitely will help to learn the basics of the language, especially if you don’t speak a Latin-based language already.
Depending on where you plant your roots, you might not need to speak Italian but I think you are only hurting yourself by doing this. You take the risk of being isolated in many social events, sitting at a dinner party, staring at everyone as they laugh. Not being able to participate in conversations about topics you actually love or that you would fancy learning.
For me, I knew it was time for me to learn Italian when I was tired of having people apologize to me for not speaking English. I am in Italy, I felt that the apology was not something they should be giving but that I should be giving. I had to step out of my comfort zone. I am happy that I am learning Italian and many of my friends who have been living in Italy for years, that haven’t taken the time to learn it, regret it.
Thank you so much, Sam, for taking the time to do this!
If you are interested in more thoughts about Italy, I have a whole section of interviews with expats. I have chatted with a Canadian living in Bergamo, a Polish girl in love with Rome, an American artist who lives in Umbria, another American who moved to beautiful Tuscany, a Mancunian who now resides in Molise, a Scottish lady who is now happily living in Veneto, a British couple who lives and work in Garfagnana, Tuscany, a US lady who runs a hostel in Rome, an American lady who now lives in a beautiful Tuscan villa, a lovely couple who lives in Tuscany part-time, a writer from Seattle who has been living in Rome for 15 years now, a couple who has just gotten Italian citizenship, a lovely Texan who moved to a tiny little Italian village, a super energetic travel expert from the US now living in Rome, two young YouTubers who live in Prato, Tuscany, a Texan lady who lives in Turin, Slovak girl who now calls Bologna home, a Mississippi lady who is now Neapolitan, a girl from Canada who has fulfilled her dream of living in Florence, a New Yorker who now calls Ischia home, an American lady who chose the countryside near Naples as her new home and a brave lady who has moved to Italy in the midst of the pandemic!