It’s time for another interview with an expat, what a joy!
I always say the same things but you can’t imagine how happy – and honored – I am to chat with people who share with me – and with you all, guys – a bit of their personal life and their experience of Italy. Thank you, I’ll never get tired of saying this!
Today’s interview is with Quetta Locchi, a super smart and energetic woman from the United States who is now living in Rome because she married an Italian. This is a very common story for expats in Italy but, as you may already know if you have been following this series for a while, it’s much more than that.
As all other expats I have interviewed before, Quetta has a lot of things to say about getting used to living in Italy and adjusting to a whole new culture, something which is way less romantic and glamorous than the stereotyped image we have in our minds. And, as usual, there’s also more than one chance to laugh, like when she tells about the view we Italians have of the USA, mainly based on TV shows and commercials (that’s so true!).
I highly recommend you to read this interview because it is full of interesting considerations and food for thought. Moreover, Quetta has an awesome life story, having traveled all over the world and now working as a travel concierge, giving people the chance of experiencing Rome like a local.
But it is definitely time to let her speak!
Hello Quetta! 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?
Thank you for inviting me to Instantly Italy! I adore your blog and IG posts – my day only truly begins after “Aggettivo del giorno”!
Who am I? What is that old adage about ‘An American in Rome’? I was born in Baltimore (USA), but grew up in both Baltimore and Philadelphia and then attended Temple University (Philadelphia). I have never taken a straight path anywhere and my professional experience, as well as my travels, truly reflects this. After a decade of nomadic living (Philly, Los Angeles, New York City,) I departed NYC for shores unknown in 2002. I’ve lived with one foot in Rome and the other in Southern Thailand ever since.
Professionally my trade is Hospitality, Events, and Marketing – I have held positions as Event Manager, Marketing Director, Special Projects Manager and Content Manager. But I’ve always been the goto person for friends & family for travel planning, and in my new venture Ms Q | Travel Concierge I use all of my expertise to connect prospective clients with rich experiences in Rome and diverse destinations around the globe.
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?
I first came to Rome in 1997, when I came to visit an American friend that was studying here. My friend lived in the Monti neighborhood – this was long before it became a trendy hotspot. It was an immediate immersion into a way of life that was new and exciting, yet felt like I had arrived home, finally.
When I returned to live in Rome a few years later, it was for the same reason that for many, all roads lead here: love. I met my Roman husband on a street in southern Thailand and when we reconnected in his city, our life together began. We initially lived with his family and my learning curve was enormous! While I was very in tune with how to eat well, what I still haven’t gotten used to was planning my day around the sometimes arbitrary opening/closing hours of shops.
What was your impression when you visited Italy for the first time? Has that first impression changed over time?
Upon arrival in Rome, my first question was “Why don’t these Italians seem anything like the ‘Italians’ in my hometown of Philadelphia?” lol. My initial impression about Rome and Italy was, in general, how much closer to tradition everything was: gastronomy, family, lifestyle. And even in 2019 with all of its modernity, it is easy to find people here that still strive for a slower approach to life (in contrast to the aspirational, frenetic life in NYC that I left.)
Regarding Italian culture in general, what is the biggest culture shock you experienced? Is there something you cannot get used to and probably never will?
I’m not sure that I would call it culture shock, but the generalized ideas about American culture still never fail to surprise me – especially as it seems to be largely based on the Rocky films, 80’s FM music, and McDonald’s menus. lol Even when speaking with young adults under 30, many of the historical and social underpinnings of US life are unknown.
But I guess that’s probably true of any country…I won’t even get into what crazy notions even my well-traveled friends have about Italy! I am pretty adaptable and haven’t really found much that I can’t get used to…except the aforementioned store hours – why can’t everyone open and close at the same hours!
As we all know, Italy is not exactly a diverse and interracial society and we are having some problems dealing with immigration, lately. Have you ever had some issues with people being racist towards you? Do you feel that things are getting worse lately, especially with this populist government we have now?
My experiences in Italy have mostly been positive with many locals extending themselves in different situations and welcoming me. But I also understand that this is largely influenced by the fact that I am American…and also married to a Roman. In social situations, that is what they already know about me and so it contributes to their comfort level. I would not say that is the same for visitors or residents from African countries or from the non-Western African diaspora that have emigrated here.
I have had several specific incidents of anti-blackness and racism from 1997 through til now, but daily casual racism remains constant. Or how strange men on the street feel comfortable acting in a “familiar” way towards me – some benign, but others requiring a swift Roman risposta. But since Italy does not have the same history of enslavement of Africans and subsequent legislation that fuels and supports an inequitable society, it will never be the same as what Black and Brown communities, continue to experience in the USA.
The current xenophobic, nationalistic, anti-immigrant politics enacted in the USA does seem to have empowered and emboldened Italy’s (and Europe’s) own extremist politics. I don’t feel it in my day to day life greatly (yet), but listening to the political talk shows in the evening, I definitely feel a sense of foreboding for what is to come.
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?
Besides my loved ones, the thing I miss most living abroad is being immersed in the richness of Black (American) culture + speaking my first language daily – especially the hyperbole that colloquialisms and slang provide. But my love of clever turns of phrases is also satisfied by the Roman dialect and all of its inventiveness and ingenuity.
When I am outside of Italy, I miss the easy access to fresh, delicious local products as well as the relaxed, fun-loving approach to life. But no worries, I always take a suitcase filled with coffee + Moka coffee machine, olive oil, Parmigiano Reggiano and other goodies. Yes, I’ve gone local in all the best ways! lol
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?
Not everyone is built for this émigré life and it takes an enormous amount of humility, adaptability, and effort to forge a meaningful life in another country. The biggest recommendation I would give: learn the language. You don’t want to miss making real connections with those around you – that is what will most enrich your life here. My social access increased exponentially once I let go of my inhibitions and really engaged in my community, especially without my husband. This is a daily practice for me as I battle my natural shyness speaking a second language – as my understanding increases, so does the understanding of how badly I speak in Italian. Also, if you can marry a local – do it! lol
You are a travel expert, so I’d love to talk to you about tourism. Based on your experience, can you suggest one thing people should absolutely do and one place people should absolutely see If they visit Italy just once in their life?
I can not begin to answer this with only one thing or one place! Italy is a beautifully diverse country and there is so much to see and do in all of its regions. While I’m a city girl at heart and adore traipsing through Italy’s metropolises, I would argue that the small towns and villages most authentically deliver “Italianality”.
My suggestion is that in whichever region or locale tourists find themselves, they should dig deeper than the local monuments and tourist-focused experiences. Find a residential area, seek out a restaurant filled with locals and eat/drink whatever they’re having. I remember being the only woman dining at a workingman’s osteria in Venice filled with local construction workers, and me trying to decipher the local dialect…as much as I swoon at the Grand Canal, that lunch was truly memorable.
Italy’s regional foodways and ingredients is a natural entry point for me into how people live daily and how culture evolves. Right now I’m obsessed with the ways in which young Roman restaurateurs are leveling up, presenting traditional cucina romana in new and innovative preparations. I’m also enraptured with the laidback island of Ponza and expect to arrive there in a few short weeks.
You work in tourism and have traveled a lot, so you have a broad experience. Do you feel that there is something Italy should do to improve tourists’ experience?
I believe that the “destination product Italy” remains at the top of travel lists for a reason and that it continues to deliver a unique and superlative experience to its visitors. The things that could improve tourist experiences are the same things that would improve its citizens lives: better public transport, better waste management, mindful protection of local products and industries, investment in new technologies, etc. Much of the strain/stress visitors experience is only a snapshot of the complex challenges facing locals.
You live in beautiful Rome. Can you suggest some off-the-beaten-track yet amazing places in the city?
As much as I love swanning about the beautiful historic center of Rome, it’s the outlying areas like San Giovanni, and further still, Centocelle that allow me deeper glimpses into local life in the capital. Many of my favorite restaurants are in those quartiere. One of the unexpected Roman attractions I like to share with clients is the Capuchin Crypt on Via Veneto – it’s a bit creepy, but has a macabre beauty in its design. I also love suggesting that summer visitors experience a performance (opera, dance, concert) at the atmospheric Terme Caracalla or see the ancient baths with a virtual reality tour.
You are a food expert as well, so we can talk about one of my favorite topics: food! Is there an Italian food experience you always recommend to your clients or friends?
Quinto Quarto is life! I love introducing new and returning visitors to all the delicious ways that Romans transform humble ingredients into divine dishes. Trippa (tripe), pajata (intestines from a suckling calf), la coda (oxtails), lingua (tongue), etc are must-haves when I am guiding guests to sublime Roman dining experiences.
What is the dish or food that you think best represents Italy and why?
From outside of Italy, the expected response would be “pizza”, but from an inside perspective, we would have to qualify whether we are speaking of pizza as Romans know it (thin, crispy) or Neopolitans (thick, toothsome dough), first. Truly, I don’t think that there is a definitive dish that can represent the diversity of regional ingredients and how differently each area transforms it into their own iconic recipes!
Do you speak Italian? If you do, what is your relationship with the language? Was it hard to learn it?
Yes, I speak Italian, but with a few caveats. lol My husband has always given thanks that I don’t have much of an American accent in Italian…and my speech is liberally peppered with Roman inflections – which my friends from other regions find hilarious. My comprehension has vastly improved – for example, I can attend the theater and more fully understand/engage now.
However, I still struggle to express myself at higher than an intermediate level…even after a structured course with a private teacher – Italian grammar is an exercise in humiliation! It’s probably a combination of late learning as an adult and the fact that most of my work (writing, research, etc) is done in English.
But my life when I leave my door is in Italian, and most people in my daily life do not speak English. And even when with Italians who speak English, I converse in Italian instead of insisting that they accommodate me…unless they start asking me to explain USA politics – I need all of my native expletives for that!
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 a in 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 and a lovely Texan who moved to a tiny little Italian village.